Batavia’s unique and historic downtown has a storied past that celebrates many people and organizations who formed the local business community. When you walk through downtown, be sure to notice these significant buildings that provide a link to the city’s past.
Start your tour on Wilson and River Streets and travel west along Wilson. On the northeast corner of this intersection is a magnificent limestone structure built in 1870. The popular eatery El Taco Grande is located in this building today. Smith & Crane Furniture and Undertakers occupied this site in the late 1800s. R.C. Hollister purchased the business in 1909, and later operated a funeral home on the west side of Batavia.
Looking north on River Street, you will see Pal Joey’s. This building was built around 1870 as Batavia Creamery Association, later becoming Kee & Chapell Dairy. Local farmers delivered milk to the creamery and it was made into butter and cheese. Batavia Creamery products were shipped into Chicago and other major cities. There was a large pit in front of the creamery where all of the spoiled milk was dumped. Then known as Buttermilk Alley, this area is now State Street.
The Batavia National Bank was organized in 1909 and occupied the southwest corner of Wilson and River streets. Prior to the bank’s formation, it was a store building owned by Dr. J.C. Augustine. This corner has been continuously occupied by a bank since 1909.
There was a dry goods store and tailor shop just west of the bank from the 1850s until 1895. The frame building was then sold to John Geiss who ran a cigar factory in it. In 1913, Geiss replaced the building with the brick one that you see today. Rachielles Pharmacy was located here from 1960 to 2005. It is now occupied by pure i, a creative agency offering a broad range of digital market services.
At the east end of the bridge is a two-story limestone building erected by O.M. Thomle in 1876 for his furniture, carpet and coffin business. In 1881, he added the three-story building to the east where he continued his business until 1891. Originally covered, the stairwell on the outside of the building led to the passenger platform for the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Electric Railroad, which serviced Batavia from 1902 to1957 running along the east bank of the Fox River. The railroad connected Batavia to Aurora and continued into Chicago. Jules Morris operated a clothing store in the early 1900s at 4-6 E. Wilson; and Phipps Department Store was at this location from 1948-1990. Currently, Healing Arts Metaphysical Center and Fawn Gifts occupy the historic Thomle buildings.
To learn more about Batavia’s history, plan a visit to the Batavia Depot Museum. The city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacturing, agriculture, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place. The research center contains more than 10,000 photographs and resources to aid in genealogy and house research.
For more information, visit www.bataviahistoricalsociety.org.