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Water, Water Everywhere

Water was a popular topic throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s in Montgomery.

Several readers have asked where my story ideas come from. The short answer is – ‘everywhere.’ Everyone has a story, and sometimes bits of it are found in their obituaries. Often we don’t hear the stories during a person’s lifetime when we are all too busy in the here and now to listen.

There was a time when it was more common to sit around and talk about the past. We had more free time before television, video games and cell phones intruded. We had time to build relationships and listen to “old folks,” but that has changed.

How many of us look back with regret at someone in our lives who had so many things to say to us and we were so busy we couldn’t be bothered? It’s human nature.

But, perhaps we didn’t really miss out as much as one might think. Maybe we still got the essence of their lives, if not all the details. Those details are still around in records that we might not know exist. Old newspapers are available on microfilm in the libraries. Some of the big research libraries such as the Newberry in Chicago have huge collections of newspapers from all over the county. They are not easy to search, but if you uncover something that gives you a new perspective on your family, or your hometown, you’ll feel like you hit a jackpot. Some of the most trivial things can totally change how you have judged something.

Looking through old newspaper stories this past week, I came across the names of early Montgomery citizens, and it has been fun and enlightening. Besides the usual general interest news stories about big events, there were weekly community reporters who reported little tidbits of the comings and goings of their area. They are small insights into the lives of ordinary people.

For instance, I learned that Montgomery’s own Jim Yard was a cousin to the Wooleys in Oswego. Jim Yard had his hand in so many things in Montgomery, from building the Methodist Church to repairing the dam. Our history is full of his stories and the Wooley family has long been familiar to me, but I never connected them. Knowing this brings a new perspective to things, and earlier information now makes more sense.

From the Aurora Daily Express, July 17, 1894, we learn that the Montgomery Light and Power Company asked the Aurora City Council for a franchise to build, operate and maintain a system of electric conductors in the city. Mr. Lysander Hord was a co-owner of the Montgomery Mills and had more waterpower at Montgomery than he needed for his milling operations. He proposed to utilize it to furnish cheap light and power to the citizens of Aurora. I found  no follow-up story to tell the outcome of this, but it has always been known that these early entrepreneurs were a force to be reckoned with. They made things happen.

Another story in the Aurora Daily Express, January 31, 1893, tells that Mr. John Jameson (William S. Hart mentioned him as the man who kept a little store and sold candy) had made a contract with Chicago parties to furnish them water from his famous well in Montgomery. A company was being formed to place the water on the market in opposition with the famous Hygeia water. They claim it is superior to Hygeia water.

Water continued to be a big topic throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Aurora Daily Express reported a well being dug at the new ‘Riverside’ Park on the Cheney farm below Montgomery began spouting enough fresh water to provide all the water needs for the park. It was speculated that it might result in a big sanitarium being established there if the water proved as valuable as other wells near Montgomery.

On March 14, 1893, a story carried the headlines, “THE MONTGOMERY BOOM” --  “AURORA’S SUBURB ON THE EVE OF GREAT THINGS.” Under this heading the story concerns the plan for development of property that would become RIVERVIEW PARK. It included development of homes and factories on land south of Base Line Road between the Oswego road and the CB&Q tracks.

In August of 1894, the Aurora Daily Express again published a story about the New Montgomery Magnesia Spring Water and Ice Company, headed by Vine A Watkins, former president of the Village of Montgomery, now living in Chicago.  He and several associates planned to furnish Chicago hotels with water and ice.  The story says that the water is now being delivered to many homes in Aurora each morning, and is already quite popular and considered beneficial.

Plans are to build an ice plant with a capacity of 30 tons a day. The brick building will be 175 feet long, about 40 feet wide and located on the east side of the CB&Q tracks north of the Montgomery railway station. “The water will be frozen while in circulation, without the air-excluding process, just as it is done in nature; thereby retaining in the ice all of the medicinal properties in the water.”

This explains the story my friend, Louis Oelker, told about one of his chores when he was a child. He lived in the south end of Aurora, not far from Lincoln School on Lake Street. His mother would send him, on his bicycle, to Montgomery to get a container filled with drinking water. He said there was a spigot near the depot and a line of people would be waiting to fill containers.  Montgomery water was considered very good tasting, as well as having those healing properties. People continued to go to the site of the Old Riverview Park to get water from the artesian well there long after it closed.

This story, from the same issue of the newspaper, tells of a major disaster when a Glucose factory in Geneva dumped poisonous waste into the Fox River killing thousands of fish. A number of night fishermen were on the banks in Batavia and witnessed fish coming up to the banks and attempting to throw themselves out of the water. The next morning when they were gathered up, they included some of the finest grade fish to be found, mostly from 5 to 7 pounds, including a Pike weighing 7 ½ pounds. This appeared to be an accidental spill, but one that occurred occasionally along the riverbanks.

Other stories from the late 1800s mention the deplorable condition of the river, and the problem with factories using it for a sewer. We are still at their mercy. The late Senator Paul Simon of Illinois warned us of a coming Worldwide Fresh Water Crisis. We can only trust that we have honest people in place to do the right thing.

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