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‘Significant Black Women of the Reconstruction Era and Beyond’ with Dr. Felicia LaBoy

‘Significant Black Women of the Reconstruction Era and Beyond’ with Dr. Felicia LaBoy

This presentation took place on Sunday, February 20th, 2022. The event was not recorded because of technical difficulty, but gratefully, Phil Broxham of Grindstone Productions was there and he took some video of the event.

Dr. LaBoy provided a list of recommended reading, and there were some requests to label the women that were talked about in the presentation.

Dr. LaBoy mentioned Civil Rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer (photo in the lower right) and let us know a documentary about her life aired on PBS.

On the Zoom chat, Tish Powell recommended ‘Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker’ available on Netflix. There were questions about how to bring the history of these women more to the forefront. Georgie Camacho, a public school librarian, noted on the Zoom chat that she purposely seeks out books featuring women that are not as well known and promotes them to the students.

Dr. Felicia LaBoy is the Lead Pastor at First United Methodist Church in Elgin and a life coach. You can learn more about her on her website:

Rachmaninoff in Elgin

Rachmaninoff in Elgin

Researched and written by Richard Renner

Rachmaninoff’s appearance in Elgin came in the midst of a tour which had started in Detroit on October 12 and had included stops in Paterson, NJ, Philadelphia, Boston, Ottawa, and Rochester NY before Elgin.   After Elgin he was scheduled for Milwaukee on November 4, Knoxville on November 9, and Chattanooga on November 13.

The Courier’s October 15 announcement of Rachmaninoff’s concert includes two paragraphs beginning with his claim that modern music “represents only retrogression.”  These passages appear in newspaper concert promotions as early as 1933 and were likely part of a standard promotional packet.   A Knoxville paper and the Chicago Tribune repeated those passages for their upcoming November 1942 concerts.

Rachmaninoff’s autumn 1942 recital tour appears to have featured two programs.   Elgin’s was a shorter program which had also been performed at a Paterson, NJ high school on October 20.   According to the Courier Rachmaninoff performed his Prelude in C sharp minor as an encore.  In Paterson he offered the Prelude and a Chopin Mazurka.
In other cities – including Chicago – his program included Bach, Beethoven, and a variety of other Liszt works.  I’ve attached a copy of an October 30, 1942, article from a Rochester, NY newspaper setting out that program.  He was a bit more generous in encores, too.  Three, for example, in Ottawa and Rochester. 

Regrettably the Courier articles do not mention some aspects of Rachmaninoff’s touring which were distinctive.   For example, an October 12, 1942, Paterson news story said he used his own piano at each venue and had four stationed strategically about the country, one of which would be ready in his hotel room upon arrival.  A Camden NJ article on October 20 said that wartime transport restrictions might limit his access to his own pianos but that he would not stop traveling with his piano tuner who “remains in the wings throughout the recital.”  I’ve attached another story about the piano tuner from a Knoxville paper.
Newspapers also remarked on the special electric muff with which Rachmaninoff kept his hands warm and flexible in cold dressing rooms and concert halls.   Of course, the cold hands may reflect the health problems which were becoming increasingly challenging for the heavy-smoking Rachmaninoff by the end of 1942.   Rachmaninoff and his wife spent much of the last 25 years of his life on American trains traveling to concerts in communities large and small.  His ambitious schedule for the fall of 1942 must have been especially burdensome under wartime travel conditions.   Even though Claudia Cassidy found Rachmaninoff’s November 22 recital had “a freshness, a validity so revealing it used virtuosity as a mere vehicle of expression,” the 1942-43 concert season would be his last.

After Elgin he was able to perform his Milwaukee concert on November 4 but deteriorating health forced him to postpone recitals on November 9 in Knoxville and November 13 in Chattanooga.  He apparently performed at Carnegie Hall on November 7 and was able to fulfill obligations in Washington DC,  Minneapolis, and Chicago later in the month. He started a new tour in February 1943, but his makeup concert in Knoxville on February 17 was his last public performance.  He died on March 28, 1943, just days before his 70th birthday.

Elgin Epidemics

Elgin Epidemics

Elgin History Museum, Compiled from the work of E. C. Alft and Barbara Schock

The kids from the Fremont Center are donating money to the Polio Fund in 1953.

Although Elgin is shut down now with individuals asked to quarantine themselves, this is not the first time. In the 19th century, there were frequent epidemics that came with suffering and sorrow. In 1845, the ague – or “bilious fever” – raged. Many settlers fled town and nearly every remaining resident was prostrate. It was said that one man whose wife succumbed from the illness had difficulty finding assistance to bury her in a decent manner.

“Children have been swept away as with a pestilence,” reported the weekly Elgin Gazette in 1862-1863. This was right after former slaves, called “contraband,” arrived in Elgin. They traveled for two days in unheated boxcars after living in a crowded refugee camp. 16 African American children died mainly of smallpox. An equal number of white children died of scarlet fever and diphtheria. Different diseases, but the blame fell on the new war refugees.

Cholera hit the city in 1854, killing Elgin founder James Gifford, Cholera hit again in 1866. Diphtheria was an all-too-frequent visitor in the fall and winter months. Lottie Magden, 13, died on Saturday. Her brother, Eddie, 3, and her sister Lizzie, 15, died the following Wednesday. All three children were among several Elgin victims of diphtheria outbreak of 1883. The source of the disease was believed at the time to be a stagnant and slime-covered slough at the intersection of Dundee Avenue and Gifford and Summit streets. The bed of the wetlands was at the same level as neighborhood wells. A severe onslaught of diphtheria occurred in 1895, 1896, and 1897, when there were 42 deaths.

A slow moving epidemic, tuberculosis affected world populations from the 1600s through the 19th century. At the Elgin State Hospital in 1906, over 25 percent of all hospital deaths were caused by tuberculosis, including three doctors. To control the spread of the disease, a tent hospital was set up to isolate TB patients who were also patients at the state hospital. Within a few years, the care of TB patients was located in a specially built separate building, and not on the main wards. For the general Elgin population, private sanitariums took on the care of tuberculosis patients.

July 1916 was the hottest month Elgin had known up to that time. Typhoid fever killed one person on July 5, but eight others in the city were ill with the disease. Many of the sick were Elgin National Watch Company employees. Smallpox was also reported. Quarantine signs were posted outside of homes with sickness warning neighbors not to visit and milkmen to not pick up empty bottles. Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection picked up through contaminated water, milk, shellfish, and other foods. It causes headache, fever, sore throat and diarrhea. Diagnosing typhoid is difficult in the early stages because the symptoms are common for many diseases.

Dr. Alban Mann was the City of Elgin physician and kept records of the typhoid cases. He tested the city water supply and found no typhoid, the same with the milk supply. By August 16, there were at least 25 cases, but officials could not find the source. Esther Range, who worked in the Spring Room at the watch factory, died. The next day there were 10 more cases. The third victim, Verna Brandow, died on August 18. She was employed in the Stem Wind department at the factory.

There were all kinds of ideas on what was causing the disease. Some residents thought it was the public bathing beaches on the Fox River, or sediment in the city drinking water, or pollutants from new automobiles. In the end, over 200 residents were stricken, with 26 deaths reported that year. The last person to die of complications of typhoid fever on December 12, 1916 was Elizabeth Simms, who had been ill for 14 weeks. She worked 30 years in the Stem Wind department of the factory. The source of the contamination was traced by Dr. Mann to a leaky valve, which separated water from the watch factory’s reservoir on Watch Street and water taken from the river. The leaky valve allowed river water seepage to contaminate water pumped to drinking fountains throughout the watch factory building. The watch factory instituted mandatory vaccinations for typhoid. The vaccine was to be given in a series of three injections over a period of about three weeks. It was said that women and men had fainted during the process. There were also rumors that some workers had to be taken to the hospital after they received the treatment. The company had a history of demanding vaccinations. In 1882, 34 years before the typhoid epidemic, all employees were vaccinated for smallpox.

The great influenza pandemic of 1918, which caused an estimated 20 million deaths in Europe and the Americas, was the last major scourge to inflict the city. Although 70 died in Elgin, the outbreak here was relatively mild compared to 236 dead in Joliet and 125 in Aurora. Also in 1918, Elgin experienced a smallpox epidemic started by a young girl who traveled from Jacksonville to visit her married sister. The sister’s husband was a barber who worked the first two days after he was infected. There was an immediate 20-day quarantine to suppress the disease and an immediate large-scale vaccination program. Over 5,000 vaccinations were given to Elgin citizens, but many refused to cooperate. 117 cases of smallpox were reported, but fortunately, no deaths.

Later in the 20th century, Elgin had cases of polio and AIDS. Both diseases were rampant for periods of time with unknown sources and cures. Medical scientists, public health workers, and improved sanitation have eliminated the fears of an earlier day, but the coronavirus is a reminder that the battle against contagious disease is not yet won.

443 W. Chicago Street

443 W. Chicago Street

The snow is gone and the sun is out – it’s a great day for a walk! This week’s house was inspired by the Near West neighborhood and the new initiative #ElginWalks. Visit for maps, walking challenges and even ways to win prizes!

443 W. Chicago Street was built in 1891 for Thomas and Martha McBride for $1,500. Thomas was the bookkeeper for his father’s company, Henry McBride and Company, which sold coal, wood, lime, cement and stone.
Martha and Thomas had three children, Stanley, Walter and Waneta. Sadly, Thomas died in 1903 at the young age of 40 leaving the family with many business debts. Due to this, the house was sold at a sheriff’s auction in 1909 where Martha was the only bidder. She kept the family home until her death in 1925.
443 W. Chicago Street is considered a part of the Spindlework sub-type of the Queen Anne Style. The home displays much of its original features including the intricate vergeboard found at the front and cross gables, the squared bay window with top panels and brackets and the delicate spindlework porch supports with lace-like brackets and frieze found at the front porch.
While you are in the Near West Neighborhood, don’t forget to check the progress on the Nancy Kimball Cobblestone House Project at 302 W. Chicago Street!
Text adapted from

1895 Map of Elgin, IL
117 Tennyson Court

117 Tennyson Court

Happy Good Friday, Elgin! There is this tiny street in the Elgin Historic District called Tennyson Court that I just love. The homes on this street are all very neat in their own right, but the house at 117 Tennyson Court is a real beauty. This is also one of the oldest houses in Elgin being built in the 1850’s for Edmund and Lucy Gifford along with their nine children. Edmund was an attorney that brought the first law library to Elgin and was the first superintendent of the public school system in Elgin.

The house originally faced Division Street before the lot was subdivided in the early 1900s. You can see the development of Tennyson Court by the images of the Sanborn fire insurance maps. In the first image from 1891, the street doesn’t officially exist! By 1903, there were about 10 houses, and the 1950 image shows what the street looks like today.This Second Empire style residence, now a three-unit, was a single family home only for a short time: It had been converted to a two family home by 1914. In 1981, the home underwent an extensive renovation, including removing the white paint from the brick exterior. In 1993, it was on the Historic Elgin House Tour. Read the full story in the tour book here:

Notice the mansard roof has several patterns of shingles with a painted cornice supported by decorative brackets. These details are my favorite part of the house.

Text and photos adapted from Gifford Park Association Historic Elgin House Tour booklet from 1993 and also

571 Center Street

571 Center Street

For this week’s house, I wanted to feature a house owned by a doctor or nurse as a tribute to all the hospital staffers working around the clock during this unprecedented crisis.
Looking through Mike Alft’s book “Elgin: An Amercan History” I found Dr. Carlton E. Starrett, who served in the Spanish-American war. He and his family lived at 571 Center Street – which was a little hard to research because it doesn’t exist anymore! Luckily, it was listed in Steve Stroud’s book There Used to Be.
This house was built in 1886 for $5,000 by the Turnbull Brothers for Henry Adams, who was the president of the Western Card Company. The next owners were the G. W. Sears family, who were in the books and stationery supplies business. The next family to move in were the C. N. Black family who are pictured in the first photo, and the Starrett family moved in around 1896. According to an article in the Elgin Daily Courier from March 26, 1920, the home was sold to St. Joseph Hospital for $10,000. It was then used as a residence for the nurses until the early 1970’s. The home was razed in 1973 along with the old hospital and the entire block became St. Francis Park. I couldn’t find many photos of this house. If anyone has exterior or interior photos – please share!

The Hubbard Families of Elgin: Part 2

The Hubbard Families of Elgin: Part 2

By David Siegenthaler

In 1866-67, William G. Hubbard’s second Elgin home, a large Italianate, was built at 378 Division St. In November 1873 this home was sold to Emeline Borden, second wife of Gail Borden. Intending to move here, Gail Borden became critically ill in Texas and died there on January 11, 1874. Emeline Borden and her son Alfred Church moved into the home and Emeline lived there until her death in 1890. Alfred built the home next door at 364 Division St. in 1886- 87. The Hubbard/Borden home at 378 Division St. still stands but was extensively remodeled in 1919 and converted into a Christian Science church with a Greek Revival style. It has been home to several different congregations since then.

In 1873, before he sold his home to the Bordens, William built his third Elgin home, an Italian-style villa, at 140 N. Gifford St. William and his wife Charlotte remained in this home until their deaths in the 1880s, and then their son Will and his wife Callie lived there until 1915. In 1920 the home was sold to Matilda Lange, whose husband Henry converted the home into several apartments. The home remained a multi-unit apartment house until 2001, when it was deconverted to a single-family home again. William died of pneumonia December 15, 1883, at age 79. His wife Charlotte died March 10, 1885, at age 68. They are buried in Bluff City Cemetery.

Henry Wright Hubbard, son of William G. and Charlotte, was born May 17, 1844, in Elgin. Like his father, he was active in the abolitionist cause and the First Congregational Church, to whom he bequeathed $5,000. Henry was educated at Elgin Academy and the University of Michigan law school. He served in the Civil War, then returned to Elgin, where he practiced law and helped organize the YMCA. He also practiced law at Denver, Colorado, and taught mathematics for a few years at Fisk University, a school for newly-freed slaves in Nashville, Tennessee.

In about 1879 Henry began a 34-year career as treasurer of the American Missionary Association in New York City. He died of heart failure on May 21, 1913, in a bank vault in New York City and is buried in Bluff City Cemetery. He was a wealthy man and bequeathed the bulk of his estate to the American Missionary Association for work among African-Americans of the South.

According to Elgin historian Mike Alft, Henry was the first person born in Elgin to be listed in the prestigious “Who’s Who in America.” He was a bachelor who considered Elgin as his ultimate home and was a frequent visitor to friends and relatives here.

William (“Will”) Hubbard, the last-born child of William G. and Charlotte, was born June 27, 1849, in Elgin. He was educated at Elgin Academy, Beloit College and the University of Illinois, where he was a member of the first graduating class in 1872. At age 20 he became a telegrapher for the Union Pacific railroad and worked at Greeley, Colorado. On July 10, 1872, Will married Callie Edwards of Champaign, Illinois. Callie was born November 14, 1852, in Felicity, Ohio, and her family moved to Champaign when she was a child.

Will and Callie’s first three children died young. Winifred (1875-76) and William (1877; 3 days old) died in Champaign. Charlotte (1879-83) died in Elgin. Their other two children were Ethel (1886-1977; Mrs. Roy Webster) and Marguerite (1891-1981; Mrs. Lyman Weld). Will and Callie moved to Elgin about 1879 and lived at 128 N. Gifford St. When Will’s mother died in 1885, they acquired her home next door at 140 N. Gifford St., and lived there until 1915, when they moved to their new home at 722 Cedar Ave. About 1923, the couple moved to Winnetka to live with their daughter and son-in-law, Marguerite and Lyman Weld. Callie died there June 29, 1925, at age 72, and Will died May 22, 1930, at age 80. They are buried in Bluff City Cemetery.

Fascinated by telegraphy and telephony since his teen years, Will experimented with many different systems, inventing early versions of the telephone, both electrical and mechanical. Eventually, Alexander Graham Bell’s invention won out. Telephone exchange franchises operating under Bell’s patents were being granted throughout the country. Will obtained the Chicago Telephone Co. franchise for Elgin in 1881 and supervised installation of the equipment on the second floor of his father’s building. He solicited subscriptions and managed the exchange for seven years. In 1888 he left to devote his energy to the development of independent telephone interests. That year Will and three partners incorporated the Elgin Telephone and Electric Supply Co. By the turn of the century, however, Will had changed careers and become an insurance agent.

Will’s private collection of antique telephone and telegraph instruments was shown throughout the country. He was the only independent exhibitor of “electric telephones” at the World’s Fairs in Chicago (1893) and St. Louis (1904), and his exhibit depicting the evolution of the telephone was purchased by Purdue University. At the time of his death he was collecting a display of antique telephone and telegraph instruments for Chicago’s Rosenwald Industrial Museum, now the Museum of Science and Industry.

Augustine (“Gus”) Hamilton Hubbard, no relation to the William G. Hubbard family of Elgin, was born March 17, 1843, in Salem, Michigan, to Harvey and Emily Hamilton Hubbard. In 1855 he moved with his family to Minnesota, where he graduated from the state normal school at Winona and worked as a store clerk in Lake City. In 1861 he went to St. Paul to enlist in the Union Army but was persuaded by General Sibley to be his special messenger, carrying messages between the military posts of the Northwest during a period of Indian uprisings. For three years he was engaged in this service, almost day and night in the saddle, facing every kind of danger.

In 1864 Gus came to Chicago, where he graduated from Eastman’s Business College. He then became a dairy farmer in McHenry County for three years, where he married Martha Lorette Hatch on October 25, 1870. Martha was born April 14, 1850, in McHenry County. In March 1871 the couple moved to Elgin where Gus partnered with R.W. Padelford in the insurance business. In 1876 he partnered with Erastus Gilbert in an insurance firm that also dealt in real estate and loaned money. In 1877 he was elected justice of the peace, an office which he held for the next 26 years.

Gus and Martha had two children: Frederick A. (circa 1872-1956) and Lewis Roy (“Roy,” circa 1876-1935). Frederick married Beryl Burns in 1895 and they had a daughter Dorothy. He became an insurance executive and in 1914-15 built a new home at 950 W. Highland Ave. In September 1915, as they were preparing to move to New York City for Frederick’s job promotion, Beryl died. Frederick became president of multiple insurance companies and lived in New York and Florida, where he died in Fort Myers. His widow, Luella, died in 1989. Roy married Clara Mackey in 1897 and both died in Chicago—Roy in 1935 and Clara in 1948. Gus’ wife Martha died February 11, 1897 and he married Clara Pettis June 1, 1898.

In 1903 Gus was elected mayor of Elgin and served a 2-year term. He defeated Arwin Price, who had been mayor for the three preceding terms (1897-1903). Gus’ administration was highlighted by a large increase in the miles of paved streets, a requirement for concrete sidewalks, and a revision of the building ordinance, focusing on fire safety, following the horrific Iroquois Theater fire in Chicago.

Gus lived at 145 Hill Ave., a home he owned and occupied from 1883 until his death in 1926. In 1890, when George E. Linkfield’s Addition was platted in northwest Elgin, it included Hubbard Ave., a street named for him. In 1926, when Green Acres Subdivision was platted, Hubbard Ave. was extended north to Wing St. Gus died June 3, 1926, and is buried in Bluff City Cemetery. His widow Clara died October 26, 1935.

Acknowledgments: Mike Alft’s books and newspaper articles; Kane County histories; “Elgin Today” (1903); obituaries and other newspaper articles; Internet sources; city directories; federal censuses; Kane County Recorder of Deeds research by Laurel Garza; house photos by Judy Van Dusen; etc.

406 Prospect

406 Prospect

This is a map from 1855 that showed property owners and land plots. As you can see, Mr. Schoonhoven’s home is on a nicely wooded plot

This week’s house came about because I was looking for a DIFFERENT address on Prospect Street – and this one caught my eye as well. 406 Prospect Street was built in 1854 for Thomas and Catharine Schoonhoven. According to an article in the Elgin Daily Courier, this home was built for $8,000. That was a lot of money in 1854!! Thomas was a farmer in nearby Hanover Township. He and his wife Catharine had 8 children – I guess that is why they needed such a large house. In 1869, Zabina Eastman and his wife Mary Jane bought this house and stayed until about 1880. An investor purchased it and then sold it to George and Mary Mathilda and their 3 kids. James Covey, a local builder, boarded with them. (You will hear more about the Covey’s in another post. 😉 ) Employees from George Congdon’s shoe and boot factory also boarded here.
FUN FACT (and something that made this a little challenging to research) This is on the corner of Cherry St and Prospect – it was first known as 274 Cherry Street, but today it is 406 Prospect Blvd.
Sources: There Used to Be – Vol III by Steve Stroud.

This is from a hand drawn map from 1880.
443 E. Chicago Street

443 E. Chicago Street

I was recently introduced to The Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) (Link to the website in comments below) from an email the Gifford Park Association sent to its members. This email also featured the A. B. Hinsdell House at 443 East Chicago Street that was included in the HABS survey. This is one of the oldest homes in the Elgin Historic District being built around 1845.

A. B. Hinsdell began his years in Elgin Township as a farmer. In the 1850s he bought wagons and he and son Oliver hauled building supplies and grain from Chicago to Elgin. He was a leading force in the establishment of Elgin Academy and Hinsdell Street was named for him. At some point in the 20th century the house was converted to the Restville House Convalescent home. In 1966 it was brought back to a single-family home. The most unique feature of the home is a spectacular unsupported circular staircase along the curved wall in the square entry hall. This greets you as you enter the front door. There is an elegant carved frieze on the stringer that follows the curved stairs.

This home was on the Historic Elgin House Tour in 1985 and 1996.
See the booklet page from 1985.
See the booklet page from 1996.
There is a majestic oak tree on the east lawn that is approximately 500 years old. Perhaps that tree, already mature and attractive, is the reason Hinsdell chose this spot for his home.

SOURCES: Many thanks to Dan Miller for providing this info! Housewalk booklet pages from Color photo from

703 Raymond Street

703 Raymond Street

Happy Friday! Who likes brick houses? 703 Raymond Street is a beauty. This home is associated with Paul Kemler Sr., a prominent resident of Elgin’s history. In 1889, he built an extravagant home with the masonry work completed by Jacob Lind & Sons, and total construction costs of $4,200.

Born in Germany, Kemler moved to Chicago in 1856 and worked as a tanner. By 1861, he had responded to Lincoln’s first call for troops and volunteered for the Civil War in the 24th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, serving under General Grant’s command. By the end of the decade, he had not only survived the war but became a patrolman on the Chicago police force. After four years on patrol, he moved to Elgin and ran the Washington Hotel. Extremely active in local civil societies and politics, Kemler eventually had everything from an Odd Fellow lodge named after him to serving as a city alderman in Elgin marking his legacy.

This home was awarded a house plaque in 1988, but since is located outside of the National Watch Historic District, it was also awarded “Landmark” status by the Elgin Heritage Commission in 2009. Check out the other Landmark Buildings in Elgin.

Information and pictures pulled from, the 2009 application for Landmark status, and “There Used to Be-Vol 3” by Steve Stroud