Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Pretty little town

Geneva house built of local limestone, dated 1855
Geneva, Illinois is a pretty little town.  Like its neighbor to the south, Batavia, and its neighbor to the north, St. Charles, it grew up on the banks of the Fox River, using the power of the flowing river to drive the engines of industry.

While Batavia made windmills and other agricultural machinery, Geneva in turn processed the products of agriculture. A creamery was one of the first industries; Geneva mills also processed flax, made sugar from corn, and milled grain for flour.

Growing up in Batavia, for me Geneva even then seemed to be a pretty little town. It was the place we went to shop for pretty things, like clothes and household decorations, and also for fun things like toys and books. It was the place where Mom and Dad felt safe dropping us off at the movie theatre for a Saturday matinee.

Whether we took route 25 along the east side of the river, or Batavia Avenue along the west side of the river, I always loved the drive to Geneva. I would sit in the back seat of the car and look out the window at the houses we'd pass. Shaded by cool trees, or glimpsed down a winding driveway beyond two stone pillars, many were large Victorian wood-framed houses, some with the pointed elaborate towers of the Queen Anne style, and others the boxy Italianate style of an earlier era, with square cupolas crowning the roof. There were wrought iron spiky fences painted glossy black, and there were stone lions or urns flanking the entrance to these places of wonder.

South Third Street in Geneva was a genteel stretch where the pretty old houses had been transformed into stores, boutiques and tea rooms, hung with dignified painted signs - and it still is today, with even more restaurants and stores housed in newly built developments, designed to match the quaint feel.

Kane County Courthouse
At the north end of Third, just before it meets State Street, the massive red stone Kane County Courthouse rises up, its vast copper dome a visual landmark.

The small door in the wing of this columned house used to be Robin's Bookshop
Third Street today is still a shopping experience, as it was in my childhood, although more thriving and accessible.

In those days, it was a place for the ladies who lunch, browsing the dress shops and antique shops, nibbling chicken salad sandwiches at the Little Traveler, or poring over books at Robin's Bookshop.

Today there are outdoor seating areas for coffee and ice cream shops, and benches ranged along the sidewalks for shoppers to sit and chat. Affluent power couples steer deluxe supercharged strollers through the streams of tourists, the occasional jogger, and the civic-minded volunteers who, on my visit, were busy painting the fire hydrants to celebrate Homecoming Week.

The Little Traveler
Some of the boutiques have succumbed to the demands of the tourist trade, offering cheap and popular junk dressed up with twee. I stepped into the Little Traveler on a Sunday morning, to find its narrow hallways choked with displays of fake pumpkins and sequined ribbons, souvenir tea cups and dishtowels adorned with Swedish hearts.

State Street is lined with historic commercial buildings that have been tastefully preserved and restored, and the sidewalks are planted with colorful flowers maintained by civic volunteers. There is a thriving trade of dress shops and florists, based on weddings and celebrations, due to the many attractive wedding venues in town. There are bakeries, confectioners, and coffee shops galore.

Movie theatre, now a gastro-pub
There are steak houses, fine restaurants, and pub-like eateries - there's a microbrewery that preserved and revived an old State Street tap room, serving its own brews and some pretty good sandwiches. If you peek into Stockholm's, you'll be rewarded with historic photos of the town, mounted along the walls.

State Street with gardens
Such a pretty little town, Geneva is the perfect setting for special events, including one I remember from my childhood, Swedish Days. Celebrating the heritage of Geneva's second wave of settlers in second half of the 19th century, there are sidewalk sales and stages filled with dancers dressed in traditional costumes. I had my first taste of cotton candy at Swedish Days.

Pumpkin Festival
There may be too many special events exploiting Geneva's quaintness, however; one morning while walking I was passed by a father and his son riding a double bike. "Oh, no, Dad!" exclaimed the boy, surveying the throngs of t-shirted volunteers arranging pumpkins on the Court House lawn. "Not another festival!"

Sigh. You can't please everyone!

Little Owl Tavern
 Still - it's a pretty little town.

1 comment:

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

"Oh, no, Dad!" exclaimed the boy, surveying the throngs of t-shirted volunteers arranging pumpkins on the Court House lawn. "Not another festival!"

Perfect! I think I had my first cotton candy at the World's Fair in New York in 1964.