Kane County History: Nordens Soner And Batavia’s Swedish Society
- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s post was submitted by Batavia Depot Museum Executive Director Jennifer Putzier and Batavia Depot Museum Curator Chris Winter.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th century, Americans banded together in fraternal societies in astonishing numbers. These societies fulfilled the basic human need of fellowship and an opportunity to engage in charitable work among those in need.
In 1896, the Nordens Soner lodge was established, joining more than a dozen fraternal and organizations already in Batavia.
The goal of the Nordens Soners, meaning “Sons of the North” or “Sons of the Nordic” in English, was to provide a way for Swedish men to become acquainted, keep alive the traditions of the old country, and to make an easier adjustment to their new American home. They are remembered for their community activities, such as ice cream socials, and even organized the Nordens Soner Band.
More importantly, though, like many fraternal organizations of the time, their core mission was to offer peace of mind as a mutual aid and benefit society.
If there was sickness or death, or even financial difficulties, the society could assist to cover expenses and help Swedish families get back on their feet again. Banding together, when Swedes were viewed with suspicion as a large immigrant group, allowed families to support each other and contribute to the wider community.
The group was organized by Nels Peter Gustafson, who was elected their first chairman. The Swedish population was growing rapidly in Batavia, and at one time made up half of Batavia’s population.
The industrious organization founded a store to support their efforts, which later became Anderson Brothers on Batavia Avenue. Not surprisingly, the business was nicknamed the “Swede store.”
The Nordens Soner purchased their own building on South Batavia Avenue in 1900, conducting fraternal business on the second floor, and renting the first out to a variety of businesses, including the first automobile repair shop in Batavia.
With the large Swedish populations in the surrounding towns as well, the Nordens Soners grew. By 1930, every city in Kane county had one.
By then, fraternal organization memberships were on the decline across the country, though. Economic factors, such as the Great Depression, contributed to this, but so did new leisure time activities like movies, radio and the ever popular automobile.
The need for protective functions also decreased. Social Security, pension and disability plans and a host of insurance and government plans have greatly reduced the need. The group disbanded in 1950.
Though membership in these types of organizations has decreased, they still are a strong and supportive presence in the community of Batavia. The Nordens Soners are a historic example, but many organizations, such as the Rotary Club, the United Way and the Batavia Women’s club are still active, improving Batavia and the world with their charitable work.
You can learn more about each of these groups in the Batavia Depot Museum’s newest exhibit, Community Above Self, running until July 23, 2018. The Depot’s hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
About The Batavia Depot Museum
The Batavia Depot Museum opened in 1975 as a partnership between the Batavia Park District and the Batavia Historical Society. The Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad Depot was the first of its kind built in 1854, and is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
Inside, the city’s past comes alive through exhibits detailing the history of rail transportation, manufacture of windmills, agriculture, banking, commerce and a brief stay by Mary Todd Lincoln at Bellevue Place. Open seasonally, from March to November, hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Read The Kane County History Series!
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