Kane County History: A Bird’s Eye View of 19th Century Geneva
- Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum.
There’s something rather majestic about seeing your community from high above. Your eyes cannot help but trace the familiar streets and admire well-known structures and landmarks from a unique perspective.
Genevans were treated to this in 1869 with the creation of Bird’s Eye View of Geneva, expertly rendered by renowned city view artist Albert Ruger. The beauty and accuracy of the work has left generations of admirers wondering just how Ruger was able to capture such an image of Geneva from over 1,000 feet in the air in the days before manned flight.
The truth is, he never left the ground throughout the image’s creation.
Like other city view artists, the Prussian-born Ruger made a painstaking study of the town by walking the streets, taking notes and drawing sketches of building exteriors. Based on that information, the artist used his imagination as he first drew the network of Geneva roads that framed every city block.
Referring to his sketches, Ruger then redrew every building as accurately as possible. Finally, he added life to his work by adding the hustle and bustle of tiny people on the go, horses and carriages in the street, boats in the Fox River, and an east-bound train headed for Chicago.
It is estimated that his iconic work was completed in under a week.
Ruger was also deliberate in his vantage point. He chose to view Geneva from the southeast, thereby capturing the beauty of the River, the economic importance of the railroad, and the breathtaking expanses of open land that surrounded the town.
In short, Ruger’s work was an advertisement of the seemingly limitless potential of Geneva and the Fox River Valley.
Ruger was frequently requested by towns throughout the Midwest to make a bird’s eye view of their own communities. In 1869 alone, the year that he drew Geneva, Ruger would go on to create a total of 62 city views, including one of Batavia.
Throughout his 25-year career, Ruger would draw more than 250 aerial images.
Still Inspiring Today
It goes without saying that contemporary mapmakers possess many more advantages than Ruger and his 19th-century imagination. Still, the ingenuity and artistry of Ruger continues to impress and inspire engineers and surveyors today.
Geneva’s very own Rempe-Sharpe & Associates, Inc. is no exception to that rule. Beginning in 1918 as the Wells Engineering Company, Rempe-Sharpe has developed into an award-winning engineering firm, recently receiving a National Award for Engineering Excellence by the American Public Works Association.
As a celebration of the 150th anniversary of Bird’s Eye View of Geneva, Jim Bibby of Rempe-Sharpe will present “The Art of Mapmaking” at noon Tuesday, March 12.
During the Brown Bag Program, Bibby will discuss the evolution of early mapmaking. This is a program that map enthusiasts will not want to miss!
Read The Kane County History Series!
- 1850-1925 Geneva — When Penmanship Was Mightier Than The Sword
- St. Charles Museum Site — From Serving Gas To Preserving History
- Elgin Puts 3,500 Priceless Photos Online
- Batavia-Inspired Miniatures Thrilled a Nation
- Aurora’s Maud Powell, World Famous Violinist
- Waxing Nostalgic on Geneva’s WGSB, WFXW
- American Doughboys of WWI — in St. Charles, IL
- Experience High-Tech History at April 21 ‘Open Elgin’ Event
- Batavia, IL — ‘Windmill Capital of The World’
- Meet Andy Aurora, Man About Town
- Celebrating The 50th Anniversary of 9-1-1 in Geneva
- Blue Goose And Evergreen Pub — ‘Shop Local’ 90 Years In The Making
- Elgin Is The Apple of Illinois Bicentennial’s Eye
- Nordens Soner And Batavia’s Swedish Society
- Aurora’s Melting Pot ‘Yearning To Breathe Free’
- Candles, Timing Devices, Phonographs And The ‘Life Cup’ — All Things Made in Geneva
- Hotel Baker, The ‘Masterpiece’ of The Fox Valley
- Elgin Celebrates Our Once-Burgeoning Dairy Business
- Reflections of Batavia’s Quarry Beach Pool
- Aurora’s Mabel O’Donnell, Author of “Alice And Jerry’ Books
- As Alice (Davis) Says, ‘Schools Out For Summer!’
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- Nationally Renowned Summer Camp in St. Charles
- The Harrowing Story of William Lynch, Elgin’s Civil War Brigadier General
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- One Block of Geneva Tells 1,001 Fantastic Stories
- St. Charles’ Evergreen Pub — The ‘Before’ Photos
- 1917-18 — When Elgin Artists Went to War
- Thomas Cleveland — Batavia’s Presidential Connection
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- Geneva Is The Place For Graveyards And Ghosts
- Visit Amelia Anderson At St. Charles’ North Side Cemetery
- Calling All Artists! … For a Cobblestone Reflection in Elgin
- Batavia’s 108-Year-Old Gazebo Still Lights The Way
- The Compelling, Tragic Story of Aurora’s Black WWI Hero Frank Boger
- Geneva History Museum Invites Artists To Celebrate Cultural Heritage
- Elgin’s Anson Clark Soared in The Great War … And Life
- What It Meant To Be a Patrol Boy and Louise White School
- ‘Men’s Night’ Christmas Shopping Was a 1950’s Aurora Phenomenon
- St. Charles Remembers Colson’s Christmas-Day Fire of ’33
- The Art of Elgin’s Cobblestone Reflections
- When Suffrage Met Prohibition in Batavia
- Geneva Presents The Art of The Fox River
- Blansford Astronomical Clock Is Aurora’s Treasure
- St. Charles Returns Family Heirlooms From WWII
- Museum Lands Painting By Elgin Artist Albert Kenney
- Cars Still Fixed at Historic Location in Downtown Batavia