Kane County History: One Block of Geneva Tells 1,000 Fantastic Stories

Kane County History: One Block of Geneva Tells 1,000 Fantastic Stories

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series written by representatives of Kane County historical societies and history museums. Today’s article was submitted by Terry Emma, executive director of the Geneva History Museum.
  • All photos credited to the Geneva History Museum.

The accumulation of connected structures that today is the home of Geneva Cleaners is a story of transformation. Each building has its own interesting history, including what is now the customer service area of the cleaners.

Sketch of the Boyes Building.

Benjamin Boyes purchased property on the southeast corner of State and Second streets in 1864. He built a two-story building where he sold boots, shoes and groceries on the first floor and lived on the second floor.

For a time, the store held the books from the defunct Geneva Library Association in an attempt to start a circulating library. When Boyes tired of the responsibility, the books were moved elsewhere.

The first floor continued to be used as a market even after Boyes’ death in 1903. According to an August 1906 newspaper account, the second floor was rented to the Christian Scientists. At that time, the religious group had no church home, so they rented space until they eventually built on South Second Street.

Henry B. Fargo purchased the Boyes building in 1907 and had it remodeled into a bank. This became the location of the newly-organized First National Bank of Geneva.

The neo-French Renaissance facade of quarried limestone featured an entrance flanked by Corinthian columns. From there, customers had a view of terrazzo floors, marble counters and shiny new fixtures.

The bank’s first officers were Henry B. Fargo, president; Edward F. Gorton, vice president; Harvey L. Dow, second vice president;  and A.R. Dow, cashier.

A fire in February 1953 burned most of the south side of the 100 block of West State Street to the ground, including the First National Bank.  The blaze is considered one of the worst downtown fires in Geneva’s history and, miraculously, there were no injuries.

Temporary banking services were made available the next morning in a space offered by Skoglund Furniture Store, just a block to the west. The bank was rebuilt the same year in a sleek, mid-century style with large plate-glass windows and a flat roof.

In 1968, Don and Louanne Severson moved their family-owned business, Geneva Cleaners, from 113 West State St., to their newly acquired building at 130 W. State St., the former First National Bank. As the cleaning business grew, surrounding buildings were acquired to accommodate expansion.

In 1975, the building on Second Street next to Geneva Cleaners was torn down, and the Severson’s purchased the vacant lot. This area is now the Car Hop Service.

In 1988, the building at 128 W. State St. was acquired when the Averill Electric business was closed. The two buildings were joined together, completing the current complex.

In 2017, Geneva Cleaners demonstrated their commitment to the community by donating their services to the Geneva History Museum after water damage affected a large portion of the Museum’s textile collection.

You can learn how they helped and how to care for your own precious textiles from Eric Severson, owner of Geneva Cleaners and Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network at noon Tuesday, Oct. 9, during a Brown Bag program at the Geneva History Museum, 113 S. Third St., Geneva.

Please register in advance at GenevaHistoryMuseum.org or by calling 630-232-4951. The cost is $5 per person or $3 for a museum member.

Read The Kane County History Series!