Kane County History: Thomas Lathrop Cleveland — Batavia's Presidential Connection

Kane County History: Thomas Lathrop Cleveland — Batavia’s Presidential Connection

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s post was written by Batavia Depot Museum Executive Director Jennifer Putzier. All photos are courtesy of the Batavia Depot Museum.

Our very first presidential connection in Batavia came from Thomas Lathrop Cleveland, Batavia pioneer, business owner, Chicago Burlington and Quincy station agent and cousin to President Grover Cleveland.

Small engraved charm, belonging to Thomas Cleveland when he was the station agent.

Thomas Cleveland was born April 15, 1818, in Boston, MA, the only son of Aaron Porter and Lydia Austin Cleveland.

Lydia Cleveland died just a month after Thomas was born, so he was raised in Boston with his two half siblings from his father’s previous marriage.

Thomas was provided a good education, but he had an adventurous streak. He struck out for the East Indies as a young man and spent his 18th birthday on the banks of the Ganges River.

It’s uncertain what drew him abroad, but he soon came back to the United States, spent some time in Charleston, SS, and then made his way west.

In 1839, he opened a general store in Geneva, just upriver from Batavia. The next year, he moved the business to Batavia, where it flourished.

He settled down, marrying Olivia Blanchard in 1840. Olivia was the daughter of William and Hannah Blanchard, and a pioneer settler of Aurora. Her family moved west in 1836, when she was just 13 years old.

The Cleveland family put down roots in Batavia. Cleveland ran the general store for many years, and by 1857 he was a clerk at the Batavia Bank.

The Cleveland home at 125 S. Lincoln, built in 1852. It’s better known as the Burnham House, after its second owners.

He liked fine homes, evidenced in an early reference in 1846, when the Prairie Messenger described a residential street in Batavia as “a handsomely villa-built street a mile in length, with comfortable, if not elegant dwellings, including the well furnished brick mansion of Mr. Cleveland.”

It is uncertain where this early brick home was located, but two later homes built by the Clevelands still stand: 125 South Lincoln St., built in 1852, and 503 McKee St., built between 1856 and 1869.

Around 1860, Thomas Cleveland became the station agent for the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad, and held that position until 1881.

Instead of keeping a separate house, the Clevelands moved into the station, which now houses the Batavia Depot Museum, using the back part and upstairs as their personal quarters.

The oldest known photograph of the Depot, printed from a glass plate negative. Glass plate negatives were popular from the mid 1850s to the 1880s.

The Aurora Beacon-News reported that during 1874, Cleveland oversaw the following shipments from the Depot: 2,530 carloads of stone (10 tons per car), 47 carloads of wagons, 687 carloads of windmills, 37 carloads of grain and 76 carloads of sundry products.

The Clevelands were quite active in community life. They became members of the Congregational Church in 1872. Cleveland was a Mason, held several town offices, and was a School Board trustee for two terms. He was also elected city clerk of Batavia, but didn’t get to enjoy the post long. He died on April 10, 1882, shortly after being elected.

Though he is our presidential connection, Cleveland didn’t actually live long enough to see his cousin in office.

Cleveland and Grover Cleveland were first cousins, once removed, and he was a generation older than the president. Thomas Cleveland’s grandparents, Aaron Cleveland and his wife, Abiah, were President Cleveland’s great-grandparents. Grover Cleveland became the 22nd president of the United States in 1885, just three years after Thomas Cleveland’s death.

Thomas and Olivia Cleveland helped shape early Batavia and were respected members of the community.

Olivia Cleveland came to Batavia as a bride in 1840, and was thought to be the oldest of Batavia’s settlers when she passed away in 1908. Thomas Cleveland’s memory lives on the Depot, where he spent so many years in service to the Chicago Burlington and Quincy Railroad.

You can even see a small charm, engraved with his name, on display, from when he was station agent.

  • FEATURE PHOTO CAPTION: Thomas Cleveland is in this photo admiring Dan Corwin’s new horse in front of Milo Kemp’s building, but unfortunately which gentleman he is has been lost.

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 through November. Hours are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Read The Kane County History Series!