Kane County History: Batavia's 108-Year-Old Gazebo Still Lights The Way

Kane County History: Batavia’s 108-Year-Old Gazebo Still Lights The Way

  • 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.

Smith family at the dedication of the gazebo at the Depot Museum in 1991. Front row: Edwin Smith, Jr., Joan Taylor, Betty Wormwood, Paul Smith, Dolores Bockman. Back row: John Smith, Merita Nickels, Robert Smith.

The Gunzenhauser Smith Gazebo is a cherished feature of the Depot Museum grounds, overlooking the Riverwalk and the Depot Pond. Prior to that, though, it was a familiar sight to Batavians along Batavia Avenue, on the southwest corner of where it meets Shabbona Trail.

The origins of the structure trace back to John Gunzenhauser, who lived in Batavia home, but made his fortune in Chicago.

The Gazebo as seen in its original location, on North Batavia Avenue

Gunzenhauser came to America from Germany at the age of 21 in 1854. He had training as a master builder, and easily procured jobs in carpentry, and later as an architect. He made his way west, settling in Chicago in 1856.

He set up shop as an architect and builder, and in 1859 he began working with Sigmund Meyers, a real estate agent. When Meyers retired, Gunzenhauser continued in real estate and loans, amassing quite a bit of property and fortune for himself.

According to The Album of Genealogy and Biography, Cook County, Illinois third edition, published in 1895, “He made judicious purchases of real estate on his own account, and has steadily enlarged his holdings, until he is reckoned to-day among the multi-millionaires.”

So what was a proper Victorian gentleman to do with his fortune? Procure a proper country home!

In 1885, Mr. Gunzenhauser became the “owner of a few acres at Batavia, Illinois, where in his quiet rural home he escapes from the noise and burden of business in the city when his day’s work is done,” the Album of Genealogy and Biography said.

The Fox Valley area was very popular area for second homes for the Chicago elite — close to the city, but still in the country. Much like the Fabyans of Fabyan Villa, Gunzenhauser may have initially intended the area to be a “country retreat,” but it soon became his home.

The history of the unusual gazebo is a little fuzzier. It was erected about 1910, on a small knoll on the Gunzenhauser property, visible from Batavia Avenue. While it is a traditional shape for a Victorian gazebo — eight sides and a peaked roof — the addition of windows is unusual.

The Gazebo being moved from the Smith Property.

Gazebos traditionally are open air structures. Conservatories, popular during the Victorian times as sun rooms to house plants, had windows but glassed roofs as well.

Batavia’s Gazebo is a unique hybrid of the two, with beautiful (and historically expensive!) colored glass windows. (Victorian conservatories were different than green houses — one was for plant display, the other was for plant growing.)

There are many legends the Historical Society has collected about the gazebo over the years, but unfortunately, none of these has been substantiated in the historical records.

It’s said the structure was imported from Germany, though, with his fortune and background in architecture, it would have had to have been very special indeed to have been imported rather than to have just built it himself!

The most endearing story about the Gazebo is that Guzenhauser built the structure as a place he could enjoy playing his violin and smoke his cigars — neither of which Mrs. Gunzenhauser liked in the house!

Gunzenhauser lived on the property until he passed away in 1925 at the age of 92. Edwin and Gertrude Smith purchased the property 16 years later in 1941 for their large family. They raised nine children in the Gunzenhauser home at 605 N. Batavia Ave. — five girls and four boys.

The Smith Gazebo being set into place along the Depot Pond, September 1990

Betty Wormwood, daughter of Edwin Smith and Depot Museum volunteer, remembers the gazebo fondly from her youth. Her father would light it for Christmas each year, the colored glass windows shining brightly.

The Smiths owned the property until 1988, when they sold to William Tein, a Naperville developer. Both the Smith family and Tein knew the gazebo was something special and should be saved.

In 1990, the Gazebo was moved to its present location, looking over the Depot Pond, between the Depot Museum and the Batavia Riverwalk. It took a year for restore the piece to its former glory, and the Gunzenhauser Smith Gazebo was officially dedicated Aug. 11, 1991 for all Batavians to enjoy.

This year, the Batavia Historical Society is looking forward to continuing Edwin Smith’s tradition of decorating the Gazebo for the holiday season with their newest fundraiser for the Depot Expansion project. During the “Light up the Gazebo” campaign, you can sponsor a bulb, one for $10 each or three for $25.

With each gift, a paper bulb with the donor’s name or the name of your choice will be hung inside the Depot Museum between now and the Nov. 25 Celebration of Lights Festival. At 6 p.m., during the festival, the Depot’s Gunzenhauser/Smith Gazebo will be ceremonially lit by Betty Wormwood (nee Smith) and her family.

If you’d like to help make our Gazebo a little brighter this holiday season, you can sponsor a bulb by stopping at the Depot Museum during open hours, or buy yours on-line at bataviahistoricalsociety.org. The lights will be enjoyed for the entire holiday season!

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.

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