Kane County History: Batavia’s WWI French Connection

Kane County History: Batavia’s WWI French Connection

  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a weekly series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s article was contributed by Jennifer Putzier, director of the Batavia Depot Museum.

In January, 1997, students of the Junior High School in Saint-Aignan-Sur-Cher, France, sent a letter to the “City Archives” of Batavia, in hopes of learning more about “W. F. Hoag.”

The eighth- and ninth-graders were studying World War I, and as part of a class project were attempting to track down American soldiers that had left their names scratched into the limestone caves and buildings in the nearby town of Noyers-sur-Cher.

“W. F. Hoag BA – – – IA ILL.” was found on the front façade of the home the students’ history and geography teacher, Christian Couty. It took a bit of puzzling, but the only town that fit that pattern of letters was Batavia, IL.

This letter was passed from the city to Batavia Historical Society Historian Bill Wood, who knew exactly who W. F. Hoag was. An educator himself, he knew what an amazing opportunity this was for the students and got straight to work gathering information about the man and Batavia for the class to enjoy.

Wilton Folsom Hoag was a well-known name in town. He was the last living WWI veteran in Batavia, and had just died the year prior, June 22, 1996, at the grand age of 102.

He was born Dec. 4, 1893, in Nebraska, but his father, an established windmill builder, came to Batavia to work at Challenge Company about 1911. Wilton had already followed in his father’s machinist footsteps when America entered World War I in 1917.

Wilton enlisted, and was sent to France, where his skills were put to good use.

From April 1 to Dec. 25, 1918, he was part of the 15th Company 2nd Regiment of Air Service Mechanics, where he helped rebuild “Spad” airplanes used by both the U.S. Army Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps.

It was this talented young man that engraved his name into the limestone building in France.

He wasn’t the only soldier to do so; the class sent out 45 different inquires.

In a letter dated March 15, 1997 from Mr. Couty, “We have only heard from about a quarter of the communities solicited, many dead ends, but your response so far has been the most interesting.”

As a result of their inquiries, the students and faculty of the Saint-Aignan Junior High created a three-week exhibition about the U.S. military base in Saint-Aignan and Noyers-sur-Cher, and designed the American Memorial at the crossroads of the Trois Provinces.

Wilton lived a long a full life here in Batavia after the Great War.

After working for the Challenge Company, he opened his own tool and die shop. He continued honing his machinist skills, and held several patents.

Wilton left no descendants, but was close with his brother Charles’ family; especially his nephew John Hoag. It was John who provided much of the detail of Wilton’s service during World War I.

Two copies of his service records were made; one to share with the students in France, and one for the archives of the Depot Museum.

Thank you to David Peebles and his research into Wilton Hoag for alerting the Depot to this interesting story!

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, March through November. Summer hours started June 1 and are 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Read The Kane County History Series!