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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Curious Curator – Happy home coming


To liberally re-purpose a quote from American humorist, Mark Twain, “Reports of my permanent move to Springfield are greatly exaggerated.”

Yes, I will be going to Springfield periodically to research, but I am not leaving my Naperville home. “Home is where you hang your hat” they say. I hang my hat here in Naperville.

A hundred years ago “home coming” was on the minds of Napervillians. A four-day celebration of parades, programs and a souvenir book was planned and produced by the Naperville Association of Commerce to promote the great number of municipal, civic, and cultural improvements of the community of Naperville.

Naperville photographer Charles Koretke went around town and took more than a 100 high quality images of private homes, businesses, churches, schools, street and landscapes.

Twenty-three of the structures photographed have been torn down and are no longer a part of the Naperville built environment. Most notable among the list are the John Naper house and the Naperville High School.

Nearly one third of the buildings seen in the Naperville Home Coming book, either private homes, churches or businesses, have since been re-purposed for other uses than the original intent of the building. Remarkable examples include the Kroehler Manufacturing Company building and the Old Nichols Library.

The beautifully crafted Naperville Home Coming book should not be our only memory of our home.

Whether one was born in Naperville or a newcomer, the history of our community is preserved in our memories, archives, and the built environment. The destruction of any of these sources will provoke a civic amnesia which will leave the community to flounder through careless development and temporary structures.

The United States Geological Survey benchmarked the Old Nichols Library as a structure that would never be moved or altered. The medallion affixed to the northwest corner of the building in 1905 marks the spot where Naperville is exactly 693 feet above sea level.

In preserving our buildings we are preserving the land marks that mark our place and our story in our community’s timeline. In preserving buildings we are educating those with and around us of the importance of this place we call “home.”

Not every building can or should be saved, but a public building dedicated to the education, cultural heritage and good of the community deserves to be saved, re-purposed and preserved for future generations.

The Old Nichols Library is more than a composite of bricks and stone. It is a Naperville cultural icon that will be sorely missed by those who have called Naperville “home” and for those yet to call Naperville “home.”

Bryan Ogg
Bryan Ogg
Bryan Ogg is a local historian and curator of local legend, stories and lore.