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Friday, March 31, 2023

Naperville’s resident amateur photographer, merchant and first taxicab business owner


Eli Franklin Stark was born Aug. 23, 1873, on the family farm at 87th Street and Book Road in Wheatland Township, Will County, Illinois. Eli was the son and youngest child of Jacob S. Stark and Rebecca Mary Hartman.

On May 26, 1897, he married Linnie M. Wagner, whose father operated the Fly Net Factory. From this union, Byron Wagner, and Irene R. were born.

Eli learned the printing trade in the print shop of his brother-in-law, Newton Matter, who was editor of The Illinoisan, one of the county’s early newspapers in Wheaton.

Eli studied in Chicago to learn to operate a linotype machine and was admitted into the typographer’s union. Finding the trade too confining and the fumes toxic, he gave up linotyping in 1899 and bought his brother’s bicycle repair shop which was located on the site of the present Masonic Lodge building at 34 W. Jefferson Ave. He sold Wheeler and Wilson sewing machines as well as athletic supplies and games.

In addition, Eli operated a newsstand and employed paper carriers who used a horse and cart to deliver the Naperville Clarion to the outskirts of town. In 1901 Eli bought a confectionary store on Washington Street north of Jefferson Avenue and added photographic supplies, fresh fruits and berries as well as ice cream and candy. Eli and Linnie made the ice cream themselves.

By 1914, he’d moved the business to the Southwest corner of Washington Street and Jefferson Avenue.

Eli started Naperville’s first taxicab business in 1923, and had seven taxis at one time. In 1931, in his attempt to show his employees how to attract customers, Eli was robbed of his taxicab, pants and $30.00 by a customer that had hailed his cab.

He was an amateur photographer and his photographs of life in early Naperville remain an invaluable legacy for the town. Eli finally retired from all his businesses in 1945.

Eli was a Fifty-Year member of Euclid Lodge No. 65, A.F. & A.M. and served as Master of the Lodge in 1913; a Fifty-Year member of Euclid Chapter No. 13, R.A.M. and served the Chapter as High Priest in 1914 and 1915; and a member of Aurora Commandery No. 22.

Eli Franklin Stark died on Feb. 13, 1966, in Naperville, DuPage County, Illinois and was buried in the Naperville Cemetery. Members of Euclid Lodge No. 65 conducted the simple Masonic Funeral ceremony and the Rev. Grant Graver, of Grace United Methodist Church, performed the religious funeral at the Ackman Funeral Chapel.

Tim Ory
Tim Ory
Tim Ory is a fifth-generation Naperville native, descended from Francois Sebastien Ory, who immigrated to America from Alsace Lorraine, France, in 1844. Signing off as "Tim Ory, Historian, Euclid Lodge No. 65 Ancient Free & Accepted Masons," Tim adds that he continues to research the History of the Masonic Lodge and Naperville every day. Contact him at tjory@sbcglobal.net.