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Friday, July 29, 2011

James Pridham & The People's Drug Store

While cataloguing a portion of the glass negatives in the museum's collection, I came across a view of the People's Drug Store in Waukegan with James Pridham standing in the doorway. The image (below) intrigued me enough to do research on the store and Pridham. It turned out to be a very worthwhile endeavor, leading to a couple of discoveries, including the identity of the second man in the photograph.

James Pridham (1844-1917) was born in Quebec, Canada, and immigrated to Waukegan in October 1871. Two years later, he married Jeannette LaGrange McClasky at Christ Episcopal Church in Waukegan on N. Utica Street.

Pridham worked as a manufacturing chemist. In the Waukegan Business Directory for 1874, he is listed as working at the People's Drug Store on Genesee Street along with James McClasky, Jeannette's brother.

Glass negative (above) of the People's Drug Store, circa 1875. Note Pridham's name over the door, and the mortar and pestle in front of the store at left. LCDM 2011.0.191.

Detail from glass negative, circa 1875, showing James Pridham leaning against the door to the People's Drug Store. (LCDM 2011.0.191)

Based on the business directory listing and further research on, which turned up a photograph of McClasky and his obituary, the man standing behind Pridham is more than likely James McClasky (1844-1916).

According to McClaskey's obituary, he arrived in Waukegan in 1874 and worked as a druggist for two years (1874-1876). This time frame subsequently dates the glass negative to about 1875. The obituary also states that he established a drug store on Genesee Street. This claim is contrary to historical facts, including that it was James Pridham's name over the entrance to the drug store, and that the People's Drug Store was in business well before 1871 when Pridham arrived from Canada.

Carte-de-visite photograph of the People's Drug Store, circa 1865. Note the druggists' names over the entrance "Rippey & McArthur." LCDM Collection.

People's Drug Store next to I.R. Lyon's General Store on Genesee Street, Waukegan. This view is from a stereograph taken the winter of 1871. LCDM 94.14.61

Pridham product bottle (4.25" long), circa 1875. LCDM 92.22.7

James Pridham developed a product called "Japanese" for removing "grease, dirt, etc. from clothing, glass or wood; the only preparation of the kind in the world, that will positively do all that is claimed for it." He is also listed in Haines' history of Lake County as the "Proprietor of Pridham's celebrated 'Japanese.'"

By 1876, James McClasky moved east with his wife, Sarah Louise Smith. In 1893, he returned to Waukegan and opened a hardware store.

By spring 1878, the Pridham family left Waukegan for Maywood, Illinois. This short stay in Waukegan (1871-1878) can make researching an individual immensely difficult, especially when, like Pridham, he was not present for the 1870 or 1880 census. However, the fantastic glass negative of Pridham and the People's Drug Store, the Pridham product bottle, and 1874 Waukegan Business Directory all document his time in Waukegan. Additionally, historian Elijah Haines included information on Pridham and his "Japanese" product in his Lake County history of 1877.

But the Pridham story does not end here. James and Jeannett's son, Edwin S. (1881-1963), made a place for the name Pridham in American history as the co-founder of Magnavox.

Edwin was born in Maywood, Illinois, and by 1910, after receiving his degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University, was living in Sacramento, California. James and Jeannette Pridham were living in Los Angeles.

Around 1910, Edwin Pridham met Peter Jensen, who was building a radio station in Sacramento. Pridham helped Jensen (a Danish immigrant) learn English and American history, and in 1911, they moved to Napa to start their own research laboratory. Photo of Edwin Pridham (left) and Peter Jensen in their Napa lab.

In 1915, they debuted their invention of a public address system and loudspeaker named the "Magnavox," and formed the Magnavox Company with the Sonora Photograph Corp.

What started out as an attempt to further identify a glass negative of James Pridham and the People's Drug Store turned into a real discovery. I was able to follow the Pridham line to Edwin S. Pridham, co-founder of Magnavox, and to identify the second man in the glass negative as James McClasky, a Waukegan druggist and hardware store owner.

Special thanks for additional research assistance from Beverly Millard of the Waukegan Historical Society's research library, and Al Westerman, volunteer for the Lake County Discovery Museum.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Great Lakes Naval Base Turns 100!

This year marks the centennial of the establishment of the Naval Training Center Great Lakes.

The success of the American Navy during the Spanish-American War of 1898 prompted talk of establishing an additional naval recruit training station. Thirteen years later, in 1911, the Naval Training Center Great Lakes (formerly known as the Great Lakes Naval Training Center) in North Chicago opened. Large letter postcard by the Curt Teich Co., 1950. Teich Postcard Archives OCH185.

A key player in the creation of the new naval training facility was Congressman George Foss (1863-1936) of northeastern Illinois. Foss spearheaded the idea of a naval training station on the Great Lakes to Commander Hawley, U.S.N. in 1902. Hawley spoke highly of the number and quality of recruits from the Midwest.

That same year a Naval Appropriations Bill was passed, appointing a board to select a suitable Great Lakes location for the training station. At least 36 sites were considered, and by 1904 the fight in Congress had become quite brutal, despite the number of locations being narrowed down to four—Lake Bluff (North Chicago), Racine, WI, Milwaukee, WI and Muskegon, MI. Eventually a provision was drafted to give the President of the United States authority over the appointed board, bypassing Congressional arguments.

In the end, it was again Foss who played a pivotal role in locating the station. Foss realized that the purchase price of $1,000 per acre for the North Chicago site was the chief objection. He enlisted the aid of the Commercial Club of Chicago (the same group that in 1887 had presented Fort Sheridan to the U.S. Army) and got the Club to subscribe more than $100,000 for the purchase. The Commercial Club offered the government over 160 acres, free of charge. The board then recommended the North Chicago site, President Roosevelt approved it, and construction of the station began in 1905.

Renowned Chicago architect, Jarvis Hunt (1863-1941), was commissioned to design the original 39 buildings, built between 1905-1911 at a cost of $3.5 million. One of the landmarks is Building 1, also known as the Clock Tower or Administration building. Completed in 1911, the building is made of red brick, and has a tower that stands 300 feet over the third floor of the building. Postcard view of Administration Building, circa 1918. LCDM M-86.1.316

The first recruit, Joseph Gregg, arrived at Great Lakes on July 1, 1911. Gregg was from Indiana and had served in the Navy from 1911-1914. He is buried at Great Lakes. Postcard "Learning to Lower a Boat" at Great Lakes, circa 1918. LCDM 95.20.1

Postcard view "Sham Battle with Tank in Action" at Great Lakes, circa 1915. LCDM Fort Sheridan Collection 92.24.274

In January 1917, there were 618 sailors in training at Great Lakes, but with the United States' involvement in World War I, by August the number grew to 50,000. A tent city and temporary buildings were raised to accommodate this swell in numbers, and the facility expanded from 167 acres to over 1,200. During the war, Great Lakes became the largest training station in the U.S., graduating 100,000 men. Some of the trainees included Jack Benny, Spencer Tracy, Pat O’Brien and George Halas.

Another famous American was stationed at Great Lakes during WW I, American bandleader, John Philip Sousa (1854-1932). In 1917, at the height of his career and in support of the war effort, the bandsman assumed the musical directorship of the Great Lakes Band. “The Naval Reserve March,” also known as “The Great Lakes March,” was written in 1918 during his tenure as the director of the Great Lakes band.

Photograph of Great Lakes Band on parade, Genesee Street, Waukegan, circa 1930. LCDM Fort Sheridan Collection 92.24. 1708.

Other significant people stationed at Great Lakes include: Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES), assigned to Great Lakes since the WAVES were founded in 1942; the first African-American naval officers in U.S. history who were commissioned at Great Lakes in 1944, who called themselves the Golden Thirteen; and the Navy's first African-American Deep Sea Diver and Master Diver, Carl M. Brashear (1931-2006). Photograph of the Golden Thirteen taken for "Life" Magazine by Vories Fisher, 1944.

Today, Great Lakes is the only training station for the U.S. Navy. All recruits go through this base and an average of 800 graduate each week.

Image from negative of Great Lakes sailors, circa 1951. LCDM Collection.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Benwell Crazy Quilt

The story of the Benwell Crazy Quilt (in the Lake County Discovery Museum's collection) is one of a pioneering family, and begins in 1848 with the California Gold Rush.

John Benwell (1815-1889) immigrated from England to the United States to find his fortune. In New York, Benwell worked building docks until Gold Rush fever struck. In 1848, he bought passage on a ship sailing around Cape Horn to California. When he arrived in California claims were hard to find, and so he and a new friend, Washington Converse, started a supply service hauling food and other items to miners.

Benwell (right, circa 1870) eventually found a claim near Lake Tahoe, and when he thought he had "enough," he and Converse headed back to New York on horseback. They carried the gold in bags strapped to their waists and on their legs inside their boots.

In New York, around 1854, John Benwell married his landlady's widowed daughter, Elizabeth Preston (1827-1917). The Prestons had immigrated from England in 1835.

In 1855, Benwell took his new wife and children to Lake County, Illinois, where he laid claim to 40 acres in Fremont Township. There he built a log cabin and took up farming. The property was located on either side of today's Route 60, east of Fairfield Road. Benwell's good friend, Washington Converse, came to Lake County with them and bought an adjoining property.

Over the years, Elizabeth Benwell made quilts for each of their children—Gerard, Alice, Rose, George, Alfred, Susannah, Minnie, and Jessie. Each quilt held the family's history, and illustrated Elizabeth's artistic talents. (Elizabeth Benwell left, circa 1875)

In 1891, Elizabeth made a quilt for their second youngest child, Minnie (1866-1927).

Minnie's crazy quilt made by her mother, Elizabeth E. Preston Benwell in 1891. Photo by Mark Widhalm. LCDM 98.36.1.

What makes a quilt crazy? A crazy quilt is a patchwork quilt without a design; and a patchwork quilt is made by sewing patches of different materials together to form a pattern. Crazy quilts also got their name from being “full of cracks and flaws,” much like crazed pottery glazes. Crazy quilts expressed the Victorian taste for collecting, as well as the influence of Japanese art which was introduced to Americans in 1876. The fans, flowers, spider web patterns, and lack of a repeating pattern in these quilts reflect traditional Japanese art.

Detail from Minnie's crazy quilt, showing an incredible appliqué, embroidery and beadwork basket of flowers. On the right side, there are tiny round pieces in the bouquet from the buckskin bags used by John Benwell to carry the gold home from California. Elizabeth sewed pieces of the Gold Rush bags into each of the quilts she made for their eight children, and by the time she made this quilt, there was very little of the buckskin bags left. Photo by Mark Widhalm, cropped. LCDM 98.36.1

The quilt also features hand painted scenes of a boy with his fishing pole, an owl, rooster, and a cat. There is also a hand painted image of the family's Lake County homestead.

Another section of the quilt showing a star pattern, shoe, fan and the date March 16, 1891, which is believed to be when the quilt was completed. This section reveals much of the quilt's charm and variety with embroidery, beading, painting, and beautiful stitch work around each piece of fabric. Photo by Mark Widhalm. LCDM 98.36.1

Minnie Benwell never married, and so her quilt was given to her brother George, and then to his son Lloyd. The Benwell Dimon family donated the quilt to the Lake County Discovery Museum in 1998, along with the story of the family and this quilt.

This extraordinary quilt is featured at the Lake County Discovery Museum through September 25, 2011, in the "Quilt Treasures: Pieces of History" exhibition. Fourteen of the museum's most beautiful quilts are on exhibit.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

George Smith, Jr., 96th Illinois Regiment

George E. Smith, Jr. (1842-1915), was born in Antioch in 1842 to parents, George and Mercy. The Smiths were natives of Salem, Massachusetts, and came to Lake County in 1839.

The Smith family home and farm was located north of the town of Millburn on Route 45 (then known as the West Milwaukee Road). George and Mercy Smith are standing at right in this photo taken circa 1885. LCDM 93.45.79.

When the 96th Illinois Regiment was formed, George Jr. enlisted in Company D, on August 6, 1862. Smith was an infantryman until 1864 when he was selected for duty in the Ambulance Corps.

Like other regiments, the 96th Illinois Infantry had little in the way of a system for getting wounded and dead off the battlefields before the Ambulance Corps was created in March 1864. Six “stalwart men” were selected to serve in the 96th’s Ambulance Corps as stretcher bearers, including George Smith. All of these men were of “good size and were chosen as being possessed of considerable strength and good courage.”

At the Battle of Kenesaw Mountain in June 1864, Smith and fellow stretcher bearer, Harlow Ragan, carried sixteen men to the hospital one and half miles away, traveling a total of 50 miles in a period of 20 hours. According to the regiment’s history, “It was a terrible day’s work for them, and they were not unfrequently [sic] the target of Rebel sharpshooters.”

It was commonly known that Smith would "go anywhere for a wounded man, and very often, at great risk, he assisted in bearing disabled comrades from the most exposed points." Smith's portrait from the regimental history. (left)

Despite this hazardous work, Smith’s letters home—preserved in the museum’s Minto Collection—were unusually cheerful, but often contained a longing to return home. He relayed a bit of whimsy when he wrote to his sister Susie, imagining that he was home enjoying huckleberry pie and “old turenne apple sauce and Sitron [sic].” He opens another letter with: “I am going to peek in and see some day so look out. I want some more of those big apples from the old spider. Such apples as those cost .05 [cents] a piece here and sour at that.”

Although George fought in sixteen battles, and was in every action the regiment had, without sickness or injury, only a few of his letters mention specific fights or battles in the three years of his enlistment. In one, he tells of bedding down in camp at night to the “flash of gunn [sic] & shell along the line, like heat lightning along the horizon of a warm summers night with the exception of the heavy jarring report.”

The letter below was written by George to his sister Susie, 147 years ago today:

Camp Near Chatahoochee River Geo.
July 7,th 1864

Dear Sister,

I with pleasure seat myself this fine morning to pen a few lines in answer to yours of the 25 which I received yesturday morning which found me well. I am sorry to hear that you were ill. but are in hopes as the 4th is over that you are by this time better or if not my sincere hope is that this does will perfect a cure take 4 pages of this for the first dose & then think of me every 4 hours to keep up nanseation untill I call gain. Let me see about a week from tomorrough from Saturday where or no you will receive this, another will come in due time.

The first paragraph illustrates George's good nature and lightheartedness, and is typical of his letters home. [Note: George's spelling and grammar have not been corrected in the transcription].

The letter continues:

Well I suppose you would like to know how we come down here by this river. well i suppose you know the terms as well as I do. these dam collored anumals which we call Johneyes or Rebs you see desputed our right so we just to spite them sayed that we would come anyhow. & here we are anyhow on the morning of the 3rd we waked up to find the enemy lighting out so we of course lit out in pursuit. Passed through Marietta about now I have agood view of the country around Marietta the top of a large semanary our scirmishers had hot work all day the enemys rear guard desputing the ground step by step when towards night we stoped by river beyond Marietta where the rebs had agan formed their lines. and fortifyed & every reb that tryes to cut it loose is shot down.

We have a fine view of Atlanta & surrounding country from a high ridge at the foot of whch we are encamped our troops have all gone into camp will probably stay here a few days if not longer. the boys are almost beside themselves as we have the river between us & do not have to lay in the ditches in line of battle & every thing being so quiate except the pickets occationally poping at each other across the river it does really seem strange like getting up stretching & looking around to seem if things really bee after a long noisey dream. we used to read of long campaigns fighting & all this little dreaming of ever seeing the reality the cars came up last night & trains have been comming up all day so you see our grub lines is all right & as long as that up & all right (& we are supplyed with hard tack & crackers) to feed the rebs one we are all right.

You have probably seen the act to raise souldiers pay which is 3 dollars a month more on privates pay towards buying that Cow & Pigs & set of Crockery when we get home & this cruel war is over & a man can think himself enny thing but a mark to bee shot at. & there will be time to refreshing on that Jenny & huge has piece of buisness the boys are all well no more wounded lately

Your affectionate Brother Ned
Geo. E. smith Jr.

There are 33 letters written by George Smith preserved in the museum's Minto Collection. They are available for research at the archives, and also available online at the Illinois Digital Archives where the museum's digital collections are housed.

In 1865, George Smith returned home to Millburn to farm and breed stock. He married Susanna G. White in May 1870. In 1885, they moved to Otis, Colorado where they continued farming.

George Smith died on October 26, 1915, in Denver, Colorado.

This weekend, July 9 - 10, 2011, is the museum's annual Civil War Days at Lakewood Forest Preserve, Wauconda. Join us for the region's largest re-enactment, and to view the museum's Civil War and quilt exhibitions.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Maras's Award Winning Dress

Nothing says summer and Fourth of July better than the colors red, white and blue.

The museum has in its collection a pair of dresses made in Lake County that epitomize fashion in the late 1960s, and the patriotic spirit of this time of year.

The dresses were created by Antioch resident, and talented seamstress, Angela Maras. Patriotic postcard, 1909. (left)

Inspired by her six-year old neighbor, Jeannie Lindgren (Waschow), Maras created a red, white and blue ensemble for the girl. The outfit (shown above) won Best in Show at the National Grange Cotton Sewing Contest for 1969.

Detail of the patriotic outfit Maras made for Jeannie Lindgren, and the national award ribbon. (LCDM 2000.13.1-.2)

The prize-winning ensemble was made of 100% double-knit cotton. The reversible coat is solid navy blue with brass double breasted buttons on one side reversing to red, white, and blue striped on the other side, over an a-line dress.

The road to Best in Show took several months. Angela Maras first entered her garments at the district and county levels, then onto the state where she won first place against 534 other entries.

Jeannie Lindgren modeling the dress at the State Fair, Springfield, Illinois, 1969 (above). LCDM 2000.13.10

Lindgren recalled that Maras, who had three boys, treated her as a daughter, and created the unique dress especially for her. "[The dress] was very patriotic, I wore a hat and it had that super cool jacket... I remember one contest... seeing a lot of people in the audience... [but] I never remember being afraid. That was due to all of the preparation and knowing Angela was waiting in the wings for me."

The first place winners from each state sent their garments to New York for final judging, where Maras's was selected to compete in Florida at the National Grange. Over 50,000 women from 37 states participated in the national contest.

Angela Maras and Jeannie Lindgren at the National Grange Cotton Sewing Contest in Daytona Beach, Florida, 1969. (LCDM 2000.13.20) Maras is wearing a complementary dress to the prize-winning child's ensemble.

The shift dress Maras made for herself to complement Jeannie's patriotic dress. (LCDM 2007.8)

Maras was trained in sewing by the Marie Boecler French School of Design in Chicago. On winning the national award, Maras said that it was "a feeling of accomplishment to have the talent and have it recognized by professionals in the field of sewing."

In creating these dresses, Maras brought a national award home to Lake County, and expressed two very iconic styles of the 1960s—the ladies' shift dress and child's a-line dress. The dresses are significant additions to the museum's textile collection.