or from the City of Elgin's website www.cityofelgin.org. Click on Videocenter in the menu, then select On Demand and pick Elgin Art Deco Heritage from the list to watch it.
The Historical Society developed the video for a presentation we recently hosted for the Chicago Art Deco Society at the Museum.
Simpson Electric Building Mural Restoration
One of Elgin’s biggest 19th century factory buildings was demolished in the summer of 2011. The structure, located at the corner of Dundee and Slade Avenues, was built in 1890 and expanded over the years for the Illinois Watch Case Company. Within a year of its arrival, it was employing about 250 workers and producing about 900 cases daily. By 1910 about 500 employees were producing 2,000 cases daily. For many years, the “case factory” was Elgin’s second-largest industrial employer, producing cases that housed many of the watch movements made by the Elgin National Watch Company.
In 1898, the Illinois Watch Case Co. established a subsidiary, the Elgin American Novelty Co., to produce jewelry and lockets. In 1923 Elgin American entered the ladies’ compact field with a patented “powder box.”
During World War II, the factory was converted to war production. Erie Basin Metal Products was incorporated to make mortar shells, incendiary bomb nose units, and chemical shells. During the war, the workforce expanded. A large mural was painted in the lobby of the factory showing the workers making war munitions. The Elgin History Museum was allowed to salvage this mural (shown below) before demolition.
The mural has been cleaned and remounted by Judson University art students, and was unveiled on Nov. 15th at the Harm Weber building. The mural is currently on display. Here are details on the unveiling:
The plant was sold to the Simpson Electric Co., a division of American Gage & Machine Co., in 1959. Elgin American continued production in part of the building until closing in the early 1960s. In 1968, Katy Industries was created as a holding company for a railroad. In 1969 Katy merged with American Gage & Machine Co. Through aggressive buying and merging, Katy soon became a giant multinational diversified conglomerate. Katy moved its headquarters into this building in 1970, where it would remain until 1994, when it moved to Denver.
In the 1970s, Simpson Electric Co. was the world’s largest manufacturer of electronic measuring instruments and test equipment, employing 800 people in Elgin. By the mid-1980s, however, Simpson’s sales performance was faltering. In 1985, the Lac Du Flambeau Indian Tribe was able to acquire the firm from Katy Industries. Simpson’s fortunes continued to decline, and by the 1990s it was operating in debt. In the 1990s the Tribe explored the possibility of converting the Elgin plant to a casino or a mega-bingo facility. However, the political climate in Illinois was not receptive to the plan, and federal and city hurdles would also have to be overcome, so the idea was abandoned.
The building was for sale since about 2002. In 2003 the Tribe voted to retain ownership of Simpson, but move its Elgin operations to its reservation in Wisconsin. The plant was closed and vacant since 2006.
Windmill Restoration Project
The Society's current project is a big one: relocating and restoring a long-forgotten urban windmill built in 1922 by the Elgin Wind, Power and Pump Co. Currently located in a back yard on Elgin's west side, the windmill pumped water into an elevated wooden tank. The windmill was located at 1310 Larkin Ave, and was dismantled and trucked to Hampshire for restoration. The last remaining Elgin-built windmill within our city limits, the mill was deeded to the Elgin Area Historical Society by the current homeowner in November 2003. the windmill has been restored and we are now working with the City of Elgin to have it installed for the public to enjoy.
According to Elgin historian Mike Alft's book Days Gone By the house at 1310 Larkin Ave. was built by George Peck in 1922-23 for his son Richard K. "Dick" Peck. The mill provided water for the residence, which was outside the city limits of the time.
Windmills were produced in Elgin for more than 60 years. George Peck was a department store owner and president of the Elgin Wind Power and Pump Co. from 1910-1935. Richard Peck was a pioneer Elgin aviator killed in 1931 near Wheaton while testing an experimental plane sponsored by the Chicago Daily News.
William D. Nichols and John M. Murphy entered a partnership to build windmills in 1883. Charles H. Geister joined them the following year, but by 1887 their company was in receivership. Nichols turned over his patents and factory to the newly organized Elgin Wind Power & Pump Company, headed by George M. Peck. By 1895, up to 50 mills and towers were being shipped weekly. The corporate name was changed to the Elgin Windmill Company in 1925. Rural electrification and the farm depression of the '20s brought a lingering death to the local windmill business. The Woodruff & Edwards foundry purchased Elgin Windmill in 1943, and windmill production ceased about 1947 or 1948.
The Civil War cannons at the Elgin Academy Civil War memorial have been put back on the monument after 25 years in storage.
The Society has placed some oversize artifacts adjacent to the Museum near the Civil War Cannon monument. Artifacts include the Watch Factory bell, an early road marker with Elgin Auto Club on one side and Aurora Auto Club on the other, the Masonic Temple cornerstone and possibly the Elgin windmill. A replice of Elgin's first log cabin is also on display in the Museum grounds. A lighted artifact garden with interpretation extends Elgin history outside the walls of Old Main, making exhibits available at all hours.
360 Park Street, Elgin, Illinois 60120 847.742.4248