Christopher Payne became Kane County’s first settler when he arrived in the Batavia area in 1833 and built a log cabin for his family. An adventurer at heart, Payne was ready to move on just two years later. He sold his property to Judge Isaac Wilson, who established the community and named it Batavia after his former hometown, Batavia, New York.
Blessed with a river for power and surrounded by rich agricultural lands, Batavia grew rapidly. By mid-century, it had bloomed as an industrial center and attracted the nickname, 'The Windmill City,' because as many as a dozen Batavia companies were producing wind powered mills. Among these were Challenge Windmill and Feed Company, U.S. Wind Engine and Pump Company, and the Appleton Manufacturing Company.
Limestone was another asset that spurred Batavia's growth. In the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, builders looked to Batavia's 10 quarries to supply the stone for new construction. The city's quarry history is evidenced by several buildings in the downtown area made from rough cut Batavia stone.
The city attracted notoriety following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln when his widow, Mary Todd Lincoln, spent three months in Batavia's Bellevue Place, a sanitarium and rest home for the mentally ill. The circumstance of her commitment to Bellevue is a much debated topic among Lincoln historians.
Other highlights of Batavia's history include the development of the automatically adjustable windmill, the flat-bottomed paper bag, and the invention of a process for grinding grain against a metal surface rather than a stone surface. The nation's annual observance of Flag Day is credited to a Batavia dentist named Bernard J. Cigrand.
The world-famed Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, at the city's southeastern edge, gives Batavia notoriety today, attracting nuclear physicists from throughout the world.
Batavia has taken care to preserve and protect much of its history. City government is headquartered in the great stone building built to house the windmill maker, Appleton Manufacturing Company. To one side of the city building stand several classic windmills produced by Batavia companies. One major rock quarry is now a public swimming facility. And, the artifacts of local history are gathered and protected in the Depot Museum, operated cooperatively by the Batavia Historical Society and the Batavia Park District.