Frankfort Area Historical Society turns 50 with reflections on town’s colorful past

Jane Ammeson
Times correspondent

The Frankfort Areas Historical Society is celebrating its 50th anniversary, and director Judy Schultz conducts a tour of its museum.

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort’s historic past is everyday life for Judy Schultz, director of the Frankfort Area Historical Society Museum, housed in what was once Folkers Livery Stable. She even lives in a 19th Century Victorian home.

“I bought the house from a woman who lived there most of her life,” said Schultz. “And she was one of only three families that lived there. All the glass inside is original, and there’s not an inch of vinyl on the outside.”

That’s preservation speak for a dedication to maintaining an original exterior.  Eschewing vinyl siding on a frame house is a commitment to detail that’s one reason Schultz’s home is about to be granted landmark status.

As a member of the Frankfort Area Historical Society (FAHS), Schultz works just as hard to preserve the history of this village.

The society, founded by Marion Nordsell, Jean Gerendt, Judith Eisenbrandt, Marie Tewes and Ralph Eisenbrandt, who was the first president and is on the board, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

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The community dates to 1831, when William Rice, a prospector, became the first White European settler, coming from Ohio. he was soon followed by immigrants from England and Scotland as well settlers from New England. Shortly after, Germans fleeing religious persecution at home joined the growing community. It was Frederick Cappel who gave the settlement the name Frankfort, for Frankfurt am Main, his hometown.

Before that Native tribes including Winnebago, Potawatomi, Sac and Fox  inhabited the Region, relying on the Sauk Trail and the Des Plaines River for trade and transportation.

As a  stable, what is now the museum was large enough board 26 horses as well as several ponies. It was built by Johnson Folkers, who moved to the United States in 1849 from Hanover, Germany.

“He purchased land near Frankfort Station, which was Frankfort’s first name, and opened a livery stable a few years later,” said Marcia Steward, a board member of FAHS and editor of its newsletter. “A 1910 fire destroyed the original structure. The barn was built identical to the original.” 

Now the society’s museum, the rebuilt structure is open to the public four days a week — Thursday through Sunday — and houses an extensive collection of records and memorabilia.

Inside is a wealth of information for genealogists and researchers, including the Frankfort Area Obituary Index developed in cooperation with the Frankfort Public Library that has approximately 7,000 obituary records. Also available are Frankfort’s old newspapers and the history of homes and businesses in Frankfort’s historic district. Visitors also will find fascinating tidbits about the village and people including oral interviews with past and present residents of Frankfort, original plats and an extensive collection of vintage photos from 1850 to present. The latter is a favorite of Steward.

“I enjoy researching the late 19th and early 20th Century photography collection, which I often use in the FAHS newsletter,” said Steward, who moved to Frankfort From Fairwiev Heights, Ill., near St. Louis, in 1977 and worked at a teacher and guidance counselor.

Currently, the museum’s is hosting an exhibit titled “Where were you in ’72?” It runs through the end of the year. 

“It looks back at life in the village 50 years ago at the time of the Frankfort Area Historical Society’s founding,” said Steward, noting that the U.S. Census  showed Frankfort grew more than 100% from 1960 to 1970. “I think the early 1970s, with the U.S. Bicentennial coming up, encouraged people to think about preserving their history while moving forward with the growth and change.”

An open-house anniversary celebration on Oct. 23 will feature food, live music and works by local artisans.

“We’ll also have two 6-foot painted boards, one of a man and the other a woman in 1972 period clothing with their faces cut-out which will be a great photo opportunity,” said Schultz.

During the year, FAHS hosts several events including a Candlelight House Walk on the first Friday of December, which follows the tree lighting the day before. The organization also sponsors a food booth at the Fall Festival.

Schultz delights in the stories of townspeople such as Isabella Harmening Gaines, a schoolteacher who lived in the house she now owns and took the trolley to Joliet High School. 

“Isabella taught at Frankfort Grade School that was kitty-corner from her home,” said Schultz, noting that when she passed away, Gaines left everything to St. Peter’s United Church of Christ where she taught Sunday School for 50 years, “because she wanted to make sure kids would have candy for Christmas.”  

“Another story that touched my heart was that of Eddie Balchowsky, the grandson” the owner of B. Balchowsky & Sons Department Store,  which opened in the mid-1800s, said Schultz. “He was rebellious when growing up but also a talented artist and a concert pianist.”

Balchowsky, who grew up in Frankfort, fought in the Spanish Civil War, joining in 1937. During the war, his arm was shattered by a machine gun bullet and had to be amputated. 

“When he returned, he turned to alcohol and odd jobs found him sweeping the floor at a bar when he saw a piece of sheet music for a left-handed musician. He started playing again,” Schultz said.

Indeed, according to his biography, Balchowsky went on to make a name for himself as a one-armed pianist playing in Chicago nightclubs. Besides that he was a talented poet and artist and some of his paintings were displayed at the Art Institute of Chicago. Several well-known singer-songwriters, including Jimmy Buffett’s “He Went to Paris” and “Eddie’s Song” by Utah Phillips.

To learn more about these stories and others, visit the FAHS Museum at 132 Kansas St., Frankfort. It’s open from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday. Call 815-469-6541 or visit frankforthistoricalsociety.org.

PHOTOS: Frankfort Area Historical Society at 50

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Judy Schultz, center, director of the Frankfort Area Historical Society Museum, hands out quiz sheets to visitors so for a treasure hunt. 

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Museum treasures include school photos from 1942.

Tony, V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

A bronze bust memorializes Edward Balchowsky,  an American poet, artist, musician, composer who served in Spanish Civil War and the grandson of the owner of B. Balchowsky & Sons Department Store in Frankfort. 

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Visitors can tour a kitchen at the museum. 

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

This is the popcorn popper wagon used by William Wischover at the corner of Kansas and Oak Streets when movies were shown outside on a building wall.

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

A display in honor of the society’s 50th anniversary takes us back to the 1970s. .

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

A display shows 40th anniversary commemorative glassware from the Balchowsky & Sons Department Store in 1917. 

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Visit a vintage barbershop at the Frankfort Area Historical Society. 

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

The Frankfort Area Historical Society is at 132 Kansas St. 

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

The parlor at the Frankfort Area Historical Society features a vintage organ and settee.

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

A quilt marks the 100th anniversary of Frankfort’s incorporation, in 1879.

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Visitors can check out a Frankfort timeline.

Tonvy V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

The historical society is planning a 50th anniversary celebration Oct. 23.

Tony V. Martin, The Times

Frankfort Area Historical Society

Frankfort Area Historical Society

No vintage kitchen was complete without a meat grinder and egg beater.

Tony V. Martin, The Times

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Source: www.nwitimes.com