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Miller: Rare photos on display at Batavia museum

A Batavia Depot Museum exhibit that features rare interior photos of Batavia businesses, churches, homes and public buildings. The exhibit will run through Nov. 18.
A Batavia Depot Museum exhibit that features rare interior photos of Batavia businesses, churches, homes and public buildings. The exhibit will run through Nov. 18.

A picture is worth 1,000 words. And with the opportunity to take a photo at every turn through cellphones, iPads, computers and an actual camera adds up to a lot of words.

Everywhere you look people are taking photos. We have a tendency to document everything with the prevalence of social media, including pets, ourselves and even our food. It’s hard to imagine a time when you couldn’t pull out a camera and take a photo. We often take for granted the technology we have available, and perhaps its even harder to remember a day when those technologies weren’t available.

Throughout the late 1800s through the early 1900s, it was difficult to take a good photo. Then, many cameras didn’t have a flash, therefore photographers needed a large amount of natural lighting to take photos. Photos were difficult to capture and interior photos were harder to pull off.

“Photographers needed a long exposure time in order to get the image to transfer,” said Chris Winter, curator of the Batavia Depot Museum. “You would have to sit there for 30 seconds or longer holding incredibly still for the photo to turn out.”

For that reason, photos of babies and pets were nearly always blurry. That’s also why people look incredibly sullen in old photos, said Carla Hill, director of the Batavia Depot Museum.

“People didn’t smile for photos because they would have to hold the same position for so long,” Hill said.

The Batavia Depot Museum has an exhibit featuring rare interior photos that show Batavia businesses, churches, homes and public buildings. All of the photos were donated by local Batavians, including John Gustafson and his family.

The photographs have an added interest because some of the buildings now serve different purposes. For instance, there are photographs of the interior of the old post office, which now holds the Batavia Chamber of Commerce, and the interior of the old Louise White School, which is now an office building.

“It really shows the true history and progression of Batavia,” Hill said.

The exhibit will run through Nov. 18 and can be viewed from 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. There is no admission to the depot museum; however, donations are always accepted.

Visitors of the depot museum also will get a chance to explore permanent exhibits, such as the “Mary Todd Lincoln Room,” the “Little Town in a Big Woods” exhibit and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad caboose.

“The museum doesn’t just have a local impact, it has a national impact,” Hill said. “Having Mary Todd Lincoln’s belongings and the historical windmill artifacts gives the museum a much larger draw.”

Newcomers to the depot museum are often surprised at the size of the interior, which can be deceiving when standing at the entrance. Exhibits fill the first floor, as well as the lower level of the museum.

“It’s much larger on the inside than it appears,” Winter said. “I always have people tell me how surprised they are at the amount of artifacts, as well as the quality of the exhibits.”

For information, visit or call 630-406-5274.

• Kari Miller is marketing and public relations manager at the Batavia Park District. Contact her at

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