Geneva-based Horn Steel celebrating 118 years

GENEVA – A look around the area – particularly in Geneva – will reveal many different works of wrought iron and steel.

In Geneva, there’s the railings at Graham’s Chocolates and at the Herrington Inn and Spa, the spiral staircase at Sunshine Dental and Wessel Court Apartments and the building addition at Johnson Control.

Even the three-tree design welcoming visitors to Geneva was made by Horn Steel.

There are the railings and ramps at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, the pointed top of the tower at Pottawatomie Park in St. Charles and the Cal-Sag Channel, where it keeps out the Asian carp. 

That and more came from the workmanship and dedication of employees at Horn Steel, located at 1101 Commerce Drive, Geneva. The company will mark its 118th year in business on Sunday.

Betty Horn, the widow of William C. Horn, whose grandfather founded the company in 1896, presented a program on the history of the steel maker, still in business, at the Geneva History Museum on Tuesday, as part of its Brown Bag Lunch Series.

After her husband’s death, Horn, now 86, and her son Rob have become stewards of the company, with a grandson, John Bolla, now representing the fifth generation in the steel-making business.

The company started out in Chicago, founded by William Horn, Betty Horn said.

“The structural ironworks company provided steel for residential, industrial and commercial use,” Horn said. “Its steel was used to support water towers that were placed on many roofs.”

So plentiful was its steel product that in January 1958, Edwin Horn’s son was on his way to work in Chicago and saw workmen demolishing an old building and “wrote this letter to his dad, telling him of seeing ‘William Horn Ironworks’ on a beam facing Wacker Drive,” Horn said. 

A fire in 1928 destroyed the plant and much of the equipment, she said, but they rebuilt, and business resumed until the Great Depression.

“There was no new construction, and men were laid off. The company survived despite the economy,” she said. “It was a sad day. He had no choice but to let most of the men go. The company survived those lean years.”

The family moved to Geneva in 1937 and built a new shop on River Lane in Geneva. It relocated to Commerce Drive in 1981, Horn said.

“The longevity of the company has to do with the leadership model – how we deal with the employees who are very skilled and loyal – and we show our appreciation,” Horn said.