John W. Gates, Edward Baker and Lester Norris. Contributions made by these three civic-minded pioneers stand tall in influencing St. Charles as we know it today. “They all exhibited an entrepreneurial spirit, at one time or another each starting his own business – and doing quite well,” said Natalie Gacek, museum director of the St. Charles Heritage Center. “All three left a fine legacy.” Gates (1855-1911) grew up in Turner Junction (now West Chicago), attended Northwestern College in Naperville and married Dellora Baker, the daughter of Edward H. Baker, of St. Charles. Putting a for salesmanship to work, Gates began amassing his fortune by successfully marketing barbed wire, a new invention, to initially skeptical Texas cattle ranchers. He started Southern Wire Co. of St. Louis and later merged it with a similar enterprise that ultimately was sold in 1901 and became U.S. Steel. The steel magnate became an oil baron when he benefitted from a lucrative investment in Spindletop oil on his property in Beaumont, Tex., an oil company that was a forerunner to Texaco. Read more.
One of St. Charles greatest philanthropists, Colonel Edward J. Baker spared no expense when it came to building the Hotel Baker. Originally planning to spend only $600,000 on the hotel’s construction, Baker ended up spending around $1,000,000, which is equivalent to over thirteen million dollars today, in order to include the latest conveniences and to perfect every aesthetic detail. Popularly known as the “Gem of the Valley” and “Beauty Spot of the Fox River Valley”, Hotel Baker had everything to do with elegance. It was a place for the rich to play, and an opportunity for the city of St. Charles to prosper. The first class operation held black-tie affairs with men and women showing up in the latest fashions in their Pierce Arrows, Hudson Teriplanes and Packards. Read more.
It’s September 6th, 1926, and hundreds of people from Northern Illinois flock to the Arcada Theatre in St Charles for its long awaited debut. Inside the Theatre, visitors are immersed in an atmosphere of the luxurious and the exotic while they await an evening of film and vaudeville performances. 86 year later, the Arcada Theatre still has that 1920s charm, and remains a stunning piece of St Charles history.
The site of the old Burchell Hotel, on 1st avenue and Main Street, remained a vacant lot until it was purchased by wealthy philanthropists in the mid-1920s. These philanthropists were Lester and Dellora Norris, St. Charles natives who initiated several local building projects. Read more.