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Barry Schrader


I have been writing a column for the Chronicle most of the time since December 2007, with two breaks, one in 2016 and the other in 2017 when my wife Kay suffered a stroke. They are all archived here.


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Watch for the boulder along Sycamore Road

By Barry Schrader Senior Columnist....................................Feb 7, 2020

Driving from Sycamore to DeKalb on the four-lane highway you might notice a large boulder with a bronze plaque facing the highway in front of Grease Monkey and the Bob and Dorothy Stanbery home. I have driven by it for many years but never knew its history.

Recently Jeff Strack told me about its origin and why it honors the memory of William Swinbank. He was born in England but came to America at age 10 with his parents. The family eventually located in Burlington, and Swinbank went as far as the 8th grade. At age 25 he moved to Nebraska for a few years where he ranched and taught in a country school for three years. This despite the fact that he never went to high school, but was so talented he “readily secured a teacher’s certificate by taking the required tests,” according to his obituary in the Sycamore True Republican on August 9, 1949.

He then returned to Sycamore, becoming owner of a greenhouse for 25 years, which no longer exists. Because he had extensive knowledge of plants and trees, he was hired as Superintendent of Grounds at Northern, a position he held until 1945. The obituary said he provided advice to several garden clubs and hundreds of individuals over the years. It added: “The marked beauty of the college campus evidences his outstanding ability….” I can imagine many of the trees now fully grown were planted under his supervision.

The bronze marker on the boulder placed there by the DeKalb-Sycamore Garden Club states: “A tribute to William Swinbank 1865—1949 for his service of civic landscape gardening in DeKalb, Sycamore and this memorial highway.”

An article by Sue Breese in the September 2013 issue of the Joiner Room Journal explains that this section of Route 23 was named the DeKalb—Sycamore Memorial Highway in 1949 with a bronze marker near Hopkins Park that explained that the planting of trees along the highway was “dedicated as a memorial to those who served their country.”

The marker has disappeared and was never replaced.The area garden clubs and Rotary clubs purchased some 150 trees to plant on the state right-of-way between the two cities. Many of those are gone now due to commercial developments.

This large granite boulder along Sycamore Road (Stanbery home seen in background) has a plaque honoring William Swinbank for his efforts to beautify the highway, the NIU campus, and the area in general. (Schrader photo for ShawMedia)
Portrait of William Swinbank copied from the 1949 newspaper obituary.

Getting back to the large boulder, estimated by Strack to weigh at least two tons—the boulder had been on the Norman Westlake farm north of Sycamore, then donated for use with the plaque. Strack suggests that a lone white pine tree be planted near it to shade the plaque. Of course the Illinois Department of Transportation would have to give its approval.

A juicy tidbit in the Jan.13, 1904 True Republican about Swinbank I found most amusing. The paper ran a light-hearted story listing several eligible bachelors in the Sycamore area, he among them. It described him as “kindly, conscientious and sensible. Will never come home rollicking at 2 a.m. with a load. Instead he would be home so as not to keep supper waiting and would probably bring with him a bunch of flowers from the greenhouse.” In parens it added that “we have heard the little birds whisper that Will has strings tied to him.” The little birds were right: On August 11 that year he married Julia Rose in Sycamore.

(Last week there were only 29 days to plan your February 29 Leap Day activity. Now you only have 22 days left.)

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115