The Challenge Line


| March/April 1984



Challenge stack

Challenge stack as it looks today.

508 Bernadette Lane Batavia, Illinois 60510

The Challenge Windmill and Feed-mill Company of Batavia, Illinois was founded in 1867 by Nelson Burr and Hugh M. Armstrong. They chose a site along the east bank of the Fox River. Today the chimney of the foundry still stands with the black fire stones spelling, CHALLENGE, in the white stone stack. However, the sight of smoke being expelled from the chimney, a familiar sight to Batavians for over seventy-five years, has not been seen since the late 1940's.

The first couple of years the company employed only two hands, but the third year thirty or forty men were employed. This increase, which continued, was due to many factors, one being that Nelson Burr had invented a successful grinding surface out of metal. Many inventors had attempted this, but in failing to do so had come to the conclusion that the stone grinding wheel could not be improved.

On March 10, 1872, the Challenge Company suffered a setback as a fire spread through the factory causing an estimated $45,000.00 damage. The company was properly insured; however, due to the great losses suffered by insurance companies that year in the great Chicago fire, the Challenge Company only received $150.00 on their claim. (The Chicago fire of 1871 caused 250 deaths and $196 million in damages.) However, this was not to stop the Challenge Company. They started the job of rebuilding on an even larger scale while the ashes of the ruins were still smoldering. On April 24, one month and 14 days later, the wheels of the factory were again set to motion. In the early days of the Challenge, on of their strong points was the ample supply of power received from the Fox River located at the factory's west edge. This same company continued the business until 1882, when a new group of men took over. Among them was Thomas Snow, who had started with the Challenge in 1870 in a subordinate capacity. In 1887, Thomas Snow became president of the Challenge Company and from this time on the Snow family held control until the sale of the company in the 1940's.

Thomas Snow was born in Devonshire, England, January 19, 1851. At two years of age he left his native land in the care of his parents, Frank and Eliza (Davy) Snow. It was during the voyage that his mother died at sea. A few months later Thomas was sent back to England and placed under the care of his grandmother and aunt by whom he was raised, until age thirteen. He then again crossed the Atlantic, joined his father and came to Illinois. Stopping in Aurora, Frank Snow placed his son in public school while he worked at contracting and building, frequently for the C. B. & Q. Railroad. In 1867, Thomas and his father moved to Batavia, which became their permanent home. Thomas, however, did return to Aurora to complete his education at the Jenning Seminary. He then began his career with Challenge Company, where he remained until his sudden and untimely death on April 25, 1903 which occurred on a business trip to Aurora. At that time not only was Thomas Snow the president of the Challenge Company, he was mayor of Batavia, president of the East Batavia school board and president of the First National Bank of Batavia. He was proprietor of the W. H. Howell Company of Geneva, Illinois and the Snow Manufacturing Company of Chicago.

On January 8, 1878, he was married to Mary Thomle of Batavia. From this marriage Thomas was blessed with five children. Two died in early childhood. At the time of his death Thomas was survived by his father, his wife, and three sons, Thomas A., Frank C. and Albert E.