The Aten Family In Cherry Valley

As told by Raymond Aten

The Aten family of Cherry Valley, Illinois, has a rich history detailed by Raymond Aten. Albert S. Aten (1859-1925), originally from Tecumseh, Michigan, married Alice G. Meeker (1865-1933) in 1888. They settled on a farm near Cherry Valley before moving to town in 1906. Albert, a rural mail carrier, served the community for 23 years, while Alice was active in local church affairs. They had four children: Lulu, Walter, Ralph, and Raymond. The family contributed significantly to the local community through various roles and activities, including military service and civic engagement.

An enjoyable afternoon of reminiscing with Mr. Raymond Aten brought out many enjoyable memories. Raymond is the son of Albert S. and Alice G. Meeker Aten. Albert was born October 24, 1859, in Tecumseh, Michigan. As a young man he came to Belvidere, Illinois. Before becoming a mail carrier, he worked in a bakery, and also farmed. He lived in Rockford for some time before he was married.

Alice was the daughter of Calista and Avery A. Meeker, and the granddaughter of Lyman Wheeler. In 1854, Lyman Wheeler came from New Hampshire and settled in Flora Township. Alice was born on December 16, 1865, and died June 30, 1933.

Alice Meeker and Albert Aten were married March 1, 1888, and lived on a farm 3 miles east of Cherry Valley on Wheeler Road. Four children were born to them: Lulu, born July 23, 18921 died July 3, 1963; Walter, born November 27, 1893, died March 1, 1972; and twin boys, Ralph and Raymond, born December 9, 1899. Ralph died January 28, 1957, leaving Raymond the only surviving child.

While still living on the farm in Flora Township, Lulu and Walter attended Buck School. Because of the long walk, and the fact that the Aten family would soon move to Cherry Valley, the young twins were kept at home and taught their early lessons by their Mother. When the family moved to Cherry Valley in 1906-07 school attendance was much more convenient. Lulu, Ralph and Raymond attended the Cherry Valley High School. The twins graduated in 1912.

Albert Aten was a rural mail carrier on a route south and east of Cherry Valley. He delivered this route for 23 years, (1893-94 to 1915-16). The mail route was 25 miles long. The roads were dirt, gravel, and in the wet season -MUD. Throughout most of his career Albert delivered his mail by horse, pony or mule.

The mail train from the west would come into Cherry Valley about 7:45 A.M. Albert would leave on his route about 8:00 A.M. and cover the 25 mile route and be home by 1:30 or 2:00 P.M. The first automobile Albert used for mail delivery was a High Wheeled International. Later he used a Model T Ford. When the roads were good it was possible to cover the 25 mile route and be home by 10:00 or 10:30 A.M. However, Raymond remembers a few occasions of driving for his Father while he would stuff the mailboxes. Sometimes when the roads were covered with mud the car would get stuck. Albert would get out and push while Raymond would drive. Of course this would leave Albert covered with mud. The next farm they would come to with a watering tank he would jump in, clothes and all, to wash off the mud.

A second route was being delivered by George Kezar. With the coming of the auto and subsequent requirement of less time to deliver the mail, the decision was made to combine both routes into one. In 1915-16 the combined route was given to Mr. Kezar. After 23 years of service, this left Albert without a mail route only two years before retirement age.

East State Street in Cherry Valley
East State Street in Cherry Valley

In 1906 or 1907 Albert and Alice Aten moved into a home on East State Street in Cherry Valley, west of the alley between East and Cherry Streets. On the west of the house was a lovely large yard. A wrought iron fence extended along the front and west sidewalks along State and Cherry Streets.

Behind the house was a livery barn run by Mr. Aten. The barn had 18 or 20 stalls for rigs and horses. Along the front of each stall was a feed rack. There was a sand floor for the first few years. Later this was changed to a cement floor.

When anyone came into town with a team and rigs he could hitch them at the livery barn. On fair days or circus days many people came into town, left their rigs at the barn, and then took the interurban to Rockford or Belvidere. On such an occasion there was room for 50 or 60 horses in the barn. The rigs would be left in the yard. If feed was left in the rig Mr. Aten would also see that the horses were fed. The charge for all this service was only 10 cents. Most people would stop and pay the dime. Others would need to be watched for in order to collect the dime. If a salesman would come into town on the train or interurban and need to visit the outlying farmers, he could rent a rig at Aten’s Livery Barn.

School elections were generally very quiet affairs, but on one occasion about noon the rumor was started that Protestants were running one man and Catholics another. Horses and buggies went out all through the district to bring in voters! When the votes were tabulated one man had received every vote and was elected unanimously. To the best of my knowledge this was the only time there has ever been even a hint of any discord between Protestants and Catholics in Cherry Valley.

The Cherry Valley M.E. Church played an important part in the lives of the Aten family. In a 1901 directory of the Cherry Valley and Irene M.E. Churches, Albert S. & Alice Aten are recorded as members at Cherry Valley. Albert was a Steward and a Trustee of the church. Alice was Treasurer of the Ladies’ Aid Society.

In a tribute paid to the members of the Wheeler family for being faithful members and workers in the church the Aten family is also mentioned. “To these and other members of the Wheeler family, namely: Mr. & Mrs. George Wheeler, Miss Susan Wheeler, Mr. & Mrs. Albert Meeker (Calista Wheeler), Mr. & Mrs. Albert Aten (Alice Meeker) and their four children, Lulu, Walter, Raymond and Ralph, as well as a legion of other faithful workers, we owe our thanks that by their prayers, regular attendance at church services and financial support this church has been kept alive and we now have this place in which to worship”.

An interesting note was made by Raymond Aten, which is so typical of the human race. When they lived three miles out in the country with bad roads and travel to contend with, they were able to reach church on time. However, when they only needed to go across the lawn to church, they were inevitably late.

Raymond remembers the church being raised 12-15 feet to build a kitchen and dining room underneath. Very delicious and enjoyable dinners were served there.

Everyone’s attention was alerted by the ringing of the church bell. The rope hung loose in the open foyer for anyone to use. The bell tolled for funerals and was rung for special occasions. It was rung fast for fires or emergencies.

Before the coming of fire engines everybody would drop everything to form a bucket brigade and fight the dreaded enemy, fire. With few people having such a thing as fire insurance, it was important to save as much as possible for the victims of a fire. Also, to be feared and prevented was the spread of the fire to other homes and businesses.

All three Aten boys served in the armed forces. Walt was in the Army in W.W. I. He was with the 86th Division, serving in France. He served as Company Clerk. Ralph served in the Tank Corps during W.W.I. He served as Company Clerk at Camp Raleigh in North Carolina. He was in the Air Force during W.W. II, serving as Finance Officer, at Wake Forest College in North Carolina and later at Hobbs Air Field in New Mexico. Raymond served in the Tank Corps during W.W.I at Camp Raleigh, N.C.

Mr. J.J. Sheley was the railroad station master. He was also the leader of the village Fife and Drum Corp. Some of those in the band were the Aten twins, who played fifes, and several members of the Sheley family as well as other young people.

On Memorial Day the J. L. Nevius Post, Grand Army of the Republic, and the Sons of Union Veterans, would come to Cherry Valley to participate in the Memorial Day parade and services at the cemetery. Mr. Sheley and his Fife and Drum Corp would march in the parade. At that time the parade continued up to the Cherry Valley Cemetery, where there was a service honoring our soldiers. The parade marched in unison until they reached the bridge. At this point they marched out of step as the rhythm of march in unison was considered damaging to the bridge.

In 1915 Mr. George Kezar was the Scout Master. Some of the boys in the troop were, from left to right:

Scout Troop
Scout Troop

Jay Spencer
Ralph Aten
Ellis Sheley
Raymond Aten
Glenn Peterson
Clayton Booth
Harold Peacock
Jesse Knighton
Harold Peterson
Alvin Wilkining
Wayne Guakow

Gus Ring was a motorman for the interurban, and a considerate man he was. At one time when Mrs. Aten had been sick for some time, Mr. Ring would coast by the Aten house before starting the noisy engine so as not to disturb her.

One bit of fun some young fellows had on a Halloween night was putting a road grader up in front of the door of Culver’s Grocery Store. This took a great deal of effort on the part of all involved as the machine was not light, and had to be lifted up to get up on the walk. This was quite amusing to Mr. Culver who watched the young fellows work so hard. The next morning all he had to do was roll it off again.

In 1917 the Aten family moved to Rockford. Until Albert Aten’s death on December 30, 1925, he operated a Smith Oil & Refining Company gas station on the corner of Kishwaukee and Grove Streets in Rockford. This was a very busy corner during W.W.I.

Lulu Aten worked approximately 45 years at the First National Bank & Trust Company, formerly the Third National Bank, in Rockford. Walter married Daisy Snyder of Cherry Valley in 1915. He worked at Barber-Colman Company, and later at the Cudahy Packing Company as office clerk until his retirement.

Ralph worked at the Winnebago National Bank. He later served as office manager at Colonial Village Weise Company and at the Blue Cross Hospital Service. Raymond worked at the First National Bank & Trust Company until retirement in 1966, after 48 years of banking.


Cherry Valley Bicentennial Committee, Cherry Valley: our memories are warm, 1835-1976, Rockford, IL : Linden Bros. Printers, 1976.

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