Only a few years after the first streets were laid out by Halsted om 1852, the county built a new road which is now Commercial Ave. It was not a state road in the early days, but there was a state road to the south on what is now Belshaw Road.
Most of the early business owners moved their stores from the mill district on Main St. to the new location two blocks south. Soon the busy street was lined with frame buildings and business was thriving in the little town.
But tragedy struck in 1898 when most of the frame buildings on the north side of Commercial Ave. were destroyed by fire. Stories circulated that the fire started in many different places at the same time, but this was not proven. Soon after the fire, the old wooden buildings were replaced with modern brick ones. On the south side of the avenue the old wooden buildings were slowly replaced by more fireproof ones and today, hardly a trace can be found of the wooden structures.
Some of the oldest buildings still standing on the south side of Lowell's downtown business district were built around 1890 and almost all of them have been remodeled in some way.
In the December 1984 column, the last building we mentioned was the old State Bank building just to the west of the present police station. We wrote that Dr. John Davis had his office there. Since then we have learned that Dr. W.V. Gooder was in that same office after the death of Dr. Davis in 1905.
The next building west of the old bank building served as a department store for many years. In about 1905, George Hoevet and Emil Ruge purchased the business from Frank E. Nelson, a well-known businessman. The partners worked hard to remodel the store, and soon added another department, that of Undertaking.
H.V. Weaver was hired as a manager of both the undertaking and furniture departments. In 1912, Weaver was on his own in an advertisement which read "Undertaker Weaver."
Other departments at Hoevet and Ruge's included clothing, groceries and toys. Newspapers in 1911 showed only the Hoevet name in their ads. One featured a sale on "Lawns, the 25 cent kind, for 18 cents," while calico was on sale for four cents per yard. "Lawns" is a lightweight fabric sometimes used for making underclothing. Another notice read "We will soon be cutting the 250-pound cheese."
Ladies' sweater coats were on sale for 75 cents. Later the store was purchased by Lynch Bros., owned by John Lynch and his sons, Ernest and Fay. Their store was well-known all over Lake County and we have seen many advertisements for the store dating from 1916 to 1930.
The Spindler Company later had a thriving business there until the store was sold to Sears Roebuck and Company, which sold farm goods, hardware and auto parts. The building was used as a sporting goods store for several years until it was changed into the present mini-mall.
Hunts Drug Store, Frank Hunt proprietor, was the next building west, located where the gun shop is now housed. The Lowell Telephone Co. used the rooms above. A fire of unknown origin started in the building at about 2 a.m. on Nov. 9, 1905, and two young ladies died from the fumes, Edith M. Simpson, 22, and her sister Abbie B. Simpson, 21. One of the sisters was the night telephone operator, and the other had stayed with her for company that night.
The stock of the drug store was a total loss and much of the telephone equipment had to be replaced. The building later became part of the Lynch Bros. Department store, and years later the drug store was moved to the building where Roberts Drugs is now. Hunt lived on the corner to the north of the monument on the square.
The building just west of the present gun shop was used for a hardware store for many years. [note from 2001: the "gun shop" is now an office supply store.] At about the turn of the century, it was owned by the Burnham Brothers, Herman and Fred. We found advertisements for their business from 1903 to 1913. One was a special on kitchen ranges for 30 dollars. Another announced the arrival of a carload of cider barrels, to be sold at a special price.
T.J. Moran had a tin shop in the same building in 1903, advertising plumbing, heating, and steam fitting. In about 1913 Lynch Bros. added the hardware department to their department store, connecting all three buildings with arch ways.
They sold the store to Fred W. Schmal, who operated it until he retired in 1934. The Old Timer remembers helping his father unpack cast iron stoves in the 1920s. The Lowell Post Office was in that building for many years, and the Lowell License Bureau was located there until recently.
To the west. where the church resale shop is now located, is a building erected in 1892 and used for many kinds of services. There was a grocery there several times, and for many years it housed the egg store of L.Y. Cowl. Cowl was known to cry "Yip, yip" as he made his rounds picking up eggs from the farmers, and this became his nickname. In a "Lowell Tribune" of 1918, is an advertisement featuring Cowl's express service to Chicago, since by then he had traded his team and wagon for a truck. Weaver and McGlaughlin had a poultry and egg store there for a time.
The 1952 Centennial Book of Lowell shows pictures of the Pletcher and Spindler Hardware Co. at that location. Alvah Pletcher and Henry Spindler followed in the footsteps of their fathers, who were partners in a department store that burned in the great fire of 1898. The name then was "Spindler and Pletcher."
To the west of the present resale shop is a building used for many years as a furniture store and funeral parlor. Martin Schur was the founder of the company in 1872, and his widow, Barbara Schur Peters, sold the business to William Sheets in 1905. Sheets was superintendent of Lowell's schools for several years, until he had to leave the position when his health failed.
John Castle, an embalmer for Martin Schur, stayed on with Sheets in the business. The business was passed on to son Kenneth Sheets, and then to grandson William Sheets. Now, with James Love as a partner, the name of the firm is Sheets-Love Funeral Home. [Note from 2001: It is once again known as Sheet's Funeral Home.]
The business moved years ago to the corner of E. Commercial Ave. and Union St. The furniture store, now remodeled, is owned by John Sheets, and now the fourth generation is involved in the business. Part of the old frame building can still be seen on the south side.
More about Lowell's downtown buildings will be reviewed in next month's column.
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