Erected in about 1912, the building at 210 E. Commercial Ave. in Lowell, known to many people in Lowell as the old "Main Garage," was the home of many auto dealers and other enterprises, now partially occupied by the gun shop. Earlier documents show that the land was owned by the pioneer Brownell family. The original masonry building was built by George Hoevet and Bernard T. Beckman, well-known businessmen from Lowell's past.
Just before it was occupied by Hoevet's auto agency, a presidential political rally was held there.
Earle Tanner, one of this column's best sources for historical information, told us the story. As a small boy, he watched with great excitement as many horsedrawn vehicles and riders paraded down Commercial Ave., all carrying flaming torches. This could have been in 1912, just before the election of Woodrow Wilson, Democratic President, in 1913. It is doubtful that the rally was in his support, however, for Lowell was a Republican stronghold at the time, and was supporting Theodore Roosevelt. National Electoral votes were Wilson 435, and Roosevelt only 88.
An early Buick dealership was operated by Merritt Hayden and his sons, Clark and Milford, descendents of an 1837 pioneer. Alvah Pletcher, retired Lowell businessman and another fine source of material for this column, recalls that he worked for the Haydens as an apprentice mechanic in 1916. He labored under head mechanic Cecil Waters who, because he was hard of hearing, "listened" to an engine with a stick in his teeth, while touching the machine with the other end.
Phelps Hull, another Buick dealer there, lived on Clark St. near the old Grand Theatre, now long gone.
Then came the Felder brothers, Clifford and Arthur, who moved from Kewanna years before. They were partners in the Chevrolet and Buick dealership from 1925 to the early 1930s, when they moved the agency to the north side of the street. The Felders had one of the few garages open 24 hours daily, with service , gas and a wrecker. The following prices were quoted in their advertisement in 'The Lowell Tribune' of 1930: Chevrolet Roadster, $495, a coupe for $565, and a sedan for the low price of $625. But there was an addtional $71 added for delivery in Lowell, which also paid for the spare tire and the front and rear bumpers.
About the time the Felders moved, James Brannock became the owner of the building. He was a well-known and respected contractor who built fine roads in Lake County for 25 years. His son, Kenneth Brannock, became a dealer there, selling Oldsmobiles and Hudson Terraplanes, but he too moved his firm to the north side of the street to another building owned by his father.
Robert Brannock, another son of James and a well-known retired educator of Lowell, Crown Point, and Lake County, stated that his father purchased the northwest corner of Mill and Commercial at the same time he bought the garage on the southside.
Kenneth became a partner of Charles Bowman, selling Oaklands, Pontiacs and Plymouths. In that northside location, Anda Maxwell and Frank Nelson had sold Fords at an earlier time. Bowman's son, Charles, is now a partner in the Redenbacher Popcorn enterprise.
For a few years just before the start of WW II in 1941, the garage building on the south was converted into a roller rink. The Evans company, operators of an open air rink at Cedar Lake, installed the Crystal Roller Rink, a popular place for youth.
The Old Timer took part in the roller hockey league (a rough game), playing teams from four other nearby towns. The popular Crystal Roller Club traveled to many other rinks to show off their talent in the waltz and the fox trot.
A few years before, Clarence Berdine purchased the Chevrolet Agency from the Felder brothers, who were then on the north side of Commercial, and moved the business back to the south side location in 1943. It seems those early dealers had a hard time deciding which side of the street was best for their business. Berdine was there but a short time when a fire destroyed the front part of the building, including a beauty shop in the east part operated by Eleanor Buckley. The building was again restored, Berdine moved to Florida, and the property was sold to Alvah Pletcher, who sold it again in a few years.
In 1944, prominent Lowell businessman Robert Cullen began his Chevrolet Dealership there, with his son Robert as associate. His daughter, Loretta Cullen Austgen, recalls that her father earlier was engaged in transporting milk from the creamery which was on the site of the present American Legion Post #101. Cullen was a veteran of WW I, active in his community, and was president of the 1952 Lowell Centennial Committee, which also boasted Alvah Pletcher as Secretary.
In 1958, the business was sold to Harrison Snell in time for the showing of the new 1959 models. Busy years followed, expansion was needed, and in 1965 Snell Chevrolet moved to their new complex on the west side of town. Ably assisted by sons Larry and Edward, the firm has had more expansion, and a Pontiac dealership was added.
After Snell left the old garage building by Cedar Creek, it was again remodeled and became the offices of the Tri-Creek School Corp. In 1974, a tornado struck the building and the rear part was completely destroyed by the high winds. The members of the school board and the administrative staff were in the building at the time, but luckily no one was injured. The school offices were later moved to their new building on south Burr St.
Remodeled one more time, the building has housed assorted business enterprises, including the Montgomery Ward Catalog store, an antique shop, a record store, and the Lowell Sports Gun Shop. By a strange coincidence, one of the operators of the gun shop is a grandson of Arthur Felder, one of the partners in the auto business in the 1920's and the 1930's.
[Note from Feb. 2001: This building was used as a tavern for several years, but has been remodeled and made smaller. It now stands empty.]
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