During the early days of the west side business district in the Town of Lowell, two lots west of the present Hitzeman Haus building on W. Commercial Ave. were the site of the Nick Berg family home and his blacksmith shop. Nicholas and Elizabeth Berg were members of pioneer families of Lake County.
Nicholas Berg was born June 15, 1847, and died June 30, 1911. His wife, Elizabeth, was born May 10, 1853, and passed away March 11*, 1934. Their first home was in Dyer, and they lived in Goodenow, Ill., for a time before moving to Lowell on Mar. 25, 1886. Their children were Mary, George, Theresa, Frank, Edward and Ida, all but one involved in some way in business circles in Lowell.
Daughter Mary Berg married Henry Heiser and was the mother of two boys, Arthur and Florian. The Heisers' venture into the business world in Lowell began in 1916, the year they purchased the Schmal Hotel from Fred W. Schmal. The name was later changed to the Heiser Hotel, known for its fine chicken dinners, served family style.
The Berg's eldest son, George, was born in Dyer on Mar. 25, 1876, had his first schooling at Goodenow, Ill., in Will County, and continued his education after the family moved to Lowell in 1886.
At the age of 15, he worked in the downtown Lowell grocery store owned by George Kimmet. At the age of 23, he joined George Deathe's Hardware Company at the corner of Commercial Ave. and Clark St. in downtown Lowell.
In the year 1905, at the age of 29, he purchased the hardware business of his Uncle John Berg, father of Lowell's early banker, Peter A. Berg. John Berg's hardware was in the building now occupied by John's This and That Shoppe.
Nick Berg's blacksmith shop burned in 1913, so George made plans to build a new hardware building on the site. The new brick building, built at a cost of $3,500 was completed in 1915, and became West Side Hardware. It is now the empty tavern building next to Dante's Restaurant. [Note from 2001: It is now called Zuni's.] The contractors were Fred Gordon and Harry Alyea.
George Berg was in the hardware business there until 1922, when he sold the firm to Goodwin and Johnson. Merle Goodwin (1894-1955), well-known and esteemed educator in the Lowell area, and his wife Lucille were the owners until 1955, when it was sold to Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Fitzgerald, who moved the business downtown in 1963 and changed the name to Midtown Hardware. Some of the well-known managers there were Fred Schmal, Nate Davis and Leonard Nichols.
George Berg married Matilda Myers, and the couple had five children: Sabena, Paul, Jordan, Walter and Blanche. The family moved to Glendale, Calif., in 1922, traveling in a converted school bus which was evidently the forerunner of today's modern recreational vehicles. But the highways were poor in 1922, especially near the mountains, making the trip a long and hazardous one.
Nick and Elizabeth Berg's daughter Theresa, known as "Tracy," was born at Goodenow, Ill., in 1878 and passed away in 1926 at the age of 48. In 1903 she married Fred W. Schmal, then the owner of the Schmal Hotel and the son of 1838 pioneer Adam Schmal of Crown Point. Four Schmal children were born at the hotel: Maurine, Viola, Robert and Richard.
The Berg's second son, Frank, was born in 1881 and died in 1928 at the age of 47. He moved to Crown Point at an early age and was in business there. His son Franklin passed away at the young age of 29.
Stories of the blacksmith's son Edward were told in "Pioneer History" columns of Mar. 27, 1985, and June 25, 1986. He was born at Goodenow, Ill., Aug. 8, 1884. He served as a U.S. Marine in Cuba during World War I, and after the war, was very active in veterans' groups in Lowell. He operated a men's store in 1933, when he became Conservation Officer for the State of Indiana and served in Jasper County. When he passed away Jan. 24, 1940, his funeral procession included a long line of marching soldiers, veterans, and his fellow conservation officers from all over the state.
The Berg's youngest daughter, born about 1888, was known to many around Lowell as "Aunt Ida." She and her husband, C. Bird Viant, were the well-known operators of Viant's Restaurant in downtown Lowell for years (column of Aug. 28, 1985). Bird Viant was manager of the old Grand Theatre at the corner of Jefferson and Clark Sts., just north of the Pilcher Publishing Co. offices.
He was the grandson of Lowell's early storekeeper John W. Viant, who was in business in Lowell in the 1850's. Ida and Bird had a son Jack and a daughter Evelyn, who married John K. Wheeler of Lowell. Viant was also Lowell's town marshall during the years of World War II and can be remembered wearing a white uniform on special occasions. He passed away suddenly in 1945.
The site of the old Berg homestead is now occupied by the brick building housing the Carlson Electric Shop and Lowell Upholstery. The building was built by Frank Patz for the Patz Dairy Company in 1935. Earlier, the dairy was in a small section on the west side of the hardware building next door. Other enterprises in the dairy building included Boyens Auto sales and a t-shirt factory.
When the hardware business was moved downtown, the west side building was used as an engineering laboratory for the Globe Mfg. Co. with George Beckman in charge. It was later remodeled into the Fife and Drum Pub, which was an interesting place with antiques on the walls and sawdust on the floor. The Old Timer now owns a Nick Berg horseshoe unearthed at the time of the remodeling.
The area of the Berg Blacksmith Shop, the general store to the east, and the hotel to the north, was often called "German Hill" because of the family names of Hoffman, Berg, Miller, Tramm, Schmal, Schutz and Bixeman.
Nicholas and Elizabeth Berg were the Old Timer's grandparents, and their daughter Tracy was his mother.
* NOTE -- While this story lists Elizabeth Biehn Berg's date of death as March 11, 1934, an obituary in a 1934 Lowell Tribune list it as March 1, 1934.
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