William Sigler, one of the early business men of Lowell, was born in 1822 and came to Lake County with his father, Samuel, in 1837.
He was one of the early business men in the Town of Lowell. His department store, a frame building, burned down during the big fire of 1898. The State Bank building of brick was built in 1900 on the same site. (Note from 2001: The building now houses Nellie Jayne's restaurant and antique shop.)
Sigler's Lowell home, surrounded by many large oak and pine trees, sat high on a bluff just west of the present railroad depot. Among those trees was a mighty oak which stood near the corner of Commercial Ave. and Globe Dr. It was called a "witness tree" and was used as a landmark by surveyors of earlier times.
The bluff, the oaks and the pines are gone now, and the old Sigler name is only a faint memory. After the Sigler family moved, William Sisson lived there, followed by Perry Burnham and Frank Novak. The site is now the home of Harding's Inc., independent dealers in tractor parts, sales and service. The company moved there in 1939 from the original location on Mill St., now the home of Lump Insurance Agency.
In the fall of 1923, Emil Harding opened his implement store on Mill St. on the site of the early Lowell Fire Station, a frame building with a bell tower. Selling machinery was not new to him, for he sold his first tractor from the farm in 1916, when an "All Work" tractor was purchased on Labor Day by Floyd McKinstry of Grant Park. He continued to sell that brand until 1928, when he became a John Deere dealer. The firm changed to the Caterpillar tractor sales in 1935, staying with that company until 1960.
Back in 1936, there was a need for expansion and the decision was made to add a second floor to the 1923 building. Contractor Carl Mahler was hired to raise the roof to make way for that addition. Jacks slowly raised the roof as rows of masonry were laid until the construction was complete.
In 1938 more room was again needed, and plans were made for a new building. Harding moved his business to a temporary location at the old Main Garage building on the south side of Commercial Ave. near the bridge. The building on Mill St. was rented to John Stambaugh of Valparaiso, who continued to operate an implement dealership there.
The new Harding building on Commercial was almost finished in 1939, and in 1940 the old location was sold to Murrell Belanger, who also ran the implement sales. Belangers hobby made him famous, for in the early 1950's an Indy 500 racer, old No. 99, was built in a shop on the upper floor.
Lee Wallard was the winning driver of the Belanger Special. Seven other cars were built and were raced coast-to-coast. During the mid 50's and the late 60's, the building housed Junior Klukas' and Robert Jerzyk's businesses selling farm equipment.
In 1961, Thomas Cassman came to Lowell to buy Frank Gullstrom's Drug Store, and later purchased the Harding building from Klukas in 1969. He remodeled the interior as a modern drug store, and used the second floor for storage. But fire struck the north side of Commercial again, burning the old Opera House to the ground and partially destroying the drug store on Apr. 10, 1976.
Leon Lump purchased the building from Tom Cassman later in 1976 and remodeled it as a one-story building, recognizing the value and the safety of the strong cement floor above. He and his son, Tom, transformed the structure into usable office space for their insurance business and other businesses. They were able to move from their Commercial Ave. office in April 1977. Tom Lump joined the firm in 1974, and son Donald has been associated with his father since 1985. Only a grassy lawn marks the spot where the old Opera House stood on the corner of Commercial Ave. and Mill St.
Harding's new building on Commercial Ave. and Globe Dr. was constructed in 1939, and on Mon., Feb. 5, 1940, Emil Harding was host to hundreds of farmers and their families at an open house to celebrate the grand opening of the new building, highlighted by exhibits and interesting movies.
Several additions have been made through the years, including a shop area to the rear of the building in 1955. In 1975, more expansion was necessary and a large addition was made to the west of the original construction.
This annex is used for parts and a shipping area. The annex was built on the site of Oral Lloyd's home, and others living in the house in years following 1909 were the Belshaw family, Victor K. Roberts, Bert C. Hayden and John Hepp.
In the 1950's more land was acquired and more of the old bluff was removed. The old Edward Wood house, later occupied by the Novak family, was moved around the corner on Oakley Ave. to the south. In 1978 a track and paint building was added to the complex, and just this year the old display area in front of the building was remodeled into a modern office area. Clarence Harding, Sr., has been associated with his father's firm since the 1930's, and became manager of the company in 1962. After the death of his father in 1974, he became the president of the company. His mother, Mary, still young at heart, lives at the family home on West Commercial Ave. Among the staff of 36 is son Clarence Jr., manager, and daughter Cathy, the receptionist.
Not many family firms have been in business in the same 'Neighborhood' for 63 years.
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