In 1881, after the main line of the Monon Railroad was completed through the Town of Lowell, several sidetracks were also built to serve new business enterprises. One of those sidings began at the Washington Street crossing and traveled at a northwest angle to Liberty Street, across from the pumping station.
One of the firms served by that track was the C.E. Nichols Hay and Grain Co., located at the northeast corner of Washington and Liberty Streets. The old elevator is now idle, and only a few of the original buildings can be seen. The large hay barn, the cob house, the office and the large scales are gone.
Once, neighbors would go to the cob house to fill sacks with corn cobs used to start fires in their heating and cook stoves and to find corn husks for filling mattress covers. The tall cliff at the "sand pit" behind the elevator, the sledding hill, and the treasures found on a nearby junkpile are only memories now, replaced by Liberty Park, a town garage and a water tower. The land fronting Washington Street was often used for Wild West Shows and circus performances.
Chalres Elmer Nichols, owner of the elevator company, was born in West Creek Township on Dec. 14, 1861, the youngest son of 1836 Lowell pioneer Horatio N. Nichols (1818-1897) and Phoebe E. (Kenyon) Nichols of Pleasant Grove. In 1888 he married Edna May Smith, born 1867, the daughter of Thomas M. Smith and Sara E. (McCabe) Smith.
In 1881, at the early age of 19, Nichols became a dealer in hay and grain at Lowell, staying until 1886, when he went to work in Chicago and then in Crown Point. He returned to Lowell and the hay and grain business in 1891, where he stayed until he sold out and moved to California in 1917.
There, he lived in Hollywood and in Santa Monica, where his son-in-law, Harvey A. Hildebrandt, was associated with him in the ice business. Nichols retired in 1937.
C.E. Nichols and his wife Edna were the parents of one daughter, Stella, who hosted their golden wedding anniversary party at Santa Monica in 1938.
Charles "Elmer" Nichols was also vice president of the Lowell National Bank and president of the Nichols Hay and Grain Co. at Cook (Cedar Lake). He passed away in November 1942 at nearly 81 years of age. Over the doorway of a three-story brick building still standing near the old elevator is a stone lintel engraved with the inscription "C.E. Nichols, 1904."
The Lowell Post Office on the northwest corner of Washington and Liberty Street, was the site of the old homestead of Horatio and Abram Nichols. In 1909 it was the home of William Calvin Nichols (born 1845), son of Horatio Nelson Nichols and brother of Charles E.
Earle Tanner, a good source for Lowell history, recalls that the Tanner family also lived in that house when his father, Fred Tanner, worked at the elevator, sometime between 1910 and 1925. Fred Tanner later moved to California to work for his old boss, Charles E. Nichols, in the ice business at Santa Monica. Years before, he was employed at the old brickyard at the north end of Liberty Street, where most of the brick for downtown buildings were made.
William "Bill" Sisson began his mill and elevator experience at the Keilman-Kimmet Mill about 1904, and after working for a short time at the Kimmet Lumber Co. in Shelby, he started to work, in 1912, for the Nichols Elevator Co. and stayed on when the business was sold to a group of farmers. He was later associated with his son, William "Zeb" Sisson, in the operation of a feed store on Mill Street in Lowell. He passed away in 1938.
Carl Gragg, prominent Lowell businessman, lived in the house near the elevator in 1909 when he worked in the office of the Nichols firm, and he later became a partner in the lumber firm of Ruge and Gragg at Cook and at Belshaw. He was killed in a train accident in 1937.
Another employee remebered by Earle Tammer was a man by the name of Norwall, who was the manager for a group of farmers which bought the firm from Nichols in 1917. Norwall was credited with bringing the first radio to Lowell, a one-tube Westinghouse purchased in Chicago.
After a very long aerial wire was fastened to the top of the elevator building and stretched almost a half a block to the office, the radio was very carefully tuned, and many residents were invited to listen to the wonderful invention with its two earphones. Fred Tanner drove the old Model T delivery truck while Norwall carefully held the fragile radios when they were sold to other elevator companies in the area so they could hear the daily market reports.
In about 1917, C.E. Nichols sold his farm to a group of farmers, including Herbert Rieke, George Tyler, and Bernard Carlin, and the name was changed to the Lowell Hay and Grain Co. They were also owners for a time of the elevators at Shelby and Dinwiddie. After some years, George Tyler became the sole owner and after he passed away, his wife Bertha took over the operation of the business, assisted by her brother, George Regnier.
The firm was sold again in about 1959 to Mr. and Mrs. Lester Holley, and work went on all winter repairing the aging equipment. By early spring, it was again in operating condition and open for business. The Holleys had been in business in Lowell a few years before, operating a feed store on Mill Street, and before that they had farmed for 15 years on 420 acres between Crown Point and Hobart.
When Lester Holley passed away in the early 1970's, has wife sold the business site to Vincent Zunica, who planned an office building and an antique store.
The home of Morris Gilbert, prominent Lowell attorney and World War I veteran, was moved from the corner of Comemrcial Avenue and Castle Street to join the house at the elevator corner as an office complex. The Gilbert home, moved to clear the present site of the Lowell National Bank, was originally owned by Charles Castle.
(Information for this story also came from Inez Tribbey, Mrs. John Bruce, Mrs. Lester Holley, Lake County History books, and the Nichols Family Book, written by William Calvin Nichols in 1905.)
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