The old hotel building on the hill at West Commercial Ave. in Lowell is one of the oldest business buildings still in use in town. Enlarged and remodeled many times through the years, the original 18-by-36-foot building is now the central part, built before 1860.
It was first used as a schoolhouse for two years, until the spring of 1861, when it was purchased by pioneer Jabez Clark, Lowell settler of 1837. Clark rented the hotel to David Stringer for two years, and then it was rented for a time by William Nichols from another very early pioneer family.
George Mee purchased the property and for many years the hotel was known as the Union House, named during the Civil War years. Mee was the owner for a number of years until it was sold to Peter Schmal of Crown Point.
Soon after the turn of the century, Peter sold the business to his younger brother, Fred W. Schmal, also of Crown Point. Peter and Fred Schmal and their brother George, founder of the Schmal Dairy in Crown Point, were sons of pioneer Adam Schmal (1828-1897). Adam was a Lake County commissioner in 1857 and 1862, and served as Lake County Treasurer from 1867 to 1871, having come with his parents to Lake County in 1838.
The pioneer Schmals came from the village of Losheim, Rhinish Prussia, near the French border, sailing on the ship "Erie" with Edward Funk as master. Joseph (1784-1859) and Anna (1785-1859) (Spiedler) Schmal, with their large family, sailed from the French port of Havre, landing at New York in May 1838.
The Old Timer has a copy of the ship's manifest, an interesting list of names of English and German immigrants, written by a Frenchman. John Hack, 1837 pioneer founder of St. John, Indiana, was a neighbor of the Schmals at Losheim, a part of Germany.
Fred Schmal, grandson of Joseph, was the owner of the Schmal Hotel from 1902 to 1916. During that time, the inn was busy with traveling salesmen and work crews who stayed by the week due to the lack of rapid transportation.
Meals at the hotel were served promptly at noon and six o'clock, family style, with huge platters of fluffy mashed potatoes and homestyle fried chicken on large tables with white tablecloths.
Those famous chicken dinners were also popular with travelers from Chicago who would ride the Monon Railroad to spend the day in Lowell. They would arrive on the ten a.m. train and return to the city at four o'clock in the afternoon, taking with them jugs of Lowell's sulphur water!
Just before Fred Schmal went into the hotel business, he owned a hardware store at Morocco, Ind., but soon found that traveling the dirt roads on his bicycle all the way to Lowell to see Tracy Berg was quite a chore. So he sold the business and went to work at the hotel for his brother, where his future wife, Tracy, also worked.
After leaving the hotel business in 1916, Fred became a well-known hardware merchant in downtown Lowelll until his retirement in 1934. The Old Timer was a hardware man and recently received a plaque for "50 years in the Hardware Industry."
Fred Schmal sold the hotel to Mary and Henry Heiser in 1916. She was a former Lowell resident and was Tracy Schmal's sister. The Heisers operated the hotel under the Schmal name for a while, but for many years later it was known for miles around as the Heiser Hotel.
During the years of the Schmal Hotel and the Heiser Hotel, a "jitney bus" would pick up passengers there, make stops at Cedar Lake inns, and end its tour at a Crown Point hotel. Passengers could ride the old Model T bus to Crown Point to board the trolley car for Gary, then a thriving shopping center.
Henry and Mary Heiser were the parents of two sons, Arthur, who was a soldier in World War I, and Florian 'Pooch,' a resident of Cedar Lake for many years.
Among the many owners of the hotel building after the Heisers sold the business was Ruby Zander, who is remembered for her bountiful and economical meals. Several antique and craft shops occupied the old lobby room, and a shoe repair shop took over two rooms at the rear.
William Bower owned the building for a time, and also managed an antique shop in the building to the west. The Bower family, like many of the other owners, did extensive remodeling to the old landmark.
The Ray Stinsons are the present owners, and the hotel rooms above are still in use, as well as several rental units on the first floor. Some outside painting is almost completed, and plans for more renovations are being made. For several years it was again called the "Union House."
Another early Lowell business building stands just west of the old hotel, now occupied by John's This and That Shoppe. It is also the office of the Lowell Chamber of Commerce. The owners are John and Pat Dinning, the latter the secretary of the chamber. The Dinnings, who sell antiques and gift balloons and have many other enterprises, had their shop in the hotel building next door for two years and have been in their present location for four years.
The old building has been traced back to 1874, when it was on the site of a gun repair shop operated by W.R. Wallace. When George Mee was the hotel keeper, he also owned the building to the west, and through the years, the property transferred ownership with the hotel.
John Berg was the proprietor of a hardware store there, followed by his nephew, George Berg, who founded the West Side Hardware store, forerunner of the downtown Midtown Hardware.
Soon after World War I, Charles Bowman sold Oakland automobiles there, later moving to the downtown area to sell Pontiacs. Bert Hayden was the manager of the Lowell Hatchery for a time, and an egg store was under the name of Weaver (Hal) and McGlaughlin. It was the site of a small storefront church for a while, and a ceramics store operated by Peggy Hatch was there before the Dinnings arrived.
The following is a memorable tale that has added to the Old Timer's interest in history: During four years of service in the U.S. Army (1941-1945) he was stationed for a year at Schofield Barracks in the mountains on the island of Oahu, Hawaii. There, a fellow soldier showed him a book purchased in a Honolulu book store -- it was the History of Lake County, 1834-1872, written by the well-known pioneer historian Rev. Timothy H. Ball, printed in 1873. Neatly folded within the front cover was a colored map of Lake County from that year. Turning pages, it was not long before he found stories about his grandfather and great grandfather. Purchasing the book sparked a long-time interest in the history of the pioneers, which had been encouraged by his father, Fred Schmal, who was president of the Lake County Historical Assn. in 1940 and 1945. The Old Timer is also a member of the Lake County group.
At St. John, Indiana, on old Schmal Street, stands a lone monument, a large stone with a marble plaque that reads "Joseph and Anna Schmal, Homestead, 1838."
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