Cedar Creek, fed by Cedar Lake through Lake Dalecarlia, furnished water power for the first saw mill and grist mill at Lowell.
The course of this stream that has meandered through the center of town has been changed many times through the years. Before the arrival of the railroad in the 1880’s, Cedar Creek flowed in a wide bend extending into what is now Liberty Park. The “Lowell Ditch” was dug from Main St. to a point south of town, removing many bends. The original stream traveled eastward for a short way at the base of Fremont and Union Sts.
Where Cedar Creek crossed Commercial Ave., the scene included a livery stable on the south side, built over the water on tall pilings, while on the north side four business had water running below their floors.
One of those four was at the old address of 227 W. Washington St., near the present location of a more recent building that houses the Sidetrack Saloon.
It was a ramshackle building that straddled the creek like a bridge, and the home of the Bisig Woodworking Shop. Charles Bisig, whose home was near the Halsted House on Main St. in 1909, also advertised wagon repair.
Next door to the Bisig building on the east side was another structure, used for many years as a blacksmith shop, at the old address of 225 W. Washington and Halsted Sts. There was a bridge at Halsted St. between this building and what is now the home of Tish’s Antiques.
In earlier days, a huge wooden horseshoe hung on the front of the building, with the words “Machinist, Blacksmith.” The following advertisement was printed in the Lake County Directory of 1909: “B.T. Beckman, Blacksmithing and Horseshoeing.” In 1913 another advertisement was in the Lowell Tribune: “I have returned to my old stand and ask all my old customers to drop in. B.T. Beckman.”
He had moved to Winamac for a while, and was letting his customers know that he was back in Lowell.
In the spring of 1914, Beckman tore down the old Bisig building next door and remodeled his blacksmith building. An article appeared in the Lowell paper in 1914 about Tom Powell and his son Jim finishing the brick laying job at the front of the Beckman building.
Bernard T. Beckman was born Feb. 25, 1879, at Libertyville, Ill., the son of Bernard T. and Catherine (Bomkamp) Beckman. He married Johanna Hessling in 1899. “Bernie” worked for a while in 1905 on the John Hack Dredge, when that company was busy digging ditches to drain the Kankakee Marsh. In a very early newspaper, it was reported that he nearly lost a finger in a saw at the blacksmith shop.
Bernard and Johanna Beckman were the parents of 11 children: Bernard, Edward, George, Leo, Rev. John, Louise (Erlenbach), Gertrude (Fiske), Arthur, Mildred (Geisen), Irene (Ross), and Vincent. Several of the sons worked at the blacksmith shop through the years.
Bernard T. was a well-known Lowell businessman and civic leader, and served on the Lowell Town Board for 18 years, 14 as president. He retired in 1941 to his home at Bradenton, Fla., and spent summers in Lowell. In the fall of 1954, a very happy occasion took place, the 55th wedding anniversary of Bernard T. and Johanna, and all the family gathered to honor their parents.
Bernard T. passed away July 3, 1958, at the age of 79. At that time there were 33 grandchildren and 24 great grandchildren. His wife, Johanna, died in Florida on June 28, 1959.
The old blacksmith shop was operated by Verne Ohlenkamp in 1941, after Beckman retired. He later moved further west on Washington to sell farm implements at the old livery stable building. Then, Elvin Graves operated his welding business there until the bridge was remodeled.
In 1955 and 1956, the course of Cedar Creek at the Commercial Ave. bridge was again changed, and the stream was moved west and straightened again to prepare for a more modern concrete span. The old creek bed was filled and the Halsted St. bridge was removed. The newer concrete bridge was a big improvement over the old wooden piling, walks and railings of earlier days, at a cost of $173,000. The site of the old Beckman shop is now the land filled at the corner of Washington and Halsted Sts.
About that time, Elvin Graves moved his machine shop and welding business into a new block building just north on Halsted St. He was followed in business by Matt Bryant, member of a pioneer family of the 1830’s. Bryant moved his business to a building west of Lowell in recent years, and sold the Halsted St. shop to Charles Harmston, who was also the operator of a machine shop there.
In November 1986 Bryant again purchased the Halsted St. business, called “Crankshaft Service,” managed by Chuck Harmston.
Near the site of this newer block building once stood an old square brick building with a cupola, used for many years as the town jail and firehouse. In the 1920’s, an old hook and ladder wagon still stood in its stall there.
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