The focus this month is on the north side of Commercial Ave. in Lowell, between Halsted and Mill Streets. The earliest account of a business there was from a newspaper of 1875. Dan Fry was the manager of a gun shop "in the corner building, near the bridge."
The names of a few more early business owners were listed in an account of a fire in that area in 1902: "It happened at night on May 12, when the townspeople were awakened by the ringing of the fire bell and the blowing of the whistle at the old water plant on Liberty St. Charles Collins, watchman, sounded the alarm when he discovered flames in the rear of Charles Schafer's Blacksmith shop. Quickly the flames spread to the Sirois Implement shop and to the Duckworth Paint store. The Hayden and Petrie Harness shop on the cormer of Commercial Ave. and Mill St. was soon in flames. The buildings were saved from total destruction due to the installation of the new water system after the big fire of 1898, which destroyed several blocks of buildings. It also was a great test for the new system, for the level of the water in the hundred foot stand pipe on the town square stayed at 98 feet. The volunteer firemen were able to use three hoses at the same time. Nearly all the buildings were partly covered by insurance. The Emil Sirois Implement Co. lost 31 buggies, one wagon, and many pieces of farm implements totaling $6,000, with insurance covering only $1,000. Due to the rapid start of the flames and to the fire starting in several places, it was said to be a case of arson."
Samuel Petrie, for many years a well-known harness maker in the Lowell area, was first known to be in business at a building on the present site of Midtown Hardware. The old frame building was moved south of the alley and later was demolished.
Petrie moved to the Mill St. corner, where he was a partner in the firm of Hayden and Petrie. Later, he was in business in his own frame building on the corner of Commercial and Halsted. He built the brick building now occupied by Tish's Antiques and had his shop there until he moved to the old frame structure which he had moved to Halsted St., next to his home.
Samuel passed away Oct. 23, 1943, and in January 1944 the business was sold to Guy Wells, who had moved back to Lowell from Chesterton.
In May 1945 the building was sold to Murrell Belanger, implement dealer and Indianapolis 500 race car owner, and it was moved to his farm north of Lowell.
Wells was unable to find a suitable building for his harness business, so for the first time in decades, Lowell had no harness shop. Following are some of the harness makers from Lowell's past: Frank Shurte, Hago Carstens, Alex Beatty, John Bain, Walter Staff Sr., Sam Petrie, and Nick Jourdain.
Frank Graves and his wife, Ora G. Clark Graves (1899-1953), made their home in Lowell in 1921. He started out as an auto mechanic for an Oakland and Chevrolet service and later moved his machine shop to that brick building built by Petrie, where Graves stayed for many years.
Merritt Kelsey (the subject of a 'Pioneer History' column in October 1985) began his livery stable business in a frame building that stood over the creek on the south side of Commercial Ave. In 1906 his new brick building was completed north across the street, next to the Petrie shop.
The new, two-story brick ediface measured 38-feet-by-80-feet and was said to be one of the best arranged and equipped livery stables in northwest Indiana. The cost of the real estate was $5,400, and $2,500 more was spent for equipment. The basement held 14 head of horses, with 16 more on the first floor and ample space for washing, harnessing, etc.
One unusual feature was the elevator used to hoist vehicles to the upper floor. Kelsey began with eight new buggies, two surreys, one three-seated vehicle and one bus -- all available for wedding, funerals and social parties on short notice. He later was in the garage business with George Wilson at another location, and passed away in 1937.
Soon after World War I, the brick livery stable was the site of a battery shop and garage operated by Benjamin Kitchel 'Runt' Hayhurst (1890-1960), who was born in West Creek Township. Auto batteries were rebuilt in his shop. Benjamin and his wife, Emma (Ainsworth) Hayhurst, were the parents of two daughters, Eleanor, who married Harold King, and Geneveive, who married Paul Standish.
In the 1920's the business was sold to Clayton Randolph, a World War I military veteran who was born in Crown Point on Oct. 31, 1899, the son of William and Dora Kilborn Randolph. Clayton married Alice Love, and their children are Richard Randolph and Jannie, married to Robert Kuiper.
In 1926 the Randolph Agency advertised the new Dodge Brothers automobiles: the sports roadster was $1,050, with optional rumble seat; the touring car was priced at $857; the coupe cost $915, and the sedan went for $980. Randolph sold his business to Carl Schmelter of Crown Point in 1956 and passed away in 1960 while working as manager of the Lowell Bowling Lanes.
Schmelter, who moved from Crown Point, operated the Dodge agency until 1959, when he began to sell Ford Motor products until he sold the business to Wicker Ford in 1967. During the years, the auto agency had been expanded to include a larger building to the east that had been the original Sirois Implement Company home.
An ad in the 1906 "Souvenir Album of Lake County, Ind." reveals that Anda Maxwell, another well-known Lowell business man, had spent eighteen years in the hardware, implement and buggy sales business, three of which were spent as a traveling salesman. At about that time, he purchased the business and building of the Sirois Implement Co., where he advertised a "Complete Stock."
In that same building, Maxwell was a Ford dealer in the early 1920's. His partner was Frank Nelson, a Lowell banker. O.D. Gray, who was an inventor, was also an auto dealer there for a short time. He was followed by Fred V. Alexander, who moved his business from the building now occupied by John's This and That Shoppe of W. Commercial Ave.
In March 1926 the following advertisement ran in the Lowell Tribune: "Roadster, delivered at Lowell, $439; touring car, $460; coupe, $573; four door, $641. Bargains in used cars -- 1924 touring, good shape, $225; 1924 light truck, $125; Fordson Tractor with fenders, $563; two bottom Oliver Plows for Fordson Tractor, $102."
That same year Alexander changed to the Chevrolet agency. The price of the touring car was $583. An advertisement for Ford in 1924 showed a price for the touring car at $295, Detroit.
The Felder Brothers, Clifford and Arthur, moved their auto agency into the Maxwell building in the early 1930's. The price of a Chevrolet roadster in 1930 was $495, with $71 added for delivery, spare tire and bumpers.
The Felders sold to Clarence Berdine in about 1940. Berdine moved the agency back to the south side of the street in 1943, at the time Clayton Randolph expanded his business into the larger building to the east.
Some years ago, the buildings were remodeled with a mansard-style front which covered the upper story windows. For many years, gasoline pumps were standing on the curb in front of four garages in that area, and the Randolph building had a canopy over the sidewalk, The old pumps were first filled with a hand pump and then the auto tanks were filled by gravity.
Many blacksmiths became auto mechanics, and buggy salesmen became auto dealers in the early years of the auto industry in the town of Lowell. In more recent years, the combined Kelsey building and the Sirois Implement structure was the home of an auto parts store operated by Robert Morrison and now occupied by the IMC Cycle shop. [Note from year 2001 -- The building is now a furniture store.]
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