The northwest corner of Commercial Ave. and Clark St. in downtown Lowell, a part of "Melvin Halsted's First Addition" to Lowell's original sixteen lots, was the original site of a business owned by Geroge M. Death (pronounced 'deeth'), for many years a prominent hardware merchant.
George McKinley Death was born in Rush County in 1841, one of nine children of John and Mary (Petro) Death, natives of Ohio. George bagan the tinner's trade at the age of 14 at Ogden in Henry County.
He came to Lake County in 1859, farmed a short time, taught school at Merrillville and became a clerk in a dry goods store at Lowell in 1862.
Soon after, he became the owner of a tin shop on Clark St., slowly increased his stock, and became a partner in the hardware business with C.C. Sanger. The partnership was dissolved in 1875, and Death moved his business into the corner building formerly occupied by Ward Price, an early Lowell merchant.
In the 1882 History of Lake and Porter Counties, by Blanchard and Goodspeed, is the following: "George Death has a first class trade in tinware, stoves and hardware."
George married Margaret Johnson, a native of Canada, and four children were born of this union: Minnie, May Dickinson, Winifred and Jessie. [Note: During the daughters' generation, the last name's spelling was changed from "Death" to "Deathe."] Margaret passed away in 1883, and in 1885 George married Emma Buchanan (1859-1935) of Hebron. Their seven children were: Neva, Ida, Ada, Beulah, George M. Jr., John and a baby daughter who died in 1901. Neva, who married R.M. Jenkins; Beulah, who wed H.T. Gragg; and George McKinley all moved to California. Twins Ada and Ida, after their retirement from the telephone company, lived in the old homestead built by their father in 1885. Brother John, manager of the hardware department at Lynch Bros. Department Store, passed away in 1922.
During the big Lowell fire of 1898, George Dearh's building was reduced to ashes. His loss was $9,000, but undaunted, he proceeded to have a large brick building erected on that same corner, built by Albert Webb in 1899. A stone on the front of the building still reads "George M. Death 1899." George Berg, founder of the West Side Hardware, worked as a clerk for Death in the early part of this century.
G.M. Death advertised in a 1906 history book: "Our Specialty, High Grade hardware, stoves, ranges and silverware. Malleable Ranges, Stewart hard coal burners, Coles Hot Blast coal stoves, and 1847 silverware. Respectfully Yours, G.M. Death." He continued in the hardware business on that corner until his dearh in 1911, at the age of 70, and his son, G. McKinley Death, took the reins until 1918, when he was called into the military service.
The Death Hardware was at that same corner for 36 years, followed by three drug stores. After the hardware was closed, the building was rented to Logan Scritchfield (1885-1941), who moved his drug business down the street from the Colfax Lodge building. He had purchased the stock of Davis Driscoll years before.
The well-known Rexall drug store had one of Lowell's most popular soda founains, with marble counters, large ornamental mirrors, and good old-fashioned ice cream. The building also had a hand-operated elevator for moving merchandise to and from the three levels.
After the death of Scritchfield in 1941, his wife Hazel (Smith) carried on the business for a few eyars, then sold the business and taught school for a time.
In the early 1920's, the Old Timer watched Fred Viant, a sign painter, as he carefully brushed letters on the east side of the building at Clark St. The upper part of the sign was an advertisement for the drug store, and below was a large hand pointing north, with the words "To Chicago." The old sign is hard to read now, and is a mystery to some, for why would a sign point to Chicago from Clark St.?
Answer: U.S. 41 was only a dream then; there was no bridge on Mill St. until the late 1920's. The route to Chicago was through Cedar Lake to Schererville, then old Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30), and on into Chicago via Torrence Ave.
Frank Gullstrom, one of the pharmacists employed by Hazel Scritchfield after the death of her husband, purchased the business a few years later. With his wife Mildred, he operated a successful drug store there for years, until it was sold to Tom Cassman.
Cassman's business was housed at the corner until he moved the business to the Mill St. location which burned in the fire of 1976, with estimates of a loss over $120,000.
In recent years, the G.M. Death building was divided into several business and office spaces, and now is being remodeled by owner Richard Meadows.
Nearby Clark St., now a one-way street for half a block, was the scene of the 1909 Cobe Trophy Race, and the speeding racers came charging down the street from the north, barely making the sharp turn onto Commercial Ave. before heading east toward the "Nine Mile Stretch" (State Rd. 55) and then north to Crown Point. The Cobe race was the forerunner of the Indianapolis 500.
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