The year was 1886 when the old pioneer was walking with the aid of his cane east on Commercial Ave. He had quit farming soon after the Civil War, when his son came home to run the farm, and he built a nice new house in town.
As he left his home near Nichols St., he passed only a few houses along the street shaded by oak trees between the walkway and two-lane dirt road. He remembered when most of them were built, with big red barns in the rear to shelter their favorite horses and carriages. Some also had chicken houses near the barns and grazing land for cows, even in town.
Walking east down the big hill, the old gentleman came to the lot where a German blacksmith had just moved into Lowell from Goodenow, Ill. He found that his name was Nick Berg, who soon opened his shop (on the site of a well-known modern-day restaurant). Next door was the large general store, circa 1870, where he stopped for a while to talk about the old days over crackers and coffee by the old, pot-bellied stove. He could see the Union House Hotel across the street and remembered back in 1860 when it was being built, and how busy it was later with salesmen coming from the train every day to stay in Lowell while peddling their wares, and with travelers on the way to the city.
When he was about to cross the railroad, only in place for a few years, he thought of its many advantages for Lowell -- there was a telegraph office where news and greetings could be received from far away in a short time; there were new opportunities for business, and travel opened new horizons to residents.
Many hotels were built about that time, and one of them just to the east of the tracks was operated by Mr. Ceiga. Just to the south, the new steam powered grist mill built by DuBreuil and Keilman stood seventy feet high, with a capacity of 60 thousand bushels.
On many Sundays travelers from Chicago came to Lowell on the morning train, enjoyed lounging on the lawn of a hotel, ate a homecooked chicken dinner served family-style for $1, and returned to the city on the later afternoon train.
The old pioneer stopped for a while at the old wooden bridge over Cedar Creek, where one of several livery stables in town straddled the stream on the south side of the avenue. Horses and carriages were available for rent, and some of the younger set requested a horse "which knew the way home." He passed some of the other stables and stopped in to see his old friend, Jerry Kenney, and then stopped in at Sanger's Hardware store.
As he walked east along the wooden sidewalk, all sorts of horse-drawn rigs were parked along the right-of-way in front of the many frame buildings on the south side of the street. Soon he found himself at the old town square admiring the land donated some years before by Jabez Clark, although no monument, library, town hall or gazebo yet stood on the site.
He waited to cross the street, as several wagons passed by heading for the grist milll with their grain. Then he walked over to the home and office of another old friend, Dr. E.R. Bacon, a Civil War veteran and well-known Lowell physician. The good doctor took the pioneer on a tour of his comfortable mansion on the corner.
Another friend of the pioneer was John W. Viant, owner of a three-story building on the northeast corner of Clark and Commercial. They talked for a time about the general store business.
Having quite a thirst by this time, he walked to the middle of the block and north on Clark St. and dropped in at the Farmer's Home Tavern across from the present Lowell Tribune office, where he drank a small bottle of sarsaparilla. After a short rest, he continued his walk to see more old friends at the Alyea Hotel on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Mill Streets. He recalled when the area was near the first lots platted in the town of Lowell back in '52 and how Melvin Halsted planned for wide streets in that section of the little village.
He then walked over to Main St. and turned a block west to Jonah Thorn's hotel and general store, just across the street from Halsted's home. The two old friend talked about those good old pioneer days and many other pleasant memories. Townspeople, they agreed, were still talking about the murder that took place in front of Thorn's Hotel in 1877.
The pioneer went across the street to see Melvin Halsted at his home, but Halsted's wife, Martha, directed him to the grist mill down the street, where Halsted was checking on some equipment. Friendly greetings were exchanges, and Halsted showed him around the three-story brick building with its mansard roof. He explained that some of the machinery was moved from the earlier mill on Mill St., with other, newer equipment added.
The two friends said goodbye, and the old pioneer trudged up the hill on Main St., wishing Nichols St. was a little closer as he walked by the old brickyard to the north. On the way home, he thought about what a wonderful walk it had been, seeing so many old cronies and talking about pleasant memories from earlier days.
("The old pioneer" in this story could have been a "real" person in 1886, but actually sprang to life only in the mind of the writer.)
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