Last week the Old Timer watched as some of Lowell's past disappeared into the dust. Two old buildings which were once a part of the Lowell Grain and Hay Co. complex were demolished by several pieces of modern heavy equipment.
One of a brick building with four levels, three bricks thick, with several large grain hoppers of wood on the upper floor. The heavy stone lintel over the front door bore the words "C.E. Nichols 1904." It was salvaged and will be preserved.
The larger and taller elevator building, with its huge grain bins and lower rooms full of heavy equipment, served the farming community of Lowell for a hundred years. There was also another building on the site which burned down many years ago.
As the big jaws of the crane chewed into the buildings last week, many confused bats came flying out, zooming from one building to another until there was nowhere left to go.
The elevator building was constructed of heavy beams, some thicker than a foot square, while the storage compartments were constructed of solid walls of two-by-fours and two-by-sixes laid flat. The building was covered with large sheets of corrugated steel. The old building resisted the big crane for a time, but bite by bite the big jaws won the battle.
In the year 1881, after the main line of the Monon Railroad was completed through the Town of Lowell, several sidetracks were built to serve new business enterprises. One of these sidings began at the Washington Street crossing and traveled at a northwest angle until it dead-ended at Liberty St., across from the present pumping station. This siding served the. C.E. Nichols Hay and Grain Co. with its huge hay barn, a cob house, an office building and scale, along with a home and the two buildings just torn down. All that remains is the red hay barn, which has been moved east from its original location near Liberty St.
Townspeople would fill sacks with corn cobs, used to start fires in heating and cook stoves, and would pick up corn husks to fill their mattresses.
Charles Elmer Nichols, owner of the elevator company, was born in West Creek Township on Dec. 14, 1861, the youngest son of 1836 Lowell pioneer Horatio N. Nichols (1818-1897) and Phoebe E. (Kenyon) Nichols of Pleasant Grove. In 1888 Charles Nichols married Edna May Smith (born in 1867), the daughter of Thomas M. Smith and Sara E. (McCabe) Smith.
At the early age of 19, Nichols had become a dealer in hay and grain in Lowell, where he stayed until 1886, when he went to work in Chicago and then in Crown Point. He returned to Lowell and to the hay and grain business in 1891, staying until he sold the firm and moved to California in 1917.
He lived in Hollywood and Santa Moncia, where his son-in-law, Harvey Hildebrandt, was associated with him in the ice business. Nichols retired in 1937.
Charles and Edna Nichols were the parents of one daughter Stella, who hosted their golden wedding party at Santa Monica in 1938.
Charles was also vice president of the Lowell National Bank and president of the Nichols Hay and Grain Co. of Cook (Cedar Lake). He passed away in November 1942 at nearly 81 years of age.
The site of the old homestead of Lowell pioneers Horatio and Abram Nichols at the corner of Liberty and Washington Sts. is now occupied by the Lowell Post Office. In 1909 a directory shows that the home of William Calvin Nichols (born 1845), a brother of Charles E. Nichols, was located on that corner.
William "Bill" Sisson began his working experience at the Keilman-Kimmet Mill (across form Lowell Depot, destroyed in 1927) in about 1904. He went to work for the Nichols firm in 1912, staying on in 1917 when the mill was sold to a group of farmers.
The buyers were Herbert Rieke, George Tyler, and Bernard Carlin and the name of the firm was changed to the Lowell Hay and Grain Co. A huge sign with that name was barely visible on the big elevator building as it came tumbling down. That firm also owned the elevators at Shelby and Dinwiddie (I-65 and SR 2 ) for a short time. George Tyler, one of the partners, became the sole owner, and after his death, his wife, Bertha, took over the operation of the company, assisted by her brother George Regnier.
A full page advertisement in the Lowell Centennial Book of 1952 read "Lowell Grain and Hay Co. Feed, Seed, Grain and Tile -- Co-Managers B.A. Tyler and G.E. Regnier -- Serving this community since 1882."
The firm was sold again in about 1959 to Mr. and Mrs. Lester Holley, who worked one whole winter repairing the aging equipment. By early spring it was once again in operating condition and open for business. When Mr. Holley passed away in the early 1970's, the land was sold to Lowell businessman, Vincent Zunica, who at that time planned an office building and antique business on the site.
The corner of "Liberty Square" now boasts offices in the house that was a part of the mill complex, which was joined to a house moved from the corner of Commercial Ave. and Castle St. Also on the site are two pre-built model homes, and several new rental homes.
It is all quite a change from the way the Old Timer remembers the site -- the old town junkpile nearby where a lad could find some "unusual" items, the old cob house, the sand pit north of the mill, the tall hill (long gone) at the site of the present water tower, streams running through Liberty Park, wild asparagus for the picking in the "wilds" that is now the park, sliding down that big hill on a scoop shovel, and watching the farmers as they unloaded their horsedrawn wagons at the mill.
"Learn from the past, look to the future."
Information for this column came from Inice Tribbey, Mrs. John Bruce, Mrs. Lester Holley, Lake County history books, and the Nichols family book, written by William Calvin Nichols in 1905.
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