If we could turn the years back, what would we see in the Town of Lowell soon after the year 1900?
We would see Commercial Avenue as a narrow dirt road, except of course, where the early planners made it "wide" in what is now our downtown business district. We would see a street flanked by board sidewalks in the business area, with a grassy parkway between the street and the walks in the residential part, huge oak trees lining both sides in many places. Some blocks had brick sidewalks, much like the area in front of the old hotel on the hill west of the railroad, where many residents took advantage of the fine well water from the big pump in front of the old building.
Creaky, wooden railings ran along the narrow bridge over Cedar Creek, except where one of the livery stables was built directly over the creek near the present American Legion hall.
The town was recovering from the big fire of 1898, which destroyed most of the downtown buildings on the north side of Commercial Avenue. The arson fire was difficult to battle, since the town's new water system was just being completed, and good water pressure downtown was not available.
In 1902 another fire burned several more buildings, but the water was there to save most of them. The town soon passed an ordinance prohibiting frame construction in the downtown site. Builders were soon busy replacing most of the burned-out buildings with brick construction; most of the material came from a brick yard in the northwest part of town.
According to a list of the 1909 officers of the Lowell Vol. Fire Dept., Grant Trump was chief, with H. Peterson as the assistant chief. Two pieces of equipment were listed. The foreman of the hose cart was H. Slocomb, who along with his men pushed and pulled the hose rig to the fire site. John James was foreman of the horsedrawn hook-and-ladder wagon, with the horses coming from the McNay Coal Yard.
The Old Timer actually saw those two pieces of fire equipment (in the 1920's), both stored in a small brick building on Halsted St. near Washington St.
The members of the town board in 1909 were A.S. Hull, president H.F.; Carstens; and H.T. Welton; with Edwin J. Pixley as clerk and H.M. Johnson as treasurer.
In those years, very few "auty-mobiles" could be seen -- imagine Lowell's downtown district instead with dozens of horsedrawn rigs -- farm wagons, surreys, buggies, as well as saddled horses, some of them tethered at a hitching rail at the present site of the Chamber of Commerce office.
Besides The Livery Stable by the creek, two other liveries were very busy places: Kelsey's and Peter Pairot's, also near the creek.
One of the favorite watering places for horses was in front of the State Bank Building (Commercial Ave. and Wall St.), where a cast iron ornamental tank once stood. With all the horses in town, the blacksmiths and farriers (horseshoers) were kept very busy, and two of those men had their shops in the same block on the west side. Nick Berg, the Old Timer's grandfather, worked in a frame building on the site of the present Dante's Banquet Room, while William Tramm, also a wagon maker, had his shop just across the street.
Soon after, Bernard Beckman became a well-known blacksmith at the corner of Washington St. and Halsted St., over the creek. George Wilson worked at a Mill Street site for a few years. A wagon builder, Charles Bisig had his shop on Washington Street just to the east of the railroad, also over the creek.
The large monument built in 1905 to the memory of veterans of the War of 1812, the Mexican War, the Civil War and the Spanish-American War had just been dedicated, and townspeople were talking about how they had stood in the rain and the mud to listen to lengthy orations during the ceremony.
In a 1909 directory, Martha Bacon, widow of Dr. E.R. Bacon, was still living in the mansion, still standing, at the corner of Fremont and Commercial Avenue. There the sidewalk was also made of brick, and huge trees stood between the highway and the walkway.
Business was good in those days, and one of the busiest places was the implement shop owned by J.C. Kenney, which was next to the livery stable by the creek. Several lawyers were mentioned in a 1909 book, including J.W. Belshaw, whose office was in what was then the State Bank Building at the corner of Commercial Avenue and Wall Street. Up the street was the office of law partners S.C. Dwyer and T.S. Robinson.
Coal and wood were advertised by P.A. McNay, with a yard on Washington St., at the railroad. There a railroad siding angled on its way to the Nichols Elevator and hay barn near Liberty Street.
There were no restaurants listed in 1909, but George Heilig advertised lunches served in his bakery/sweet shop in the old Opera House building at the corner of Mill and Commercial Avenue (burned in 1976). Schmal's Hotel also served meals three times daily family-style in a huge dining room, and snacks were available at several saloons, including those owned by Louis Berg (Crown Saloon) on the south side of Commercial Avenue by the stoplight at Mill St. and Peter Seramur (Pete's Place), in a building which was once in front of the American Legion Hall.
Two jewelers, E.J. Pixley and F.L. Weakly, had shops within a few doors of each other on the south side of Commercial Ave., where eyeglasses could also be purchased. Lumber was available at the Keilman-Kimmet Co. near the depot (where they also had a grist mill) and from the Wilbur Lumber Co. yard, which was across from Costas Foods on Washington St.
Those looking for dry goods could stop in at the Red Front Store, operated by W.G. Tanner and C.P. Anderson, in the building now housing the Trophy Shop and Craft Store on Commercial Ave. Abraham Callner had a clothing store, J.M. Castle sold general merchandise, and variety items could be purchased at the "Fair," owned by George Kimmet, while James and Thomas Grant operated Grant Brothers Department Store.
A large department store was owned by George Hoevet to the west of the downtown travel store, and S.M. LaRue sold dry goods at the northeast corner of Mill Street and Commercial Avenue.
The only groceries listed were those of William Taylor on Clark Street and White and Driscoll, near the present Davis Store. Groceries could also be found at most of the department stores in town, however.
Hardware stores were plentiful: the Old Timer's Uncle George Berg had his hardware near the old hotel, Burnham Brothers was downtown, where George Death also had his store, and J.C. Kenney and the Maxwell Co. (Anda) were near the creek.
Cigars were made by A.J. Calkins, and the two dairies were operated by R.R. Palmer and Louis Purchase. Drug stores were owned by Davis Driscoll, on the first floor of the present Colfax Lodge building, with Frank L. Hunt across Commercial Avenue at the site of the present office supply store.
Lowell had two dentists in 1909, Dr. John Dinwiddie (who put braces on the Old Timer in the 1920's) and Dr. P.L. Rigg. Dr. W.V. Gooder, M.D., and Dr. J.W. Iddings, M.D., both had their offices in the State Bank building, and Dr. W.C. Quincy, M.D., was in the present brick building across from Senior Citizens Park. Three animal surgeons were listed: Dr. C.D. Broad, Dr. A. McPhail and Dr. William Windbigler.
In those years, ladies' hats were very popular (and large), and most of them made at the three millinery shops, one of which was owned by Elizabeth Davis, the forerunner of the Davis Store; another by Mrs. Paul Ellis, near the Colfax Lodge building; and the third being Lena Kimmet's shop next door to the Chamber office.
Photographs, taken with long time exposures (often clamps held heads in place), were available above the present carpet store on Commercial Avenue by W.H. Hayward and by J. Claude Rumsey at his home on Michigan Street.
Two plumbers, C.A. Gorball and Edwin Sanders, were kept busy installing the new water system, pipes filled with "Nature's Tonic," Lowell's sulphur water.
Walter Staff was the only shoemaker listed, and H. Gershman the lone tailor.
The two banks were the State Bank at Commercial and Wall Streets and the Lowell National (founded in 1903) in the present pet shop building on Commercial Ave.
Two barbers listed were William Grant and N.W. Slusser.
The Knights of Pythias club rooms on the second floor at the northeast corner of Clark Street and Commercial Avenue, listed also as the "Town Hall," was a very busy place, according to the meeting schedules of the many groups and clubs in town.
When all the changes through the years are compared, the Town of Lowell has come a long way, with progress in every direction.
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