Beginning with columns in July 1999, the Downtown Lowell Historical Tour has included articles about "Lowell's West Side," "Main Street and Beyond," and "The Old Downtown District," coming to a temporary pause at the northwest corner of Clark Street and Commercial Avenue in November. The tour will be completed this month with the history of Clark Street and the north side of Commercial Avenue.
A long brick building on Clark Street, directly north of the old Rexall Drug Store on the corner, was built soon after 1900 and housed one of Lowell's early automobile repair shops. Before he moved to his larger auto agency on Commercial Avenue, Clayton Randolph was the operator of a shop there soon after World War I ended. He was followed by Byrl Fish, also a Boy Scout master. Several businesses were housed there through the years. Now it houses a heating-air conditioning contractor and a warehouse.
An old photograph, circa 1890, reveals a frame building which sat in what is now the north parking lot, directly across from the Lowell Tribune office. The two-story building, with a high, square front, large double doors and nine-pane windows, housed the Farmers Home Tavern and Restaurant, owned then by Frank Ruple and later by Charles J. Stephens. The photo shows a hitching post on the south of the tavern and a horse shed on the north. The belfry on the early fire station on Mill Street can be seen to the west, as well as Amos Wagin's saloon and home on Wall Street.
To the north, in the area bounded by Jefferson Street, Mill Street, and Clark Street, are some of the 16 original lots laid out in 1852 for the Town of Lowell, which also included lots north of Main Street.
The Southern Baptist Church on the southeast corner of Jefferson Street and Clark Street is on the site of the old Grand Theatre. First called "Taylor's Theatre" (about 1912), the big building was home to the early silent movies, talkies, graduation ceremonies, memorial programs, dances and roller skating, until it was demolished in 1935. The stucco front was studded with bits of colored glass that sparkled in the sun; there was a balcony, box seats, huge curtains, a fancy electric light display on the ceiling, and even a floor that could be slanted or level. Later called "Viant's Grand Theatre," the masonry building held 800 seats.
Founded back in 1885, The Lowell Tribune moved from its Commercial Avenue location to the present Clark Street site early in the 1900's. The first office there was a small building to the north of the Lowell Garage and Auto Livery, which is now a part of the Tribune's office complex. For many decades, the newspaper was owned by the Ragon family, but became Pilcher Publishing Company since 1961. A small home which once sat to the south was replaced by a brick telephone company building, now also a part of the restored and remodeled offices.
The old brick building (circa 1911) to the south has been the home of many business ventures, including a cigar store, pool hall and a bike shop. Next door to the south, now a cabinet shop, was one of Lowell's early meat markets (Taylor's) and also served as the post office for decades.
The original three-story frame building on the northeast corner of Clark Street and Commercial Avenue, built very early in Lowell's history by John W. Viant, was demolished in the big fire of 1898. Viant was the owner of the general store on the first floor, and shared it with Pixley's jewelry; the second floor was rented to H.V. Weaver for his undertaking equipment, and the third floor was the first home of Colfax Lodge #378. Soon after the fire, the present brick building was erected.
In 1909 the business on the corner was William Grant's Barber Shop, later the McCarty Barber Shop (and laundry), then the Dugan Barber Shop, an antique shop, and now a bike shop.
An early directory shows a music store to the east, owned by Louis Wood. For many decades Ben Lynch had his insurance office there, followed by the present business, a beauty shop.
To the east at present is a music store that in earlier days was the site of Simpson's Restaurant and sweet shops operated by T.E. Henry (remember that penny candy?), who advertised "chocolates, candy bars and ice cream," followed by John Gerner and Harold Heuson. [Note from year 2002: It is now a grocery.]
Two stairways to the basement level led from the sidewalks in that area. A door nearby led to the upstairs rooms occupied in 1909 by the offices of the Lowell Souvenir newspaper; S.C. Dwyer and T.S. Robinson, attorneys; and the Knights of Pythias Hall. The Knights Hall was used for the meetings of various clubs, including the I.O.O.F. (Independent Order of Oddfellows), the Royal Neighbors, the Foresters, the Grand Army of the Republic, Pythian Sisters, the Rebecca Lodge, and at times served as the Town Hall. Before the second floor was converted into apartments, it was the home of a youth club.
Now an insurance office as well as a craft shop, the last space in the large masonry building was one of the two places used jointly for the Lowell Post Office in 1909. The other space used for the post office was the building next door, now the home of an appraisal firm and an antique shop. There was a meat market (Woods) there in the 1920's, later a grocery (Parry's), and a hardware store (Lowell Home Supply).
Restored recently after a fire, the building to the east was owned for years by Edwin Sanders, plumbing. For a time there was a dime store there, as well as a jewelry store, and now an accounting firm and a book store.
Mrs. Paul Ellis had a millinery store in the next space east in 1909, and through the years it was the home of a shoe shop, a laundry, offices, and a restaurant. Now there is a craft store and an engineering office located on the site.
The present Colfax Masonic Lodge building was built by George Waters soon after the fire of 1898, with the lodge meeting rooms on the upper floor and Water's Drug Store below. The business was sold to Davis "Doc" Driscoll and then to Logan Scritchfield, who moved it from the lodge building in 1918.
East of the lodge building, set back from the avenue, stands a restored building, now the home of an eye clinic. A barn on the site, owned by Dr. Bacon, was consumed in the big fire of 1898. In 1909 Stewart's garage was there, followed by Nichol's Plumbing, as well as the office of Dr. John Mirro, Sr.
The restored mansion on the corner was built by Dr. E.R. Bacon after his return from service during the Civil War. His barn was one of the three places where the 1898 fire was set by arsonists, but his frame home was saved with water from a windmill-powered well. The doctor's office in the big house later became the law office of his son-in-law, S.C. Dwyer.
The dentist offices now on the corner of Commercial Avenue and Fremont Street are in a quaint old house that was once the home of Frank Hunt, one of Lowell's early druggists.
Dr. W.C. Quincy, who began his practice in Lowell in 1897, had his office and home in the large building to the east, now an apartment building.
After winding around the streets of downtown for six months, the Historical Tour of Lowell has finally come to an end. More stories and tales of southern Lake County are being planned for the year 2000.
(The first "Pioneer History" article appeared in January 1980, meaning that this publication marks twenty years of history-making reportage.)
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