The Historical Tour of Lowell began with Part One, "The West Side," in July, 1999; followed by Part Two, "Main Street and Beyond," in August; and by Part Three, "The Old Downtown," in September. Part Four in October, "The Old Downtown," came to a halt at the northwest corner of Commercial Avenue and Mill Street, where an old frame harness shop once stood.
A fine old photograph recently obtained shows that building on the corner, as well as many other downtown buildings, in a winter setting, and has provided some new information.
To the north, on Mill Street, stands an early 1900 building now occupied by a real estate office and a tax preparation service. Through the years many signs have been on the building, advertising George Wilson's blacksmith shop in 1909 and later his garage, a feed and seed market operated by the Sisson family, a carpet store, a bridal shop and more.
The present structure housing a bakery to the north was built after World War II as a body shop, and additions were made to house a beauty shop and, later, other businesses.
There were three small frame homes in the area where now stands a building built in 1973 by Lanny Parrish, occupied now by a barbershop and an insurance office. One of the three homes was also once a shoe repair shop owned by Walter Staff.
Now a machine shop, the large brick building was built in 1952 by Patrick and Loretta Byrnes for the Palo Theatre and stands on the site of the 1852 Halsted grist mill, which was powered by water rushing down a wooden race all the way from the Main Street dam.
The building at the southeast corner of Mill Street and Jefferson Street, now an auto parts store, was built in the middle 1900's by James Jenson as the Lowell Dairy. The earliest known structure on that corner was built about 1881 -- the Alyea Hotel and livery stable -- and later, one of Lowell's earliest gas stations once stood angled across the corner, circa 1920's.
To the south of the dairy store building once stood one of the earliest business buildings in Lowell, originally erected at the northeast corner of Main Street and Union Street. It was moved to the Mill Street location and housed a grocery and meat markets as well as Levi Gard's tavern. It had been a general store as well as home to the Believers Church at the Main Street site.
The small masonry building to the south, now a sandwich shop, was built a few decades ago as a barbershop and was later used as a leather shop and office.
Marian Hayden wrote about the next site in 1975: "About 1911, the fire station was a frame building [with a bell tower] about where Cassman's Drug Store is now . When the fire bell rang, Mr. McNay [Phillip McNay, coal dealer and drayman] came with his horses or the men pulled the hose cart by hand."
Now the home of an insurance agency and a printing office, the brick building on the site of the old station was built in 1923 by Emil Harding for his implement business, started on his farm in 1916.
When the Harding Company moved to a temporary location in 1938, the Stambaugh Implement Co. was there until 1940, when the building was sold to Murrell Belanger, implement dealer, also famous for his Indy 500 race car, Old #99, which was built on the upper floor of the structure.
The Klukas and Jerzyk Implement Company was there in the 1950's and 60's, until the building was purchased by Cassman Drugs in 1969. Until 1976, when it was badly burned the night of the Fireman's Ball, it housed the drug store. By 1977 it was remodeled by the Lump Insurance Company for their agency and an adjacent rental unit.
Now a lush green carpet of grass, the northeast corner of Commercial Avenue and Mill Street was once the site of the 1894 "Opera House" building, a large brick structure bought by John M. Castle that was saved from the disastrous fire of 1898 with help of a bucket brigade and the use of wet sacks.
Among the many businesses there were the upstairs opera house, a pool hall, a tavern, the Lyric Theatre, Johnson Bakery, Schreiber's Home Center, Esser's Furniture, a tailor shop, a resale shop, a variety store and more. After surviving the great fire which consumed many of the frame buildings on the north side of Commercial Avenue in 1898, the old building burned to the ground in April 1976, the night of the Annual Fireman's Ball.
The one story masonry building (circa 1940's) to the east has been the law and insurance offices of the Roberts family for several decades -- Victor K. Roberts and Victor J. Roberts, attorneys, and Paul Roberts, insurance.
The first building on that site was built in 1855 by pioneer Jonah Thorn for his hardware business. Thorn had moved from his 1852 (hotel and store) business on Main Street. The hardware store was operated by Haskins and Brannon at the time of the 1898 fire, and the space stayed vacant until the present building was built.
The well-restored building at the corner of Wall Street and Commercial Avenue, now the home of a restaurant-antique shop, was built in 1900 for the State Bank of Lowell, which was there until the 1920's, when it was taken over by Lowell National Bank. Through the years it became the offices of lawyers and doctors, an insurance agency, a men's store, and a resale shop.
The first building there was that of the Sigler department dtore, a frame building built early in Lowell's history that burned to the ground in the big fire of 1898. One interesting feature in the front of the old bank building was an ornamental fountain with drinking facilities for both man and beast.
A picture taken at the time of the 1898 fire shows proof that a building was never built in the next lot east, while another early photo shows a tall billboard between the buildings, featuring posters for a circus, dances and other community events.
The next brick building east, built over the ashes of the Heilig Bakery in 1900, housed the Grant Brothers Department Store until 1976, operated by three generations of the family, who sold a complete line of dry goods, as well as groceries. There once was a large slanted skylight on the north wall to light up the photo studio on the upper floor, which also held offices and the first American Legion meeting rooms, and the Northwest Indiana Telephone Exchange (circa 1909).
In 1871 Mortimer Gregg and Tunis Frank were partners in the undertaking and furniture business in the earlier frame building destroyed in the big fire.
Ward Price was one of the earliest businessmen to occupy a frame building on the northwest corner of Commercial Avenue and Clark Street, before George Death opened his hardware there in 1875.
The building was among the others lost in the big fire of '98, but Death rebuilt on the corner in 1900 and operated the business until his death in 1911. His son ran the store until 1918, when the building was sold to Logan and Hazel Scritchfield, who moved their drug store from the Colfax Lodge building.
That business was sold to Frank Gullstrom, who then sold to Tom Cassman. The 1900 corner building with a restored 1920's Rexall sign had a hand- operated elevator for three levels. Also the home of Montgomery Wards catalog office as well as some professional offices, the building now houses a gift and craft shop.
The Historical Tour of Lowell will continue in December, featuring Clark Street and east on Commercial Avenue.
History, Lowell High School
On the front cover of the 1916 Lowell High School Yearbook, the following appeared in large bold letters and numbers: "EL AITCH ESS '16." In 1916 Lowell High School was housed in what is now the north section of the present middle school on Oakley Avenue.
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