317 East Commercial Ave., the site of Grant's Store, was originally platted in the early days of Lowell as "Halsted's First Addition." One of the first land owners there was Mortimer Gragg, a partner of Tunis Frank. Their Undertaking and Furniture business was there in 1871, and Dan Collins had a business there for a while in a large frame building with living quarters upstairs.
In 1897 George W. Heilig (1855-1938) came to Lowell from Remington, Ind., to rent the big frame building for his bakery and confectionery. The building was then owned by Perry Clark, son of 1837 pioneer Jabez Clark. Mr. Heilig's business had a short life, for only a year later, on his birthday, the building burned to the ground during Lowell's big fire of 1898, when two blocks' of business buildings were destroyed by fire. After a loss of $1000, Heilig rented a space on the south side of Commercial Ave. for a few months, and in 1903 he built a new building for his business, now the present site of the McVey Restaurant banquet room.
Owner Perry Clark, also founder of the Clark brick yard that was at the north end of Liberty Street, north of Main St., began work on a new brick building, completed in 1900, and soon rented to Grant Brothers.
Thomas Grant (1865-1943), a progressive business man, was born in Lowell, the son of Thomas (died 1866) and Bridget (Murphy) (1828-1898) Grant. His father came to Chicago from Scotland and came to Lowell in 1862. The younger Grant worked as a section hand on the railroad and as a farmer, passed a business course at Valparaiso University and became a carpentry contractor.
In 1900 Thomas and his brother James rented the new brick building from Perry Clark to establish Grant Brothers' Department Store. James Grant had several years of experience working for the Lynch Brothers' Department Store prior to 1900.
Thomas was Cedar Creek Township Trustee for four years at a time when many good bridges and roads were built. He also served on the Indiana State Board of Agriculture, and traveled to the state capitol to supervise the opening of the Indiana State Fair each year. In addition, he held the office of Lake County Sheriff four years, 1909 through 1912, and served as State Senator from this area. His brother James, partner in the department store, was also a well-known business man, and was active in the community and his church. The Grant brothers purchased the masonry building in 1907.
In 1906 the following advertisement was featured in the book Lake County Souvenir:
Thomas Purchase, a nephew and a World War I veteran, was a long-time employee of the department store. Thomas Purchase was later President of the Lowell National Bank from 1948 until his death in 1950.
In 1910 the three front rooms of the upstairs of the building were rented to a phone company that used them for its central office. The large rear upstairs room was a photograph studio for many years. (It was still there in the 1920's.) A large slanted glass skylight furnished the natural light for the photographer who furnished clamps behind the ears to make sure the subject would not move during the timed exposure --- no doubt one of the reasons for few smiles in the old photos!
Soon after its founding in 1919, Post 101 of the American Legion had its first home above the store. Other business places and offices on the second floor included a beauty parlor; Dr. Behmlander, dentist; and Morriss Gilbert, lawyer.
In the early years, stairs from the sidewalk led down to a barbershop in the basement. The Old Timer has memories of buying winter boots in that basement.
Byrl Grant, son of Thomas, was associated with his father through the years, and continued the operation of the store with his son T. Robert Grant and family after the deaths of the original partners in 1937 and 1943. After Byrl died in 1972, son T. Robert carried on the ownership until the store was closed in 1976. A few months ago Mike and Tom Grant, sons of T. Robert, proudly presented a well-received and interesting program at a monthly meeting of the Three Creeks Historical Association. The brothers related many Grant family stories and showed several heirlooms, including a shotgun that once laid at the ready in the basement of the department store for a possible problem at the bank across the street.
For seventy-six years three generations of Grants, descendants of the pioneer Nichols family, were involved in the operation of the well-known department store. Readers remember the round swivel stools at the counter, the huge assortment of yard goods, the dry goods section, all under the ornate metal ceiling that is still prized by Dawn and Rich Meadows, present owners and operators of Lowell Carpet and Coverings . The 2007 Edition (10th) of the Three Creek's Historical Association's pretty tree ornament, featuring Grant Brother's horse-drawn delivery wagon, will be on sale during the Big Garage Sale on Thursday, August 30, 2007, at the Lowell Post 101 American Legion Grounds, and at the Halsted House Museum on Saturday, Sept. 1, from 11 am to 3pm (corner Main and Halsted Streets). Look for the Historical Association's booth inside the Legion Hall, Aug. 30.
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