This image, published by the Traverse City Record-Eagle in December 1971 and taken by photographer John Hawkins, shows a pretty bizarre sight: Feed silos on Front Street? Do you remember where they were? Bonus points if you remember the name of the store or company they belonged to, or what was in them!
Congratulations to reader Larry, who got in the first correct answer!: “‘Ralston Purina Company’, 416 W. Front street, immediately east of today’s ‘Folgarelli’s’.” Good memory, Larry!
Here’s a great story about Ralston’s from reader Gary: “The ones I remember weren’t exactly on Front St., but rather at 116 Gillis St. behind where the Northern Angler is now. I bought my feed there in the mid 1970s. There was a Purina dealer there named J. S. McDonald. I bought a feed mixture from him that included waste from pie maker, Chef Pierre. What a glorious smell it gave my barn. How much nicer it was to go into the barn and smell Dutch Apple Pie instead of calf dung.”
We’d have to agree, Gary! Thanks to all our readers for reading and contributing. Each memory preserved in the Journal is another memory not likely to be forgotten!
An unassuming black binder was unearthed in the Local History Collection at Traverse Area District Library (TADL) this past month, which tells the forgotten story of the disastrous fire the Wilson Furniture Company survived in 1955. The fire started on the ground floor shortly after closing time, and first blew out the great display windows facing Union Street before quickly spreading through the four-story building. It was considered a serious disaster, resulting in over $200,000 worth of damage, and forcing the Company to close that location for a full two years.
When the store reopened in July 1957, it was to many accolades published in the Traverse City Record-Eagle by fellow Union Street businesses, like the Hubbell’s Service Station ad pictured here:
The binder of material actually came not from the archives of Wilson Furniture Company, as one might expect, but from the papers of their insurance agent, Jack Coddington Fitzmaurice. Jack was the owner of Fitzmaurice Insurance Agency, which later became Fitzmaurice Garwin Insurance when Jack took on partner Gary Garwin.
It’s an interesting look into how insurance claims were handled in 1955. Although brief, the correspondence included is explicit about F.D. Leonard’s, then President of the Wilson Furniture Company, satisfaction with Jack and his work. Jack coordinated the efforts of the Michigan Millers Mutual Insurance Company (which he was an agent of) and the Employers Mutual Companies to ensure that Wilson’s not only received the funds needed to rebuild, but to ensure that the staff was retained and compensated.
Three aged and cancelled checks are included with the collection, all from the Michigan Millers Mutual Insurance Company, totaling $76,201.27 paid out in workers’ lost wages. Does that name sound familiar? It should! You will recall in February 2017, the Grand Traverse Journal revealed that Millers Mutual is the long-time home of Queen City No. 2, the second steam-powered fire engine operated in Traverse City.
When we published that story, local historians were at a loss as to how Millers Mutual came to own the engine. Discovered amongst Jack’s papers was an article clipped from a 1965 Record-Eagle, revealing the provenance as the steamer was sold from one private owner to the next, ultimately ending up in the Millers Mutual collection.It is more than satisfying to find these disparate pieces of history and find a cohesive narrative within them.
Look at these rediscovered photographs, and imagine the front of Wilson Antiques as it looks today. I suppose we need to thank Jack for that astounding transformation!
TADL’s Local History Collection is made up of stories like Wilson Furniture’s, Jack’s, and thousands of others. What will you find?
Amy Barritt is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.
By Bob Wilhelm, author and historian of Traverse City
The Grand Traverse Journalalready published the first three chapters of the late Bob Wilhelm’s history of the Wilhelm family in the November, 2016 issue. Now we wish to continue the project with this excerpt describing the Bohemian community along Union Street in the 1880’s and the construction of Wilhelm’s clothing store at the corner of Union and Eighth Street (now the AT&T store). We plan to offer Bob’s book online in its entirety at an early date.
CHAPTER 9: Entrepreneur on South Union Street
Around 1880 when Anthony Wilhelm took up residence in Traverse city, Union Street was “paved” with sawdust its full length from downtown to Sixteenth street. The wooden South Union Street bridge was low and the slope from Seventh Street to the river provided fine sledding for the young.
In the spring when the pork barrels were low, people could be found on the banks of the river with dip nets and spears catching suckers, bass, pickerel and trout.
Two local Indians, Louis and Jake, who lived in a slab wigwam on Sixth Street near the river sold fish to the neighborhood. The price was always 25 cents regardless of the size or amount of the fish.
When the pigeons returned along the river, rifle fire was common.
There were only a few buildings from Seventh to Tenth streets. On the west side of the street at the corner of Seventh and Union was the Franz [?] Wilhelm’s meat market. Other buildings were the homes of Mrs. Furtsch, the Bartaks, E.P. Wilhelm, Charles Dupres, and Harry Holdsworth.
On the east side of the street were the Boardman River House, Chaloupka’s Saloon and Prokop Kyselka’s home at Eighth and Union. Further up the 500 block was the Dezorme home, the convent, Mattison Drug Store and the residences of Morris Sabin and the Weidenhamers. South of Tenth Street was a forest of second growth and poplars.
Unlike so many of the lumberjacks, Anthony Wilhelm managed to save a few hundred dollars from his many years in the lumber camps. He joined his cousin John Wilhelm buying and selling real estate. On the north side of Eighth Street near Union they purchased several lots. John kept two and built his home.
In 1883 Anthony exchanged the remaining parcels for lots 19 and 20 at Union and Eighth.
The March 26, 1885 issue of the Grand Traverse Herald reported:
Ant. J. Wilhelm is getting the material on the land for a brick building on the corner of 8th and Union Street. The building will be 25 x 60 feet, two stories and basement. It will be built entirely of white brick.
The April 23 issue of the Herald reported:
Work will begin soon on the fine brick store for Ant. Wilhelm corner Union and Eighth. The present building has been bought by Jas. Dunn and is being moved to his lot corner Eighth and Cass St. He is putting in a cellar and brick foundation. This building was the first dwelling on the south side of the river. The new building will be 25 x 60 feet. The foundation will be quarry stone. The west and south fronts of the best pressed brick, the first floor front of iron and glass and the front iron. E. Adaley has the contract and J.G. Holliday will have the carpenter work. The building will cost about $3,500.
The existing building formerly occupied by Caloupaka’s Saloon was raised and placed on the crib and moved on rollers. A large log would be dug into the street with a windlass. Ropes would run to the building and teams of horses or oxen would turn the windlass and slowly move the building.
Since all the brick production of the J.W. Markham’s brick yard on West Bay road was being used to build the Northern Michigan Asylum, it was necessary to go out of the area for supplies. White bricks were purchased in Zeeland and moved to the Lake MIchigan coastline to be transported by boat to Traverse City. The limestone foundation was purchased from the owner of a lumber schooner who had used it for ballast. The beams were two by twelve inches. In the front of the store were cast iron girders. The reason for the twenty five foot width was that this was the maximum width that could be constructed without extra support.
The building was constructed as a millinery shop for his sister Christine, but never opened. While visiting her brother Charles in Milwaukee, she met William Theopolis Bunce at a church party in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. The couple was married April 13, 1889 at the Congregational church in Milwaukee. Bunce worked for the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway from the early 1880s until his retirement in 1942. In May 1946, Bunce was featured in Ripley’s Believe it or Not because he “has worn a fresh carnation in his lapel every day for the past 65 years.”
With a vacant building, the Bohemian community urged Anthony Wilhelm to open a clothing store to serve the needs of the neighborhood. Anthony and his brother Emanuel formed the Wilhelm Brothers partnership in 1885. The business opened in 1886.
Emanuel Wilhelm had returned to Traverse City after spending three years in Kansas, Colorado and New Mexico. He was employed in cattle ranching, railroad work and mining. With his wanderlust satisfied, he moved to Milwaukee where he took several business courses and worked seven years before returning to Traverse City to join his brother.
With the establishment of the partnership a second 25 s 100 foot addition was constructed on the north side of the original building.
The Northern Michigan Asylum was nearing completion so bricks could be purchased locally from the J.W. Markham brick yards. The cost was $3.00 per 1,000 bricks.
The first advertisement announcing the opening was carried in the March 4, 1886 Grand Traverse Herald:
A large invoice of Spring Clothing just received. Men’s and Boy’s Suits in all styles and qualities at prices that will surprise you. No shoddy or second hand goods in stock. It will be to your interest to inspect our goods and learn our prices before purchasing. We will have a well selected and complete stock of dry goods about April 1st, 1886. It will be our aim to give our customers honest goods and perfect satisfaction in every respect. South Side Brick Building Wilhelm Bros.
This bar is the only remaining building of the largest employer in Traverse City in 1917. What is the name of that company?
Congratulations to reader Larry, for his correct answer!: “That is currently ‘Side Traxx’, located at south end of Franklin street. I believe the company was ‘Oval Wood Dish Factory’ which left Traverse City in 1917.”
A causal exploration of the grounds by Your Editors yielded little evidence of the building’s former use. Should you visit, take a look for yourself! A number of interesting features, including frames of windows visible on the outside but not on the inside, and layers of wood paneling, gives us much to speculate on.
August 12, 1955 was surely one of the Joella Slaby’s happiest days. On that very day she received a pinto Shetland pony of her very own. With Don Orr as Master of Ceremonies and the Champaign Boys providing music, Mayor Frank Power presented the horse to young Joella, a reward for winning a contest to name the new shopping center at the corner of Eighth and Garfield. “Eastfield” had won her the pony!
Shopping centers—not called strip malls at this time—began to appear as automobile culture thrived in the twenties.Often a single large store would serve as an anchor with other smaller shops locating nearby.Parking was not a problem as it would be in congested downtown areas, and homes were constantly being built away from the city center, providing ready customers for a variety of businesses.
Still, a shopping center so far from Front Street businesses was a risky proposition. Successful grocer Jerry Oleson had warned Bob Fisher about the perils of building too far from town.Bolstered by his own studies of traffic flow, Fisher went ahead anyway, carrying out his plans to build a new grocery store at the Garfield and Eighth location.In 1947 Fisher’s Food Market was completed, a building with a white-paneled modern look which sported a friendly greeting above its front window, “If you can’t stop, smile as you go by.”
Bob Fisher had more buildings constructed for the shopping area and found plenty of tenants willing to locate in the sandy flatland at the edge of the city.By 1955 Plamondon’s Shoes, the Carpet and Bedding Shop, and Ben Franklin had moved in with more to come.Businessman Harold Akey put up the Eastfield Plaza building in 1952 with Don Orr’s hardware store coming in as first tenant.There would be a cascade of businesses to follow.
Attracting Ben Franklin was a coup for the growing shopping area.In 1955 more than 2000 stores nationwide carried the name.While not as well known as Woolworth or Kresge’s, the other “five-and-dime” stores of the era, it still carried on a lively business.Cindy Taylor, an employee of Traverse City’s Ben Franklin since 1975, remembers lines of customers waiting at the check-out counters.With the advent of Big Box stores like Walmart and Meijer’s, much of that traffic has disappeared, though the store still has many loyal customers.
Taylor pulls out a scrapbook of Ben Franklin and Eastfield photgraphs and newspaper articles.The store looked exactly as it did in 1955,proudly proclaiming “5 & 10” after its name, as if scorning the recent appearance of “dollar stores.”One newspaper clipping tells how modern the store came off in 1955—for one thing, it offered “self-service.”A relative novelty, self-service allowed customers the freedom to walk about the aisles and choose the items they wanted before bringing them to the clerk at the front of the store.Taylor pauses, looking up from the scrapbook, “Wait here,” she says, and disappears for a moment.
She comes back bearing a shopping basket made of metal, cloth, and wood, certainly a product of a different era with the attention paid to its construction.“These were what those shoppers used back in the fifties,” she says.“We have a bunch of them stored upstairs.”
By the early sixties, Eastfield was thriving.A new Laundromat opened, featuring new Frigidaire washing machines that could do the job in 18 minutes, as well as ultra-violet drying machines for “extra-fluffy, easy-to-iron clothes.”Blue Photo, in a complex west of the Garfield intersection, offered the latest in cameras and film finishing.Maria’s Pizzeria presented something new to those bold enough to try a supper made up of a crust smeared with tomato sauce and buried in melted cheese.
Eastfield was a city unto itself.It had Fisher’s for groceries, Fisher’s for beer and liquor, Ben Franklin for a small department store, Nichol’s for a drug store, Round’s Circle Inn for a dapper restaurant, the ultramodern Eastfield Laundromatand Bensley’s Cleaners for cleaning soiled clothing, as well as a host of stores for general shopping.Nichol’s served as a post office sub-station.A host of hair-styling studios and barbershops served the needs of nearby residents.Farmers coming into town didn’t need to go any farther than Eastfield on their shopping days.
How soon new things become old!One way of demonstrating that truth is to look at a website called Ngram viewer.Using a data base of ten thousand documents, the Ngram program can answer the question, “When did a word (or phrase) begin to be used?”For example, inputting the term “Laundromat” reveals that term only appeared after World War II, rapidly accelerating in usage after 1960—just the time that the Eastfield Laundromat was built.“Pizza” was hardly mentioned in written articles and books until after 1960.Indeed, Maria’s Pizzeria was at the cutting edge of popular taste.Even the “self-service” Ben Franklin’s Pete boasted about, only became a commonplace after the Second World War.
Merchants of Eastfield banded together to form an association to promote their shopping center.In 1955 members included Round’s Circle Inn, Blue Photo, Bill’s Barber Shop, Nichol’s Drug store, Curtiss Electric, Jan and Jeb Fashions, Ben Franklin, Morton Hardware, Joe Burns Pure Service, Bensley Drive-in Cleaners, Plamondon Shoes, and Fisher’s Market.The Association participated in the Heritage Parade in the Cherry Festival, and it sponsored teams in the girls’ softball league.Residents of Traverse City came to know the Eastfield Shopping Center as a vibrant, busy district of the town.
The area reached its commercial peak in the mid-sixties.Local architect David Stiffler designed a row a professional buildings at the east end of the district.Resembling a row of motel rooms, each one identical to the next with aluminum-framed front windows, it was filled with clients, many of them hairstylists, barbers, or offices that do not require much space.Rarely were there vacancies at this time.
But the halcyon days of summer for Eastwood did not last forever.Suburbs blossomed farther out from the city as many young families opted to live miles away from the city center. The population of Grand Traverse County doubled between 1950 and 1990, while the population of the city changed little. Giant malls appeared along Airport Road, first Cherryland Mall in 1976, then the Grand Traverse Mall in 1992.They offered huge anchor stores like K-Mart and Penney’s and an expanse of parking able to accommodate any number of automobiles.They were enclosed at first with visitors enjoying early summer warmth all year long.People didn’t want to drive to town if they could get what they needed closer by.Big Box stores arrived, first W.T. Grant’s in 1973 on US 31South, followed by Meijer’s at the same location.The forces that hurt downtown Traverse City merchants affected Eastfield in like measure.
Fisher’s left early, to be replaced by Eastfield Thriftway, a store lacking the style of its predecessor.Plamondon Shoes relocated to Front Street, where it stands today.By 1990 Eastfield True Value Hardware departed, along with Curtiss Appliances, both, no doubt, feeling the competition of larger retail stores outside the city limits. Ben Franklin hung on, remembering the busy days at its beginning, mostly converting to an arts-and-crafts store.While at first it was a proud member of a vast chain of stores nation-wide, by 2010 only about 200 stores carried the Ben Franklin name, most of them located in small towns.Starting out as a prime example of modern retailing, it had become a historical artifact.
This is not to say Eastfield became a desolate place with empty storefronts and run-down places of business.Ben Franklin is still known and patronized by local residents.The Eastfield Laundromat does vigorous business all year around.Rounds restaurant is as popular as ever and stores nearby still do well.The shopping center is hardly a failure, but it is fair to say the retail center of the Traverse City area has moved outside the city limits.
History is the story of change.Eastfield started out as a shopping center occupying the extreme outskirts of Traverse City.Jim Blue of Blue Photo (an early business of Eastfield) remembers his father saying that it did not even have city water and sewage at first.Then, scrubby oak lands surrounded businesses, but soon enough this isolated retail center would be swallowed up by the city, only later having to yield commercially to developments farther out on Airport Road and beyond.Its early grand success stood out as a memory.Events rarely turn out as one would have predicted at the outset.
Keeping this in mind, finally, we should ask, “Whatever happened to Joella Slaby and the Shetland Pony she received for naming Eastfield?”It turns out that piece of history went differently from what one might have expected, too.In a telephone interview she told me that the “pony” was scarcely that at all.It was a foal, perhaps not more than six months old and hardly ready for riding.Joella christened it, appropriately, “Victory,” and set about to train the animal—only that task proved exceedingly difficult.In the end, after a year of happy grazing at her Peninsula home, the pony was sold to another person.“Victory,” like Eastfield, enjoyed a moment in the sun, only to be followed by events no one could have predicted.
Richard Fidler is co-editor of Grand Traverse Journal.
This piece of scholarship comes to us from Allen Belden, a student at the University of Oklahoma in 1938. His work, title “Land Utilization in Traverse City, Michigan,” provides a fairly detailed snapshot of land use at the time. This excerpt focuses specifically on transportation opportunities, especially the various points along the bay shore used by various companies. Maybe one of our readers is interested in updating this study?:
“The Transportation Patterns
Probably the most basic land use features of present-day Traverse City are its transportational forms. These lend themselves to a ready classification into three sub-types, namely, wharves, railways, and Streets. The patterns of these will be described and discussed separately.
Wharves: In Traverse City the facilities for waterway transportation consist of five wharves at which boats larger than very small craft, such as rowboats, may dock. Four of these are on the bay side of the peninsula formed by West Bay and Boardman River where they are centrally located along the city’s waterfront. The fifth wharf also is on West Bay, but it stands alone about one block east of the mouth of the Boardman River. From west to east these wharves are the Hannah, Lay and Company wharf, the J.C. Morgan Company wharf, two municipal wharves, and the Cherry Growers Canning Company wharf.
Only a meager use is made of any of these wharves at present. Hannah, Lay and Company, distributors of coal and building supplies, use their wharf to receive and store coal. The J.C. Morgan Company, cherry and apple canners, receives shipments of coal by water. The westermost municipal wharf has on it a little-used public warehouse. The municipal wharves together enclose a small harbor which is used during the summer by small pleasure craft. Signs there advertise “Boats For Rent” and “Deep Sea Fishing”. The Cherry Growers Canning Company wharf is used not only to receive coal but occasionally also to ship canned cherries.
The present utilization of Traverse City’s shoreline for waterway transportation facilities is meager for several reasons. Grand Traverse Bay is about 30 miles long, and the city, which is at the inland ends of the bay, is not close to frequently used Great Lakes shipping lanes. The city’s commercial and manufacturing establishments are small, and in most cases they ship and receive goods in the less than boat-load quantities. Railways and trucks can transport small quantities of goods more efficiently than can lake boats. The number of places that can be reached by lake boat without extra bulk-breaking is small in comparison with the number of places that can be so reached by highway or railway. The southern end of West Bay, although better than the southern end of East Bay, is not a good harbor. It is more than two miles wide and exposed to the full force of northerly winds. The depth of water at the end of Hannah, Lay and Company wharf, which is three hundred feet long and extends into West Bay at right angles to the shoreline, is only thirteen and one-half feet. It is so shallow that none but the smallest of Great Lakes cargo vessels (2800 tons) may safely dock. Even these must partially unload before completely docking. In addition, Grate Lakes transportation is interrupted during about six months of each year because of cold inters. These conditions limit the use made of the present wharves and discourage construction of additional ones.
Other water bodies are even less used than West Bay. Boardman River and Boardman Lake are not navigable by boats larger than rowboats. An abandoned dam with a fall of six feet, between Cass and Union Streets, is an effective barrier even to these. The shoreline of East Bay is considerably shallower than that of West Bay and otherwise has the same disadvantages to shipping.
In spite of the scant use of Traverse City’s waterfronts for waterway transportation facilities, the shoreline where the present wharves are located has advantages over others. The most significant factor affecting the location of all but the Cherry Growers Canning Company wharf is that the shoreline so used has from the start been centrally located with respect to trade and industry within the city. Traverse City’s first important industry was the Hannah, Lay and Company sawmill which was built on the peninsula between West Bay and Boardman River near the northern end of what is now Union Street in 1852. This company cut logs in the Boardman River basin in winter and floated them downstream to the mill in spring. The logs were fed into the mill from the river bank, and then manufactured lumber was loaded into the stern hatches of timber boats which docked a few yards away on West Bay. This was an admirable arrangement, since it reduced the handling of logs and lumber on land to a minimum. No other site in or near Traverse City had comparable advantages for such an industry. later, when railways entered the city, in 1872, 1890, and 1891, their chief objective was this mill, and the site of the early lumber wharves became a contact point for railway and waterway transportation as well as a focal point for railways. Because of this and the fact that Boardman River has been bridged by two north-south streets to improve the accessibility of the peninsula from the south and east, commercial and manufacturing establishments were attracted to the vicinity of the old mill. Even today this area is centrally located with respect to land transportation routes, and , for that reason, such companies as use Great Lakes shipping find the location favorable for wharves.
The Cherry Growers Canning Company wharf is now and, except for the fact that it is not located near the heart of the city’s transportation pattern, enjoys all of the advantages of the older wharves. A special spur was needed to give it railway accessibility, however.”
This excerpt comes to us from A Story of Traverse City, Michigan and some of the Early Settlers, written and illustrated by the artist Aldrich Farsky (yes, the Farsky featured in the May 2016 issue of Grand Traverse Journal). This was originally printed in Czech in 1908, in the national Czech publication Amerikan Kalandar. In 1977, Mr and Mrs. Edward Van Leishout and Mr. William E. Votruba translated the story in to English, which details the overseas immigration of the Czechs, as well as profiles a few of the more prominent Bohemain citizens of Traverse City, with an emphasis on their success. A copy is available for reading at the Traverse Area District Library, Woodmere Main Library.
One of the early settlers featured is (James) Vaclav Sleder, the man who would found the long-standing Sleder’s Family Tavern on Randolph Street:
“From his home, Cvrovic by Klatov in Czechy he emigrated to Traverse City when he was 32 years ol.d Things were not exactly as he had envisioned them to be. With his solid faith in the future and a great deal of hard work, he managed to bring his wife and sons Louis 9, Joseph 7, Andrew 3 and daughter Margaret to his new home.
Having been an apprentice in Wagon Working in Czechy he had found work in the Gramfort Wagon Works, but on arrival of his dependents he found a better position with the Petertyl factory. Here he stayed for 12 years. At this time he invested his savings in a new building which soon became the most favored saloon by all. On the 2nd floor he operated a dance hall and entertainment center. Because of his friendly personality and direct, honest and free thinking attitude, he was respected by everyone.
After running his business for 10 years Mr. Sleder turned the active management of the saloon over to his oldest son Louis, who continued his father’s practices and profited likewise. He enrolled his 2nd son in an engineering school and the youngest son entered the army for the duration of the war against Spain. It so happened he was discharged about the same time as the second son completed his schooling so finding himself with two fine sons to take over his other duties, Mr. Sleder began to devote his time to volunteer work and good deeds. It was on such a mission that he lost his life. A fellow C.S.P.S. [note: the Czech-Slovak Protective Society] member Mr. J. Ryant has [sic.] passed away and Mr. Sleder volunteered to notify people of his death and make arrangements for the lodge sponsored funeral. This was Dec. 17th 1905. His horse became frightened and ran away throwing Mr. Sleder out of his sleigh in such a manner that he was fatally injured.
After his death his three sons managed his business interests with such good judgement that everything prospered. They soon invested in a brewery which was remodeled, by son Joseph, (who had become a fine engineer), until it became a modern, well equipped and attractive as well as prosperous business, which permitted the three of them to own 2 of the 21 saloons in Traverse City at this writing with very good prospects of expanding still more in the future.
Certainly the 3 sons have proven that the good example their father set for them was not wasted.”
For a complete list of persons listed in this 49-page story by Farsky, see the catalog record at the Traverse Area District Library’s online Local History Collection.
by Julie Schopieray, dogged researcher and regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal
Recently the Traverse Area Historical Society received an email from a woman in Kalamazoo who, while visiting Traverse City, had purchased a “Boys Diary” at a local antique shop. After reading it herself, she wanted to donate the book to the History Center, only wanting in return any information on who the author of the diary might be, and what happened to him. We accepted her donation and I had her send the book to me. I was excited about the challenge of identifying the author.
The day it arrived I began to look for clues that might lead to who the young man was. There were no last names mentioned, only first names, and the parents were only identified as Mama and Dad. Starting at the first page, I jotted down every name mentioned. By the time I got to the March entries, I felt I had enough clues to take the names and compare them to the 1919 city directory. I entered only first names into the database and they all seemed to match well with one particular family.That along with a very important clue about a box of candy, I came to the conclusion that this diary belonged to someone connected with the Straub Brothers & Amiotte Candy Company.“The factory” was mentioned many times in the diary and when “a box of candy” was used in the same sentence, I knew I was on to something.
Next, I figured a birth year of the young man, taking the year (1919) and the fact that he was a freshman in high school and age 15, so assumed his birth year was 1903. When I looked at the Straub families listed in the 1920 census,I saw one who had a son, Robert, who was born around 1903. As I looked further in the database, I found a passport application for a Robert C. Straub, which listed his exact birth date– June 12, 1903.A-ha! I immediately flipped to the June 12 diary entry and saw he had written about all his birthday gifts. I had a perfect match! I was then able to connect all the first names mentioned to family members. Robert was the youngest of three children of Anton and Molly Straub. He was 8 years younger than his next sibling, Anton jr. “Tony”, and 11 years younger than his sister Helen. TheAnton F. Straub family home was at 536 W. 8th st. Their house is a twin to the home ofAnton Straub’s brother John, who livednext door.
When Robert Straub received the diary on his 15th birthday in 1918, the first World War was still raging in Europe though there were some signs of peace. Many of the city’s young men were off serving in the armed forces and citizens purchased Liberty Bonds to support the cause. The influenza pandemic was affecting the entire country, and the local economy witnessed its first real hit the year before when the Oval Wood Dish Company, one of the town’s largest employers, packed up and moved out of town. The local labor movement made news due to complaints of low wages paid to the girls who toiled long hours in cigar and other factories. The Straub Brothers & Amiotte Candy Companyfactory on the corner of Front and Hall streets, was producing candy, marshmallows, and other confectionery delights at a high rate, but at very low pay to the mostly young women who staffed the factory. One account stated the owners had claimed that the factory could “get all the girls they wanted for $4 per week” when a living wage needed for the time was better than $15 a week.However, for the owners of the candy company, life was good.
Robert Carl Straub, the youngest child of Anton and Molly Straub, faithfully wrote in his diary nearly every day for the year 1919. The following excerpts are a condensed version of the diary.It had been given to him on his fifteenthbirthday in June 1918, from his cousin Irene and it starts the first of the following year. His handwriting is neat and easy to read. The life he describes tells the reader that he comes from a fairly well-off family. He is responsible, doing his daily chores and attending to his studies. He works on the school paper, plays basketball, participates on the debate team and does well in school, but as a young teen always seems to have time and money to spend on movies and fun with his friends. He loves ice cream and mentions it often.He even works on and drives the family auto around town, taking the family on errands and friends “out for a drive”. (14-year-olds could get a learner’s permit in Michigan in 1919. It was raised to 16 in 1937)The spelling is Robert’s. Notes in brackets are added by me to identify people and places mentioned.
January 1–Diary for the year 1919. Shoveled off walk in the morning… I find this is a pretty big page to fill with one days happenings. Got in bed at 15 minutes to two. Reason: went on a sleigh ride and had a11 o’clock supper at the church. Went to Wahl’s [a confectionery & ice cream store in the Lyric Theater building on Front St.]for first time in 1919. Also first sundaes.
More snow. Shoveled off walks. Fixed fire all day long. Went downtown in the afternoon and bought two records and a bottle of ink. Total bill $2.45. Also went to factory. Played Dad solitary in the evening and came out one to the good.
More of that junk you call snow, also more walks to shovel after I got up at 9:30. Went downtown in the afternoon and also went to the factory. Went to the show in the evening and saw George Walsh in “On the Jump”. He was mostly on the jump. Thus, another perfect day was ended when I began snoring.
School wasto start today but it was posponedon account of the “flu”. That is hard luck in one way and good luck in another way.
Went downtown twice in the morning and once at night. Exchanged Kate’s wedding present and also took it to the house. Went skiing in the afternoon at the Golf Grounds. Got home wet and tired but all there. Had three dishes of Ice Cream today. Only bought one myself. Kate Wilhelm & Frank Turner were married. I had some bride’s cake and groom’s cake. Picture shows closed. Bowling allies closed. Some DEAD town. Darn the “flu.” Wahl’s open. Some lively place.
Went to the Commission Meeting after supper. Began at 8 p.m. and it let out at 10 p.m. Some time there. The whole commission better study up on parliamentary rule!Spent 25¢ for Ice Cream.
Fixed the fire and shoveled a little snow. I got a gallon of cider from Morgan’s. Went to the factory. Went downtown and spent 10¢ for a dish of Ice Cream. After supper Dad and I played solitary and I came out to the bad. Dad won ten games and I won six. Revenge is sweet… Some swell day. Sun was out and it (weather) was very warm for winter.
Joy! Joy! Joy! no snow to shovel.Dusted the dining room. Afternoon: Took a treatment from Miss Swan. [Sisters Lottie andElla Swan ran a chiropractic office from their home at 247 Washington st.]Went downtown in the evening and walked up and down the street with Levi. Spent 25¢
…Put another coat of paint on our Bobs [bob sleds]. Then Levi and I went downtown. Had dinner and then we went skiing. No good. Very good sliding as we borrowed a couple of sleds and went sliding… After supper we put another coat of paint on the bobs and then five of us went sliding in the moon light. Great sport!…
Got up early and went over and got some “Liberty” Kraut. [during WW1 it was common for German-sounding foods to be renamed. Sauerkraut became “Liberty” kraut, etc.]Uncle Johns‘ were over for dinner. Mama took a treatment… We had the Edison fixed.
…wrote a letter to Helen. Made a aeroplane with my model builder…
…Monday, no school… After dinner went downtown and had my hair cut, drew $1 out of the bank, payed Hamilton and Steinbergs. Bought Tony a pair of socks for his birthday. We all went over to Tony’s for his birthday supper…
Went to school all day. Aunt Lena came over for dinner and super and stayed all night. After school I wrote my last book review. Studied after supper… but could not sleep as they were playing the Edison all night long. A.A. meeting after school to disband all winter athletics. This semester will end February 15. No spring vacation and one extra week in June [all due to the flu outbreak].
After dinner, I took a treatment from Miss Swan. Then I took a letter to Uncle Mike and a package to the Red Cross Rooms. Then went downtown and to the factory.After supper, I shined Dad’s shoes and went to the dentist. Then I bought a pair of stockings and went to the show. Saw Tom Mix in “Fame and Fortune”.
Sunday morning went to Sunday School…After supper, I shaved my upper lip and went over to Irene’s.
Monday, went to school all day. After supper I played basketball at the church till 9:30 p.m. I handed the names of the scouts of Troop 1 to Geo. H. Curtis at noon.
Had a Algebra test and got my Physiology paper. Got 92. After school I came home and popped some corn and then studied until supper time. After supper I went to the Athenian Meeting. [debate team]
Went downtown after school and paid H. & L. Co.and Johnson Grocery bills. Went to the factory and came home with Dad at 5 p.m. Unusual event. [his father worked long hours and often evenings] …went to the Chamber of Commerce supper at the C.S. P. S. hall. Mama got a postal from Karl Umlor written in Germany.
Got to school before light and wrote my algebra test from 8 to 10 a.m. After 10 went to the factory and got a check and a box of candy which I took up to Dr. Martin. Had physiology final from 1-3…then went downtown and sent a Valentine to Helen and Grandma.
…Shoveled off the walk and carried out the ashes…went to the factory and got a box of candy and came home with Dad. Betty Gordon’s birthday…I gave her a box of candy. Walt Thompson and I went to the show at night and saw Arbuckle in “Camping Out”.
First day of school new semester. 1st hr. Mec. Drawing–Connell. 2nd hr. Geometry–Petertyl. 4th hr. Botany–Anderson. 6th hr. Caesar- Gordon. 7th hr. English–Eddy.
School all day. Played basket-ball after school at the Cong. Gym. “Red” Higgins is our coach.
Gave a book review. Went to the factory. Went to the basket-ball game after supper Results- Freshie 29, Sophomores 14. Went to Wahl’s after game. Spent 5¢. Won 10¢ on the game.
Mama’s birthday. Bought her a fern. Went to Athenian meeting after supper.
After school got a book at the library then came home and studied. Had Athenian picture taken at noon at Smith and Price.
Bought Irene a address book for her birthday…Night school after supper. Debate after night school. T.C. & Petoskey on “Minimum Wage” TC 0, Petoskey-3.
Went with Uncle John. He took his car out. Went downtown… put 3¢ in a slot machine & got out 15¢ at Wahl’s.
Did not go to S. S. [Sunday School] but helped work on the car. Got it all ready to take out. Went out riding with Uncle John, Tony, Evelyn & I.Shaved my upper lip.
Helped put paper together after school [school paper]. Went to freshman game…went to Grand Opera after game.
Went to factory & to West Side Bakery. Took a treatment.
Sunday [March 30] All clocks set ahead one hour. [Daylight Savings Time had started one year earlier]
Went downtown with the car…Athenian after supper. On debate- “Universal Language should be adopted” Negative 3 to 0. We won.
Had picture taken at Smith & Price after school. Dad & Ma went to Liberty Loan Mass Meeting at Opera House.
Got my picture proofs. Rotten!!! Sat over again for three more pictures. Dad took everybody to the show.
Went to S.S. Dad, Mama & I went to McCool’s Restaurantfor dinner. Took Aunt Lote’s for a ride in the afternoon. Had ice cream for supper… after supper…had more ice cream.
Scout meeting after supper at Boardman. Julius Hanslowski is our scout-master.
Got my pictures. $6 a dozen. Harsch & I went out in the Asylum Wood for flowers after dinner.
Started on my eighth plate in Mech. Drawing.Harsch & I distributed Liberty Loan posters after school…
Went to school and gave Andy our flowers for botany. Everybody helped clean out the garage.
May 2- Got up at 4:45 a.m. and went fishing…at Asylum Creek. Got one trout.
May 10- Karl Umlor arrived in the city at 6:15 p.m and makes a swell officer.
Dad, Tony, Harsch and I went fishing to the Platte. Results: Dad-1, Tony-3, Harsch-0, Myself-1 (I caught the biggest fish of the bunch)
Got interest from my Liberty Bonds and put $2 in the bank.
[May 30] Memorial Day. Put flowers on soldiers grave…then came home forDad & Mama and heard the ceremony at the cemetery. Marched in the parade…then went to T.C. vs. Boyne City basketball game.
Went to the club house after school. [Wequetong Club on the bay] bolled97. Spent 35¢.
Had dinner at the Whiting….Took the folks to church at night and went riding with Uncle John. Had a puncture.[tire]
Athenian meeting was held at Dr. Houston’s house on the peninsula. I was elected president for the next semester.
June 12 [Robert’s 16th birthday– this is what a 16-year-old scout got as gifts in 1919!]Diary from Irene; a first aid kit from Helen; a sewing kit from Mrs. Kernan; $5 from Dad with which I bought a $3 pair of tennis shoes; a blanket from Mama and a canteen from Mike. Got 89 on Science final… 90 on English final… 95 on Algebra… Went to doctor and prepared for camp.
Botany final.. then finished my Mech. Drawing. Got 97 on my Geom. test. Caesar final…got 96%…school out at noon. Bought $8 camera …at Scott’s Drug Store.
Had a very good dinner at the Whiting Hotel. Took Dad to the ball-game after dinner then went riding. Had to change atire and inner tube. Took Mama to church then went to the club.
[July 3] Went swimming at Aunt Alice’s cottage at East bay.
Went to the club house (Dad, Mama & I). Beat Dad 2 games of pool and went 50-50 at bowling.
[He Took a trip to visit his sister Helen’s in Chicago between July 8- Aug. 3]
Aug. 12. Went to see the circus unload…Saw the circus parade. Went to the show grounds &to the side show.Evening, took Mama, Aunt Lote & Virginia to the circus. Dad & I went to the show.
Aug. 20.Wreck on the P.M. R.R. near the poor house. We went out. I drove Anderson’s roadster back. Met Dad & went back to the wreck.
Sunday. Went to Hotel Pennington for dinner [In Interlochen]. Took Mama over to Tony’s & then went to the club. Spent 23¢.
Went to the club & to the factory. Went to Amiotte’s for supper. Stayed until 10:30 p.m.
Went tothe Little Tavern for dinner then to Tony’s. Went to the club until 4 p.m.
Sept. 8 School all day. Went to the club after supper. Was elected president of the sophomore class!
Dad & Mama went to the Golf Club dinner Dance. I stayed home.
School all day… football game after school. Athenian after supper. Then went to the club but as no one was there, I came home.
The sophomore class was going to have a beach party at East Bay but as it rained, the party had to be held at Boardman school.
Bought a new suit with long pants at Hamilton’s. Some price! $45. Did some shopping.
Was going to take Mama and some ladies to the fair after school, but the car wouldn’t go…bolt on the battery was loose. Went to the fair after supper. [he went to the fair the next three evenings after school]
School all day. Received a wire that Grandma had another stroke. Ran errands after school. Went to court after supper Trace got fined for shooting a bird.
[Oct 10] School all day. Had dinner at school. Dad had two of his fingers cut off in the morning. I got excused from school early. Stay home at night. Evelyn came over and kept house for us.
Washed the dishes. Mr. Musselman came over to see Dad. Charley shaved Dad and the Dr. also came to fix his hands.
Put air and dis. water in the car. Went to the bank. Went to Dr.s with Dad after dinner.
School all day. Took Dad to the barber shop. Went over to Musselman’s after supper. Eleanor showed me how to dance.
Oct. 26 Turned the clocks back an hour…The Dr. came. Went to Aunt Lotes for supper. She had a faint and a gas attack.
School all day. Basketball after supper. Sophs 30, Faculty 28.
Went to S. S. Hung around Wahl’s all afternoon.
School in the morning. Out of school for armistice day in the afternoon.
Went to Manistee to see the football game. Went with Ted Johnson. Had two punctures.
No school. Went to the bank. Got $4.24 interest on Liberty Bonds. Went downtown & to the garage [had a flywheel put in the day before].
Thurs. Nov. 27 Thanksgiving. Tony’s & Uncle Max here for dinner. Played basket ball at night. Packed for my trip to Flint.
School till 7th hr. Then went to the M.E. church to decorate for banquet. Went to the football banquet. Got my saxophone.
Shoveled off the walks. Studied quite a bit. Went downtown in the afternoon… got 2 collars & a pair of mitts. Sent for 2 instruction books for my saxophone. Spent $2.04.
Fixed the fire. Tony came over and we blowed on the saxophone and then went downtown.
School all day. Downtown after school Show after supper. Had a bad storm. Spent 50¢.
Shoveled the walks. School all day. Gave my report. Athenian after supper.
Went to the dentist at 10 a.m. After dinner took the car to Petertyl’s to get it painted. Went to the bank for my Victory Bond and my Xmas saving club money. Went over to Boardman. Bowled 101 and 133.
School all day. Played my saxophone. The instruction book for it came today. Cold out. 10 below zero at 8 o’clock.
Went to the dentist. Bought all my Xmas presents. took my saxophone back to get it repadded. Got $2.71 interest on my Liberty Bond. Bowled 118, 120. Show after supper. Spent all together $16.50. Bought me a chemical outfit and a collar.
Thurs. Dec. 25. Christmas. Stayed around the house a while then we all went over to Kaufmans. Dinner at 2:30. then we took Mike to the train. Gota Saxopohne from Dad Sweater, gold cuff links, sheave holders from Mama.A knife from Helen & Mike, Two pair of socks from Tony & Evelyn, writing paper from Aunt Lote & Uncle Mike, a tie from Mrs. Kernen.
Went to… Giddings and played pool. Shoveled off the walks. Played basket ball at the Cong. all afternoon.
Had a early dinner and then went to the train with Helen. Went to the bank and downtown with Dad. Got $7.84 interest. Bowled 114, 135. Went to the Elks for supper and to their dinner dance and then went to the midnight show at the Lyric. Spent 31¢.
[Dec. 30, 1919] Thus this diary comes to a close after one successful year of keeping.
More research was conducted and I found out what this young man did after 1919. The summer following his high school graduation he went on a trip to Europe then attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1926. He then moved to Chicago and started a business, the Robert Straub & Co., a sales promotion company.He married in the early 1930s, living and working in Chicago until 1972 when he and his wife moved back to Traverse City to retire. Robert died in 1998 and his wife in 2005. They had no children.
Julie Schopierayis a regular contributor to Grand Traverse Journal.
For the benefit of the customers, we assume this business uses a “security system” now, as opposed to the Burglar Alarm pictured here. On what building in downtown Traverse City does this alarm box remain?
Thanks to Betsy for her masterful location of this Burglar Alarm! The alarm is hanging on the Fifth-Third Bank on the corner of Front and Union, on the north side of the building; The alarm has a twin in this city, found on Bijou by the Bay (formerly the Con Foster Museum).
The O.B. McClintock company of Minneapolis was the most prolific in alarm company sales to banks from the early 1900’s to 1947 when it was taken over by Diebold. You’ll find evidence that thousands of these alarms were in use at banks all across the country, as many are now for sale online. According to Diebold, these boxes were operated by a control panel enclosed in the vault and triggered by a switch just inside the vault door or push buttons at each teller cage. If the vault door was opened before the opening hour in the morning or any teller would push the button during the day it would send the current from dry cell batteries within the panel to the bell inside the alarm box. Those alarms were intended to get the police running their way, and could be heard for blocks.
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