Genealogy and History
Part of the Genealogy Trails History Group
Down Memory Lane By Nate Collier
[Contributed by Karen Fyock]
Just 50 years ago the big windmill on the top of Pearl City's original water tower squeaked loudly whenever a breeze hit it, and kept my good friend Charlie Dixon, who was Knapp & Schuler's tinner from Rewey, Wis., awake. He roomed at the Ballard home, the old Geo. Fry house at the foot of the tower. So he and I climbed the stairs that ran up to the bottom of the tank and up the covered ladder on the East side of the old yellow tank and up the tiny open ladder to the tiny platform at the foot of the giant windmill fully 85 feet above the ground, where we tied the old mill with heavy wire so it wouldn't squeak.
The city water well was originally beneath the water tower and the water was pumped by this windmill, but at the time in 1903 of which I write a gasoline engine had been installed in a small enclosure at the foot of the towner that did the pumping, but the unused wind mill was still up there squeaking. We stopped that. Just the year before that in 1902 I was employed by Dr. Clay at 75 cents a day as a lineman on his Clay Line Independent Telephone line that covered the area from Berreman thru Loran to Pearl City.
In many places the wires were strung on the top of fence posts, at other places he used limbs of trees for poles which you could bend down to make any repairs. I recall installing the telephone in Will Goodrich's farm home just West of town, and Roy Wise and I installed the switchboard in the Lena Central Office. The Pearl City Central consisted of just three party lines, located in the main floor of the building where Heinie Offenfeiser has his barber shop. I had charge of this for a couple of months in the spring of 1902.
I don't know how many people were on these three party lines, but they were many. Everybody had their special ring; two long and one short, or a hort and two longs, and often the gossips would be busy and talk for an hour. One day I recall someone from one line wanted me to connect them with someone on one of the other lines. When I tried to get 'em I found a couple women down in the Berreman neighborhood gossiping and I couldn't get the line open. Finally one said "Myrt, I should be doing my dishes" I interrupted, "For Heaven's sake, go do your dishes, I want this line". Two years before that, in Sept.
1900, we had moved to Freeport so I could attend the Freeport High School. In the summer of 1901 which was the hottest, driest summer Northern Illinois ever experienced, when the mercury registered 105 in the shade for weeks. Yellow Creek was completely dry and I recall on one of the hottest days Roll Ditzler and I rode a tandem bicycle out to Pearl City in 50 minutes in dust 6 inches thick. I wouldn't do it today even if it was only 95 in the shade. Regards to all.
"Not for public consumption; very very private", heads a letter from our good friend Nate Collier of Leonia, N. J. Never-the-less, we are passing on to eager readers a few of his timely excerpts. "I see by The News your school street has been changed. To me it looked very nice the way it was!
It's a funny thing, but the way I remember that particular part of town best, was a path leading down to the old ball diamond with its chicken wire backstop. Charlie Stichter and I skinned that diamond with hoes in the spring of 1899. Charles was a business man like Tom Sawyer and inveigled a half a dozen of other kids to help him. He got his half skun in a half day, while it took me nearly a week to skin my half. Yes, and I can still see the old medicine shows that held forth down there and some of the same old jokes the comedians told at that long ago time, and still being laughed at on television.
In 1898 I started to work as devil in The News Office. I hear from Will Goodrich regularly. He says it keeps him busy waiting on and feeding himself and his dog pal "Gyp". You've got to hand it to him for still being up and atom at 91. I was sorry to hear of August Hasselman's passing. He and another little boy used to sit beside me as I was catching sunfish along Yellow Creek dam. I am thinking of Ardie Mitchell, hoping he will be will soon be well again. I think both the Stockton Herald editor and The Pearl City News editors are working entirely too hard for their own good. I enjoy both papers but I think you all should take time for an occasional game of golf, croquet or even tiddly winks.
I will be able to burn up the Lena Golf course on my next trip to Illinois. I shot a 75 last week. (Golf players will understand). I hope you new Chevie will do you as yeoman service as did you ol' Pontiac. I happened to be back there when you got it 13 years ago and I remember what a thrill it was. I was surely sorry to hear of Roy Wise's passing. He was one swell guy. The first day I went to school when I was only 5, I sat between him and Marp Fox. I think I will write you a piece for The News about Roy. I am feeling like myself again after that 8 moths layoff I had in 1949. I'm really getting fat. Weighed in the other day at 162. Say Hello and give by best to old friends." (Undated scrapbook clipping)
Nate Collier, Nationally Known Cartoonist
Keeps Close Tab on Hometown of Pearl City by Mrs. Donald Barklow
A nationally known cartoonist, humorist and poet who grew up in Pearl City has kept in constant touch with the Stephenson County community which he left over 40 years ago. Nate Collier, whose cartoons have appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, the old Judge magazine, Colliers and the London Opinion, to name just a few, still writes an occasional article of reminiscence for the local weekly newspaper, the Pearl City News. In fact the 76-year-old Collier is known as the "New York correspondent" of the paper. The amiable cartoonist returned to Pearl City from New York for six months in 1918 to edit the local newspaper while its editor O. Glenn Hooker, served in the Army during World War I. The semi-retired Collier is now living in Riverdale, N. J. , a small community in the northern part of the state. His home is "only a stone's throw from George Washington Bridge which spans the Hudson River, joining New York and New Jersey. Collier has been a free lance cartoonist and writer of humorous articles and poetry for the past 37 years. He does all his work at home now, mailing material to newspapers and magazines throughout the country. He resigned from his last regular job in 1952 with the National Assn. of Manufacturers for whom he worked 16 years. Some of the accomplishments of which he is most proud include the illustrations he did for the late Will Rogers. Collier illustrated a number of Roger's newspaper articles and his book "The Illiterate Digest". Collier later presented a copy of the book to the Pearl City library. The easy-going Collier also played a role in the election of William Hale Thompson as mayor of Chicago in 1915 with his political cartoons. At the time, Collier was employed as an editorial cartoonist for the Chicago Evening Journal. Mayor Thompson thought so highly of Collier's cartoons that he had three of his originals framed on the wall of his office. Nate Collier was connected with movie cartoons at one time. He drew the animated figures for the Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, Krazy Kat, Silk Hat Harry and Mutt and Jeff movie cartoons for four years. Although he is far removed from the Midwest today, Collier still reminisces about his boyhood days in the Pearl City area.
Born in 1883 in a log cabin one mile north of Orangeville, Collier says of the even, "I heard that Abe Lincoln was born in a log cabin so I did my best to come as close to that as possible." He moved to Pearl City with his parents in 1888, although the community at that time was known as "Yellow Creek". His father, James Riley Collier, operated a photographic gallery in a tent here and also worked as a cooper. Collier says he "vividly remembers the time he and several other local residents found pearls in Yellow Creek in the early 1890's. In 1893 the village was incorporated and its name was changed to Pearl City because of the pearls discovered in the stream.
The versatile Collier also has an avid interest in athletics. He pitched for the Pearl City "Browns" in the early 1900's and claims he could pitch with both his right and left hands. He said he will never forget one summer afternoon in which he was a "victim of circumstances." Collier pitched a one-hitter that day against the Stockton ball team but the opposing hurler, who had the unusual name of "Bunker" Hill, threw a no-hitter - beating the Pearl City club 1 to 0. Then in 1904, at the age of 21, he began his artistic career, attending art schools in Indianapolis, Ind., and Kalamazoo, Mich. The following year, he had his first cartoon published, appearing in the old Freeport Standard. Collier joined the staff of the Kokomo, Ind., Dispatch as a cartoonist in 1906 and later ran an illustrated humorous column in the Duluth, Minn., New Tribune which he called " A Little Dope On The Side."
He was then employed by a number of Midwestern and Eastern newspapers during a career which took him to Chicago, Cleveland and Sandusky, Ohio, New York City, and several other cities. Artistic ability seems to run in his family as Collier's two sons, Theron and Thurlo, have both followed in their father's footsteps. They also live in New Jersey and work at an art studio in New York City, The younger Colliers draw animated figures for television commercials. Collier's main hobby now is golf, a sport he still plays with great enthusiasm. "My biggest thrill in the game came in 1954 when I carded a hole-in-one on a 205-yard hole on a New York golf course," he said. The Nate Collier of 1960, as witty a personality as ever, says "I want my friends back in Pearl City to know that I don't feel any older today than I did at 50 and I'm still full of "wim, Wigor and witality."
Nate Collier, Nationally Known Cartoonist
About Those School Houses
Dear Vernena and Glenn:
The sale of those country school houses brought a lump up in my throat. With the passing of these old seats of learning goes a phase of life that I am sure was dear to many a country boy and girl , because no matter how progress creeps up on a community there will always be a sort of golden cord of memory of boy and girlhood carefree days spent battling the adjectives and hanging participles, the bounding of Nebraska and the spelling bees. And of course games of pom, pom, pull-away, stagger-bob, bull-breakout and prisoner's base. Good bye, oh, little old country school, with the dinner pails under the desks, the old wood stove and the well worn path to the little telephone booths in the far corner of the yard! I imagine of all those schools mentioned, the Hayes and the Mill Grove schools were the oldest. Better send one of your ace reporters out to cover the sales and find out when they were built and perhaps give the names of a few of the graduates and pretty teachers. The Hayes school house I always imagined was built back there, in the woods, far from any road, perhaps as a protection from Indians. For what other legitimate reason would anybody build a school house so far away from the road.
Oh, unless, it was built by the school boys themselves in the hope that the teacher never could find it. This school was not named after Rutherford B. Hayes as some people might think, but after the owner of the woods in which it was built. The Hillside school, I believe, used to be referred to as the Tollmeier school and should be saved from extinction, if for no other reason than that at one time, I believe, one of the editors of The Pearl City News taught there. The Lamb school however, brings an episode to mind that I imagine can be told now after 50 years. I must have been about 12 years old when one Sunday while visiting Chet and Ross Scott, we wandered across the fields to the Lamb school house. Finding one of the windows open we climbed in and just to let the teacher know we'd been there I put two small live garter snakes in her desk. What she said when she opened her desk the next morning I never knew! Among all these old school houses to be auctioned off I see no mention of the Hershey school, or has that already met its fate? Seems as if they are all going the way of our old Yellow School House that stood out there west of Seebolds. All that remains today is the barn back of the hotel (maybe that's gone too, I don't know.) Phooey on these modern, stuck-up schools with their gymnasiums and their tiled lavatories. Gimme the good ol' horse and buggy schools, where learning to spell psychology and pneumonia was more important then learning how to build a tea table without legs!
Sic Semper Progress!
Regards to everybody
As Always, Nate
The Big Wind
My good friend, Conrad Schwarze seems to think, mistakenly of course, that my story of The Big Wind which appeared in your revered family journal in February of 1933 would acutally be of interest to present day readers. So be it. Here she be: Mr. Schwarze of Cambria, Wis., seems to be bothered by gentle zephyrs that heedlessly toss barrels of salt up against gable ends of barns, and he calls that wind. Let me tell you about a wind that was a wind, and I don't mean maybe. Back in the days of my youth shortly after the Blackhawk war when Pearl City was known as Yellow Creek, a village of 437 souls (and perhaps 15 or 16 half-soles not counted in that earlier period) I think it was in the summer of 1492. (That's wrong. 1492 was Mrs. Dillon's telephone number.) The year was really 1840 right after Pocahontas and Capt. John Smith settled Mill Grove that we experienced the Big Wind.
It must have been Sunday afternoon about midnight on the following Wednesday that the wind started blowing from all four directions at the same time. Yes sir! And did it blow Oh, Boy! It blew all the teeth out of our old garden rake, the hole out of Sam Pifer's cistern, moved the Loran township line away down about six miles below Milledgeville, and the Board of Supervisors never found it until the following Halloween. Was that a wind? It blew all the hair on Mrs. Snow's hairless poodle, "Toots", carried the Lutheran church steeple down across Andy Eby's pasture and stabbed a six pound catfish just below the slaughter house. It picked the Great Western Railroad tracks up for a distance of 8 miles, and for ten days afterwards it rained railroad spikes and ties. That was the time George Walrad had harvested ten acres of popcorn and stored it in his barn. The wind and lightning struck the barn at the same time, set fire to the barn, the corn popped. George's old gray mare thought it was a snow storm and lay down and froze to death. When the storm hit the post office it grabbed all the mail and distributed it to every box on all the rural routes and never made a mistake. That's a better record than Chet Kuhlemeier ever made in his palmist motor-cycle days. It blew all the feathers off George Bender's chickens and stuck 'em in a flock of Berkshire pigs on a farm two miles east of Eleroy. This farmer whose name I've forgotten, later exhibited them at the Freeport fair as the only feathered hogs in Stephenson county. It blew the tail off an iron gray horse in Kent, and an hour later blew it back on agin all nicely dry cleaned and braided. it blew all the spaces out between the pickets of Johnnie Seebold's fence, changed the odor of Buttermilk Branch and tilted John Saxby's farm up on end so that Steve fell off and broke his dollar watch. But why tell more, nobody seems to believe me, and sometimes I think, aw, what's the use? [Jan. 1951 clipping]
Lee Clouser Shares Memories of the Good Old Days
Freeport's downtown Stephenson Street was a lively scene in the mid-1930's when the town was bouncing back after the Depression, and Prohibition was lifted.
The scene looks east from Van Buren Avenue. Lee Clouser's father helped lay the brick for the Kresge building at the lower right of the photo.
Lee Clouser always has good stories to tell. Find a man who takes pleasure in just plain old everyday living and add a love for the past, and you've got stories.
Clouser brings items to the newspaper office for a couple of lodges and clubs he belongs to and often adds a little spice to the mix with his tales of life back when. He has a great sense of what makes a good story.
Clouser follows The Journal-Standard closely. In fact, for decades he kept scrapbooks of clippings from it that were to him humorous or bizarre. He has 66 of those scrapbooks from which every once in a while something finds its way into this column. The books make for amusing browsing.
Clouser grew up in Pearl City and has spent his entire adult life in Freeport. So he knows a bit about these places. The story on Bump Jones a couple of weeks ago brought him in with a little booklet he's had for a long time. He recalled there was an ad in it for Bump's Pantry, a former Freeport restaurant, and thought folks might like to see what the business did in those days and what it cost to eat there. We looked through the book and talked about his and that.
One story led to another - restaurants, groceries, taverns - bringing to mind the old days of prohibition. During those years, Clouser, his father and brother experienced a sight that he said, "I'll never forget as long as I live."
As boys, Clouser and his brother delivered The Journal-Standard in Pearl City. The papers always were dropped off for them at the corner of U.S. 20 and Illinois 73. The boys lad would go up in his Model T Ford to pick up the papers. Sometimes the boys rode along. It was on one of those days that something happened which etched itself into the mind of one 12-year-old Lee Clouser.
It took place around 1925 during the period of Prohibition when federal law forbade the manufacture, transportation, sale, import and export of alcoholic beverages. The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ruling this had been put into effect in 1920.
On the way to pick up the papers one day, the Clousers passed a farm with a barnyard in full view of the road, when what to their eyes should appear but a group of animals staggering around in a dazed condition, completely disoriented. There were a couple of pigs, a cow, some chickens, some ducks. "What a sight," Clouser said.
Come to find out, the animals had been partaking of a dripping fluid from the second story of the barn. It turned out a couple of stills were working away in that unsuspecting location. It was alcohol the animals had ingested and they actually were intoxicated on that certain day. Clouser said they later learned that two trucks were coming to that farm from Chicago every week to transport the contraband back to the city.
"Those animals sure were acting crazy," Clouser said. He didn't remember there ever being any arrests over the affair.
Clouser had other good stories to tell of Halloween pranks when kids were just "expected" to go out and dump over outhouses. He remembers one time in Pearl City when a bunch of kids pushed one over with a man inside. It caused quite a ruckus. Though he was out doing his share with another bunch, Clouser said he wasn't actually in on that particular incident. However, his bunch showed up at the scene as the guilty ones were making a fast getaway. Nobody was hurt and nobody was arrested, but it was something none of them ever forgot.
There wasn't too much to do in Pearl City, he said, so coming to Freeport to the zoo was a real treat for kids. "We thought we really had something," he said. He remembered elephants and tigers. A small zoo operated in Krape Park from 1918 to 1928.
Clouser is proud that his dad was the bricklayer who laid the bricks for numerous buildings in the area, many still standing as solid as the day they were built. He said his dad laid the bricks for the building that housed the Pearl City Ford garage, still intact across the street from the bank on Pearl City's Main Street. He said he and his brothers wanted to become brick layers, so they helped with the inner wall of that building.
His dad could lay 1,000 bricks a day, he said. When he was working on what was the Kresge building at the comer of Van Buren Avenue and Stephenson Street in Freeport, he came home one night "madder than the dickens." It had bothered his dad that the union was limiting them to 700 bricks a day, but when the officials wanted him to cut back to 600, that was just too much. "So Dad quit," Clouser said.
Pearl City had a three-year high school in Clouser's time. For their fourth year, the kids had to come in to Freeport. Well, after Clouser completed the third year he told his dad he wasn't going back, he wanted to go to work for him. "Dad didn't say anything," Clouser said, "but when the day came for school to start, he had me mixing mortar for him at a job near the Freeport High School. When the kids came by on their way to school, they asked me if I wasn't going to school. I said, 'No, I'm going to work for Dad.' Dad knew what I would do when I saw all the kids heading back. The next day I went to school."
Clouser recalls when the road from Pearl City to Freeport was gravel and very lightly traveled. Not having a car himself, he'd have to hitch a ride into Freeport to take his girl to the movies. Don Saxby had a car, he said. "I'd come to town with him. You'd better have at least $1.50 with you," Clouser said, explaining that would get you and your date into the show and then take care of a trip to the Dixie Sandwich Shop afterwards for a five-cent hamburger and 15-cent malted milk apiece with 20 cents or so to spare.
The booklet Clouser brought in is an interesting little piece which tells a lot about the town's adjustment when re-entering the liquor business after the lifting of Prohibition, and its recovery as the Depression began to ease up. Clouser's little book was the program for the "Mid-Summer Pretzel Festival of Freeport, Illinois" of July 1936. The festival was sponsored by the Retail Tavern Owners Association of Stephenson County, and was, according to little editorial snippets which appeared in the booklet every few pages, an attempt by the tavern owners and liquor distributors "to assist in the enforcement and observance of all laws, rules and regulations of the City, County, State and the United States Government." The association "fully realizes that the future of the liquor business and the granting of retail licenses depends entirely upon the conduct of those engaged in retail sales." It was the further purpose of the association "to promote good will."
"The Association believes in the principle of temperance," it went on. They were tip-toeing, and went on to assure the public that members of the association would actively cooperate with city and county officials relative to the strict enforcement of the liquor laws. They asked for cooperation and harmony between the Liquor Commission, Board of Supervisors and City Council in "honestly trying to assist the Association in such a manner that will bring about a cleaner and better city and county." Frank Grimes was president of the Tavern Owners' Association of Stephenson County. Randall Knipschild was vice president. James Nelson was mayor then and Clinton Flickinger, Chairman of the Board of Supervisors and Liquor Commissioner of Stephenson County.
The festival featured the Johnny Toffel Shows of Chicago and Hanover, a carnival with rides and stage entertainment. The association said the outfit was "clean and wholesome," and "did not carry the usual Carnival atmosphere." There were circus performances and concerts by Ferdinand and His German Band.
A "Popularity Contest" was conducted, along with a drawing for a Chevrolet sedan. There were eight women contestants for the "most popular" title, with each to receive 10 votes for every chance they sold on the car. "The young lady who receives the greatest number of votes receives a $100.00 Diamond Ring displayed at the Rotzler Jewelry Store." Second prize was $50 and third and fourth, $25 each. All the rest were to receive $5 each. The contestants were Leona Brinkmeier, Edythe Carstedt, Lillie Mae Clymens, Elenor Casford, Margarete Guiffre, Catharine Mogle, Hazel Peters and Phyllis Wiltse. A check of the microfilm of the following Monday's and Tuesday's Journal-Standard did not reveal who the winners were. We're wondering who won the ring.
The ads in the program tell a lot about the appetites of the day. There were taverns, cafes, cigar stores, movie houses, candy and ice cream shops and scads of downtown retail stores. Taverns included: Fred's, Hi-Lo, Arf's Place, Tony Petta's, The Brewster Annex, The Ritz, Poodle Dog, Art Burns, Happy's Place, Coonie Cramer's, Louie Heimerdinger's and others. The brew at Fritz Brewing Co. was "Union Made and Delivered." And John Knobel & Son said "Drink Pabst." However Schmich's Bottling Works still was featuring Orange Kist and other fruit beverages at 116-118 S. State Ave. You could have "X-Ray Fittings of Shoes" and see the bones of your feet at the Golden Rule Shoe Store at 12 W. Main St., before they ruled the machines hazardous to health. Donahue's "Good Meats Always" was at 206 W. Stephenson St Hecht's was "The Store for Women's and Misses; Styles." I see our old friend, the Lincoln Cafe, open 24 hours daily. The New York Coffee Shop and Hotel was "A Good place to Eat and Sleep."
Prescriptions were "Correctly Filled" at Crawford's Drug Store at 111 W. Stephenson St.
There are dozens more ads, many old familiar names. Of course we can't list them all, but I'm sure Clouser wouldn't mind if you came in to take a look at his book. Then again, if you just happen to run into him, there might possibly be a story or two for you there. [Source: The Journal Standard; April 16, 2000]
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