WALNUT’S LONGEST-LASTING NON-FARM ENTERPRISES
BY RICK BLUM
New displays at the Walnut Creek Historical Museum focus on businesses that were prominent in Walnut’s early days, and that lasted for ~ three decades or more. Some of the earliest of our business ventures are not included, since they did not last.
1870 – Dr. Marcellus Phinney was our first postmaster, physician, druggist, and horse-trader, and Enoch Hinckley, our first land agent. Both stayed but a relatively short time in Walnut. Oscar and Leander Lodge opened our first real store at the NW corner of Pearl and Central Streets. They later sold out to their other two brothers. Oscar got into hardware with A. E. Kincaid, but again all-told he didn’t stay with it for more than 15 years total. The Moershell Brothers and the Green Brothers were prominent merchants in the 1870s and 1880s, but did not stay in Walnut very long.
When you think of non-farm businesses in Walnut, and the ones that were longest-lasting and most prominent, you don’t immediately think of the newspaper. But it’s our #1 by a long shot. Lasting from 1878 to 2014, and with only one name change, the Walnut newspaper endured in three different centuries. A. P. Cramer was the first owner; he also owned the Avoca Delta. Sixteen owners complete the list, the longest being the Wayne family (John and his son Lee), from 1905 to 1942.
In terms of the longest-lasting single-family business, Lafrentz Standard sets the standard. Begun in 1928 when Harold Lafrentz bought the local Standard Oil franchise rights from Gust Wolff, it endured until 2005 in the same family. Harold’s son Bob took over in the 1950s after graduation. The first location was east across the alley from Green Bay Lumber Co. Green Bay Lumber was where the Fire Station is now at 500 Pearl Street.
Carl Martin and sons Pat and Mike are closing in on the Lafrentz record. Carl started in his residential construction and home renovation business in 1947, and Mike still operates that business today. Pat operates a similar business based out of Avoca, and does work in Walnut as well. Carl worked up until his last days in 2015. So, for the Martins, it’s 73 years and still counting. Many a home in Walnut and the area have the Martin mark on them, and Carl’s trademark cabinets can still be seen in Walnut kitchens today.
In the category of one single person, Dr. Frank Hanna holds the record. He began his medical and surgical practice in 1873, and practiced continuously until retirement in 1936, a total of sixty-four years inclusive. Close on his heels is Louis Pedersen’s Tavern (see below). Other single-person long-standing businesses of fifty-plus years include: Harvey Lewis’ harness shop (1887 – 1944), George Neff and his real estate and insurance business (1912 – 1970), Jack Stahl, tailor and cleaner (1914 – 1965), Herman Moritz’s Meat Market (1891 – 1944), Billy Burke’s Grocery Store (1878 – 1930), Mildred Scheef’s beauty shop (1948 – 2005), Erwin Arndt – electrician (1943 – 1996), Gust Wolff’s Wagon Shop (1880 – 1930), and John Reimer – painter (1903 – 1953).
One long tenure that is worth noting is the Pedersen family. William Pedersen started a jewelry shop in 1880, buying out O. C. Zinn. In 1890, he sold the business to his brother Ludvig, who operated it until 1940. In the meantime, Ludvig’s youngest child Louis started a tavern in 1936, and it became Iowa’s longest single-owner tavern by the time it closed in 1997. So, uncle, father, and son were business owners in Walnut for 105 years, which excludes the two years Ludvig returned to Denmark to marry his sweetheart 1906-08.
There has been one other business that lasted more than a century: the Walnut Telephone Company. An excellent history was documented in video in 2015 called “Fence Lines to Fiber” (https://youtu.be/LTxnqPsCWzc). Walnut’s second telephone company, it started in 1915 and eventually grew to provide service to almost all of eastern Pottawattamie County. In 2017, the Marne Elk Horn Telephone Company adopted its name to the business it had purchased one year previously, thereby ending 102 years of the Walnut Telephone Company (and its subsidiary Walnut Communications). Marne Elk Horn is still in business today.
A few businesses are fairly unknown to contemporaries today: E. C. Thompson came from Marne in 1885, and opened a drug store. He ran this business continuously until his death in 1936, and then his daughter Beth Burlingham moved from Onawa, Iowa, where she was working at a drug store, to continue the business. It closed finally in 1955 after seventy-one years.
The Only Way Transfer, a dray line (hauling, trucking, etc.), was so named in 1906 by J. W. Brindley, who had purchased it from Ed Dulin. The history of that dray line is uncertain, but likely goes back to the early days. Our story starts in 1908, when Bill League, Sr. purchased the line and equipment from Brindley. His son Bill, Jr. was managing the line in the 1940s when he was summoned to military service. Gordon Tooley, League’s son-in-law, moved from Minden, Iowa to operate the business in Bill, Jr.’s stead in 1943. In July 1944, Tooley bought out League. In 1956 he incorporated the business with a new name, Walnut City Dray Line and operated it until 1971 when he took a full-time job as city man. So, single-family run was sixty-four years inclusive.
Three notable corporations spent considerable time in Walnut and were a significant part of the fabric of the town: The Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad (depot was ~1871 to 1958), Green Bay Lumber Company (1885 – 1966), and Seiffert Lumber Company (1883 – 1959).
One must talk about our two prominent banks when discussing early and long-lasting businesses.
Our first bank was the Exchange Bank, later the Exchange State Bank. Begun by Enoch Hinckley in 1874, it did not survive the Great Depression, going out of business in 1931. James Harrison (John) Henry and Julius Hector were the other two owners during this run.
The German Bank started in 1893 with officers including such big hitters as Lebeck, Johannsen, Petersen and Bunker. The building was built in 1884, and was entirely renovated in 1916. The name American Bank was adopted in 1917 – German not being such a popular label at the time. It was reorganized in 1920 as the American State Bank, with officers Ronna, Koll, Nichols, Spence, Priester, Hanna, Beyer, Burkey and Matthies. It closed its doors in May of 1923.
A new bank was formed in September 1923 known as the Walnut State Bank. Its officers were Schuttloffel, Stoltenberg, Ketelsen, Brehmer, Beyer, Goettsch, Schmitt and Kistle. After some ownership changes, the name was changed to Equibanc in 1991, and again to American Interstate Bank in 1994. AIB was purchased by Rolling Hills Bank in 2003, which still operates the bank in Walnut. So, we’ve had a bank in that corner building at 300 Antique City Drive for 110 years and counting, but with some name changes and many ownership changes.
In the early 20th century, we had two other banks in town: Farmers Savings Bank (Thomas Kent 1920 – 1929), and Citizens Bank (Burke Brothers 1895 – 1918).
You may say: “…but wait, what about ____?”. Our display has attempted to capture all businesses that fall under the category of long-lasting, but, of course, we may have missed some.
Here are the remaining 19th and early 20th century businesses that had long runs, in order of total years:
- St. Rose Hotel / Dew Drop Inn 1890 – 1954
- The Walnut Mill 1874 – 1928 (several owners & names)
- Winfield Scott Sankey, Auctioneer 1884 – 1932
- Walnut Movie House (303 Central St, several names & owners) 1913 – 1956
- The Gardens (Elmer/Meta & Russ/Lucy Lehnhardt, Jean/Gary Blum) 1940 – 1988
- Hugo Petersen, Pete’s Barber Shop 1914 – 1960
- Red Osler, Chevy Dealership 1927 – 1972
- Walnut Cement, Stone & Tile (Jens Larsen, wife Anna Marie, nephew Marinus Nelson) 1902 – 1945
- Walnut Fruit & Grocery (Abe Baker, Pete Bussow) 1926 – 1968 (Note 1)
- August Hansen, Garage & Auto Sales (several different ventures) 1911 – 1953
- William Brandt, DDS 1900 – 1942
- Dr. Frank Weber 1927 – 1968
- Koll Implement Dealership (Peter and son Henry) 1874 – 1915
- Spangler Grain, Implements (Irad and son Charles) 1873 – 1914
- Oswald Bruce Drug Store 1874 – 1914
- Glenn Braden, Appliance & Furniture 1946 – 1986
- Hagge Livery Stable (Henry, son August) 1878 – 1917
- Raymond Wolf Clothing Store 1923 – 1962
- Hoffmann/Koehrsen Hardware (Walter & Elsie, Art K.) 1925 – 1964
- Mertz Implement (Art, son George) 1929 – 1968
- Harry Nieman, Produce & Ice 1919 – 1957
- Schirm Produce (Albert & Dixie) 1946 – 1984 (Note 2)
- Madsen Bros Department Store (Ivan, Lou, Winter) 1902 – 1939
- Walter Rieck, Furniture & Undertaker 1919 – 1956
- Mickel Implement Shop (Eugene, son George) 1882 – 1919
- Carstensen Blacksmith / Manufactory (Peter and brother Ingwer) 1876 – 1912
- George Brothers / The Red & White Store (Nick George, Lars & Mae Peterson) 1935 – 1971 (Note 3)
- Lauren Weir, DDS 1947 – 1982
- The Transient House 1883 – 1916 (several owners)
- Oldehoff Plumbing (Carl, son Al) 1943 – 1976
- Jacobsen Trucking, Implements, Grain (brothers Art and Henry) 1915 – 1947 (bought out Koll)
- Henry Holtz, Blacksmith 1912 – 1941
- Sylvia Café 1918 – 1945 (several owners)
- Sam Comer Furniture & Undertaker 1888 – 1916
- J.D. Rockwell, Furnace and Tin Shop 1934 – 1962
- Hugo Burmeister, General Merchandise 1904 – 1923 (sold to Raymond Wolf)
Note 1 – Abe Baker sold out to Pete & Ruth Bussow in 1957, after Pete had managed the store for ten years as Abe was building his Omaha stores up. Pete changed the name to Pete’s Walnut Fruit & Grocery. Cecil & Peg Roberts bought it in 1968, renaming it Roberts’ Grocery. Jim and Connie Johnson bought it in 1970 and ran it for only one year under the name Jim’s Super Saver.
Note 2 – Predecessors to Schirm Produce were Leo Johannsen, and then Ray Olsen, both from Kimballton, under the name Home Produce Co, 1941 – 1946. Successors to Schirm were Larry and Charlotte Shepherd 1984 – 1993, under the name Shepherd Feed & Fertilizer.
Note 3 – Successors to Lars & Mae – 1971 to 1986 Craig & Linda Woltmann, Craig’s Foodmart. 1987 to 1998 Dennis & Linda Frederickson, Farmer’s Foodmart. 1999 – 2002 John and Janet Wilcox, The Hometown Grocery.
We also desire to indicate locations for each of these businesses. We will host a hayrack tour of Walnut for the sesquicentennial next summer, and will have prepared a map of historical sites and businesses by that time.
Teaser for next article – who had the longest run for owning and operating a restaurant in Walnut?