Lee Block building is a Spring Valley treasure
Tuesday, April 15, 2014 3:07 AM
Yes, treasures keep arriving and the historical society is always most grateful. I've always admired the most beautiful downtown building, the Lee Block, now the home of Valley Appliance & Sheldon Plumbing & Heating. Bob and Rhoda Jones did a great job of having the exterior restored many years ago, and it is still a standout.
This picture shows North Broadway, about 1930 showing Lee Block when it was the Chevrolet garage.
Viewed from the public library parking lot, one marvels at the striking architecture, decorative brick work, stone trim and arches over the windows, the rounded towers, and so much more. I asked local historian, Sharon Jahn, what she might have on file for the Lee Block, and of course she had a great accumulation. On that southeast corner of Jefferson and Broadway once stood an early bank of F. Smith and E.K. Smith. Then the Lee family were in a wooden building about 1873 where they conducted their general mercantile business. About 1893-95 the old building came down, and the Lee Block was erected. See page five of "Tales of Our Town" history. Can you imagine how impressive this magnificent building was in the little country town of Spring Valley? According to Jahn, financial losses in Lee stores in other towns finally closed the business here in the early 1900s. From 1903 to 1904, Hugo Rohrback operated a clothing store here; by 1909 the local paper reported a bakery in the building.
Mr. Knud Hande purchased the building in 1907, and from 1912 to about 1921 it was used as the Amuzu Theater, operated by Hande's daughter, Emma, and her husband, Jack Wentworth. The latter died unexpectedly in 1915 of acute appendicitis. In the early 1920s it became a Ford garage, perhaps run by Ed Johnson. Later in that decade, Ben Ruesink had a Chevrolet garage here as seen in the photo, and above his sign we read, "Economical Transportation."
The Lee Block was a double store and it has been difficult to track the various businesses on each side over all those years. From 1920 to about 1939 there may have been a Woodward's store on the south side. The Red Owl Store was there by 1920 and remained until the 1970s. Since that time it was a hardware store - Coast to Coast, then True Value.
The photo postcard bearing a 1931 postmark, came from the Jahn family and is absolutely priceless, and new to the historical society files. Old friend, Lyle Clark, could have told us the make of every auto in the picture. On the left: the Chevy garage, selling Good Year tires, and if you drive by the building, you will see a large opening cut on the north side - to get autos in and out of the showroom? Next we see the Red Owl sign, and next door at one time was a large variety store run by the Spinks. The State Theatre has a prominent vertical sign plus the marquee that states "Our Pictures Talk." Then the post office, drug store (Rexall), and a sign that says "service" - for what we are not sure. Harry Johnson's Jewelry came next; then the canopy for the Halbkat general store nearly reaches the sidewalk. First State Bank on the corner became John Osterud's Security Building in 1929, which boasts the clock, showing 4:40 time. Across the street south would have been the Lobdill Hardware, later Hamlin & Hawkins, and then we see "Jorris" - site of furniture and funeral service.
On the right side of the photo: An intriguing mystery - a clear Red Crown Gasoline sign, indicative of a service station? It would be where First National Bank is today, but can't find anyone old enough to remember - can you help on this? Then the Allard building, circa 1875, which prominently displays ads for McCormick-Deering, Ball Bearing Separators, International Harvester Farm Machines. Again, help - who, when? Next is a smaller building; then the tall narrow structure that Kerry Conley erected about 1895 for his jewelry store. Next is the outstanding double building of the Leutholds, 1893, which held their clothing store for over 100 years, and on the north side was Harris Hardware, later Kehrberg's Our Own Hardware, plus many other businesses, including Huntley-Hubbard Drug Store. In the lower block we can see columns of the First National Bank, signs for cafes and the railroad crossing signs. On the hill is silhouetted the bell tower of the Molstad School.
Oh my, what a treasure this is. What fun to ponder this view of Broadway and those early businesses. Do you have recollections or pictures which would help identify sites in this photo? We thank you.