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Park Street once a thriving thoroughfare
By Mary Jo Dathe
Tuesday, March 19, 2013 4:27 AM
Aerial view of Burgess & Sons Lumberyard on South Section Avenue. Inset: Bill Gritzner, manager, and Bob Cavanaugh, who worked there, seen at a home show.
How many folks remember all the businesses that occupied the corner where today we find Rochester Cheese and warehouse along Park Street? In the accompanying photo, we are looking mostly west with Section Avenue (Highway 63) in the foreground.
Short story: Some time ago I received a note from my former neighbor, Jim Gritzner, who enjoys reading this column on line. We go back a long time. When Gordy and I were married in 1955, his dad, Bill Gritzner, was manager of Burgess & Sons Lumberyard, seen in the photo. Bill had purchased at least four lots south of Our Saviors Lutheran Church, built in 1951, and built two houses, one of which was occupied by the Gritzner family, Bill, Dorothy, Chuck and Jim. We bought the third lot, formerly Frank Clouse's pasture, and built and lived in our basement house for over a year until we completed the home. When the Gritzner boys outgrew their solidly built swing set, it was moved to our yard, where it still brings pleasure to young ones today.
Jim continues the story: He graduated from Spring Valley high school in 1965, went to college at Dakota Wesleyan U. in Mitchell, S.D., much into music. On graduation he became involved in broadcasting at local television and radio stations; some may remember his stint at KAUS, now KAAL, in Austin, and then on to Waterloo, Iowa. Jim changed focus; he received a master's degree in speech behavior at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. In 1976, he left broadcasting to attend Drake University School of Law in Des Moines, graduating in 1979. He practiced law in Waterloo and Des Moines before being appointed by President George W. Bush to a federal judgeship in 2002. In November 2011, he became a chief judge for the southern district of Iowa. Jim says he is well acquainted with another Spring Valley graduate, his friend Judge Donovan Frank.
Gordy and I knew the families well, and I can always say, "I knew them when..."
Getting back to the photo: at extreme left is Allen's Hall, built by Willard Allen in 1875. The building served multiple purposes over the years - the Allens lived in the west part, the rest was rented as a hall for town meetings, church services for Wesley Methodists, Baptist Sunday School, and was once a funeral parlor. In 1898, it briefly served as a business college and then a "writing school." Allen had donated land for the railroad depot that came through in 1870, and at the turn of the century, Allen's Hall was known as the handsome Crescent Hotel. About 1910, Tom Frankson and his partner, Christianson, formed Spring Valley Neck Yoke Mfg. to make steel neck yokes, employing 10 or more workers. Unfortunately, World War I's demand for steel curtailed production, and when the "horseless carriages" became ever more popular, neck yokes lost out and the company folded. (One can see samples of the steel neck yokes at the historical society museum.) The building was used for apartments for many years, and the last business to occupy the space was Lucian Tart's implement shop. In 1968, the creamery bought the site, leveled it, and built the warehouse we see today.
Burgess Lumber was a huge L-shaped facility that wrapped around Allen's Hall, with big doors on Park Street, as well. The empty space between the two buildings was once the location of the Miller Bros. Machine Shop. Albert Miller served as mayor, was president of the historical society at one point, and very active in civic affairs. At right in the photo, we see what appears to be a coal shed and a rail car on a siding. The railroad siding served not only the lumberyard but earlier had delivered huge blocks of stone at Knute Soland's Monument Shop along Park Street, closer to Broadway. The tall building at the center top began as our first electric light plant (wood fired!) in 1893, later converted to a feed grinding mill as seen in the photo. Yes, Park Street was a thriving thoroughfare into the 1960s.
Jim reports that in the mid '60s, Burgess sold to Botsford Lumber, which in turn sold to United Building Centers. With Bill Calloway's lumberyard almost across the street on Section Avenue, it is surprising they both thrived. Of course, we know both businesses are long gone; times change, and so does the face of Spring Valley.
Sincere thanks to His Honor James Gritzner for the photo.
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