Willow Springs' Buggies and Stoves Building
Wed, 11/25/2020 - 1:45pm admin
Following the announcement a month ago of the purchase of the "Tumble Down Main Street Building" (100 East Main) by the Main Street Willow Springs group, I received many inquiries from several persons interested in the building's history. Because of the loss over the years of the earliest Willow Springs newspapers, gathering a history appeared to be a challenging undertaking. It has been.
It seems most of the historical focus has shifted a block east of the intersection of Main and Center Streets, where the building in question is located, to the four-way-stop at Main and Harris.
In the period when this building was built, Main Street was called Second Street, as designated in the original town plat. Main Street before 1900 would have been First Street, or Front Street, along the railroad tracks. The street leading from the railroad depot northward to Second Street was named Center Street, also on the original plat, so named because it was the community center. The town center shifted to the 4-way and the railroad viaduct bridge with the arrival of the automobile. Second Street also became Highways 60/63 when highway traffic went through town before it was bypassed. These highways had different designations, but I'm sure I already have you confused!
Let's call the building in question "Buggies and Stoves," because that is how I have often heard it referred to, because of the enormous sign painted on the brick wall of the building facing Main Street. It is still faintly visible, though over a hundred years old.
It is hard to fix a date on the building's construction, though the style appears to me to be a little older than the Charles Ferguson building built in 1893. I think it possibly dates from the mid to late 1880s. It featured an ornate, rather large Mesker facade of stamped steel, which would have been brought here by railroad from St. Louis after 1882. Much of that facade at the top of the building has fallen over or off. I'm writing this in my library at home; perhaps I can pin things down a bit better on my next trip to the county offices.
The earliest reference I located referring to the business occupying the building, dated 1900, was found in a strange place, a national trade magazine. It announced that Watchorn and Meyers of Willow Springs had "traded their stock of hardware to W.A. McClellan of Willow Springs." In partnership with a man named Whitman, McClellan was operating "a hardware store, farm implement, and wagon and buggy business in the building. McClellan and Whitman dissolved their partnership in 1902, and McClellan ran the store until 1909, when he sold out to another Willow Springs group.
McClellan took the proceeds from the sale to buy another hardware business in Springfield in 1910. The Springfield News-Leader announced the deal in June 1910. They wrote, "By a big deal which has just been closed, the big hardware concern formerly known as the Leonard Hardware Company, becomes the McClellan Hardware Company, owned by Mr. W.A. McClellan as president, Mr. A.W. McClellan as vice-president, and Mr. O.R. Paul, secretary, and treasurer. Mr. W.A. McClellan has an extensive acquaintance throughout the section as he was formerly in business in the eastern portion, thus bringing to the new location a thorough knowledge of the needs of his patrons."
McClellan sold his business here to Protiva-Horak & Company of Willow Springs, who greatly expanded it. Their inventory expansion necessitated building two large warehouses along First Street, which burned in the big railroad fire of May 1915. Sparks from a locomotive from a passenger train set the roof of one warehouse on fire, spread throughout the town along the tracks destroying several businesses, railroad property, two homes, and the Catholic church. The Protiva-Horak loss was estimated at ten thousand dollars and the railroad loss at eighty thousand.
The 1917 Willow Springs High School yearbook "The Willamizzou" carried a profile of the business "Protiva-Horak & Company," writing:
"Ranking high among the commercial concerns in the Ozarks is the firm of Protiva-Horak & Company, dealers in hardware and all its accessories. This firm opened its doors under the present management in 1909. The stock at that time was one of the largest and best in South Missouri, and it has since been added to and enlarged until it now excels most stores in cities many times the size of Willow Springs."
"The stockholders in this co-partnership are Thomas Protiva, John Protiva, Stanley Horak, and H.M. Farquharson. Mr. Thomas Protiva, the manager, has proved himself to be a capable and veritable business getter. Always attentive and accommodating, he is ever ready to explain the intricacies of some new labor saving device, built specially to lift the load of the toil from off the shoulders of the over-worked housewife, or to aid the thrifty farmer make a stalk of corn grow where a sassafras thrived before. Mr. Protiva has extended the business of the firm until now the trade territory covers a radius of twenty-five to fifty miles."
"The other members of the firm are all employees of the Frisco - Mr. John Protiva and Mr. Horak being bridge foremen while Mr. Farquharson is roadmaster. Much of the business of the firm is of a wholesale nature with firms in the nearby towns. The business is located at the corner of Second and Center streets in the main business part of town. The building is 50x100 feet, two floors and a basement. Near the railroad tracks on Front Street, the firm has recently constructed (replacing those destroyed by fire) a 50x100 feet concrete warehouse. Inside the main store building and the warehouse are thousands of dollars worth of hardware. The many special lines handled include the International Harvester Company's farm machinery, Studebaker wagons and buggies, Moore's Majestic Ranges, and American Fence. To the already large stock, the firm has this spring added a full line of automotive accessories and supplies."
A large freight elevator allowed wagons and farm equipment to be hauled to the top floor, where they were shown or stored. With knowledge of much of town, a mule was utilized at the loading dock of the store, between the two warehouses and the railroad.
The store continued to flourish. In October 1930, the Protiva-Horak company bought out the Whitten-Sass Hardware Company, located in today's Mugs Coffee building. At the time, that building was owned by Frank Sass. The stocks of both companies were combined, making the firm one of the largest in the state. It appears that inventory was moved to the building at the 4-way and operated as the Whitten-Sass Hardware Store. The empty store at Main and Center, the subject of this article, also became the property of Frank Sass, who leased in April 1935 to Karl Hoffman of West Plains, who opened a "Ladies Ready to Wear" store.
Hoffman quit the business in Willow Springs two years later. An uninsured theft of over five thousand dollars of clothing soon after they opened didn't help.
In June 1937, James Old of Old Brothers Mercantile in Thayer moved into a newly remodeled store at this location, featuring ready-to-wear clothing for men and women. From what I can gather, this business operated at least into the 1950s, probably a lot longer, and the Old Brothers acquired more stores in Cabool, Mountain Grove, West Plains, and Houston. Some of these stores were still in business when I was in high school in the 1970s.
With an entrance to the building's basement on Main Street, separate enterprises operated at various times, including a "Duck Pin" bowling alley and a pool hall. The front of the building has always been on Center Street.
Once the Old Brothers left the building, it changed hands several times, and in 1946 was purchased by Basil and Bobby Headrick of Willow Springs. I have found a couple of references to a Headrick Store, but no indication of what they sold.
In 1951 the Protiva-Horak Company called it quits at the 4-way in Willow Springs. A vast inventory of hardware was taken to the National Auction Company in Springfield and auctioned off, primarily to other hardware dealers.
According to research done by the Willow Springs 2005-2006 Sixth Grade CAT class, as the building was bought and sold several times, it has been "an insurance office, news office, a roofing company, a coffee shop, and a pizza shop." I can recall the Kendall family operating a restaurant there for many years during my youth; also, the L&M Cafe run by Betty Durnell. In 1973 Joe Martin opened a barbershop in the east end of the building, which is still in business. The rest of the building has been vacant for some time.
Obviously, this is a skeleton history of the building at 100 East Main. I figured writing this might help gather additional information desired by the Main Street group as they start toward restoration and saving the building. It needs a name, and I propose the Buggies and Stoves moniker because the Sixth Grade CAT class thought it was the name of a business there at one time. I think it is kind of catchy, and hey, the sign is still there.
Feel free to correct my feeble efforts at gathering a preliminary history. I will convey any additional information gathered to the restoration group and perhaps find enough for a second article.