A History of Downtown Willow Springs Part 3
Wed, 11/02/2022 - 1:39pm admin
Continuing our series on downtown Willow Springs we return to Center Street, turn east onto Main Street, and look at the buildings on East Main Street. Currently, the Walgreen's Pharmacy/Ferguson Drug, at 101 East Main, the history of this corner is long. In the late 1800s and early 1900s T.E."Pop" Austin had a barn sitting on this lot. In 1904 he tore the barn down and built a brick building where he operated a general store for a quarter century. He carried a full line of groceries and dry goods and was helped by his sons Raymond and Talbird. Harry Lovan, a grandson of T.E. Austin, named his son Talbrid. In the mid-1920s, the building served as the power company office. The Ferguson Drug identity came when Charles and Bryant Ferguson moved their store on Center Street to this corner in 1928. Tom and Sadie Ruth Ferguson owned the business in the 1960s and 1970s, and Steve and Ginny Norman bought the store in 1982.
103 East Main, now the home of the Privette Law Office, was once attached to the building at 101 East Main with a shared roof and high, pressed tin ceilings. In the early 1920s, it served as the United States Post Office. It has housed a furniture and antique store and a bakery. I remember when Doc's Pool Hall was quartered there. Steve Privette purchased the building in 1978, and it still houses the Privette Law Office.
111 East Main was the office of notary J.R. Lovan in the early 1920s. The building was torn down, and a small park was created with a gazebo. The Willow Springs World War Honor Roll sign stood here.
The building at 113 East Main was built in 1900, and various businesses have been housed here, including a yarn sales company and, most recently, a health foods store.
155 East Main was known for years at the location of Shorty's Cafe, owned by "Shorty" Stuart. It was also another location for a notary office run by J.R. Lovan and was a U-Save Mart. Presently Willow Ann-Tiques, owned by Judy and Jim Vocak, is open for business there.
Dirt Road Comics now occupies 117 East Main. The building was built in the early 1900s and used by J.Nolan Wilton as the Cyclone Racket variety store, his first of many businesses in Willow Springs. For years this location was known as Burns Furniture and Undertaking. Harold Roberts and Rose Marie ran Bill's Dollar Store there, followed by Mary Holt's Oak Peddler Store.
121 East Main was the Willow Springs Senior Center, built around 1900 and was owned by the City of Willow Springs for many years, and is currently owned by Wendell Bailey.
123 East Main is one of Frank Sass' brick buildings, so prominent at the 4-way stop. This one was built in the early 1920s of pressed brick, leaving behind the tradition of locally made bricks. Frank housed the State Bank of Willow Springs in the 1920s and served as a banking location until 1985. It housed a shoe shop for a short period. Willow Springs City Hall and the Willow Springs Police Station were the next occupants until it was sold to Wendell Bailey.
125 East Main, formerly the home of the Howell County News, was originally attached to the Charles Ferguson building, and the evidence of an arched doorway is seen in the brick wall shared with the "Fergy." Now the H&M Ranch Store, I remember photos on the front identifying it as Moody's Market, where I'm told a kid could find a really good ice cream cone. I remember Wayne Becker's Jewelry Store at this location in the 1970s. It was also an insurance agency and a video store.
The next location exemplifies the plight that faces so many of these older buildings on Main Street. Built by James Alexander Ferguson and partners in 1893, the business operated as Ferguson, Lucas & Kennedy, or Ferguson, Chase & Kennedy stores. Frank Sass owned the building for a while, and his name was emblazoned on its front. The thirty-by-ninety-foot brick building at 127 East Main also carried the name Lovan Brothers on its front until, in 1912, Charles Ferguson became the store's owner and proprietor. His specialty was quality clothing, and the connecting building offered a line of groceries. The store fixtures, including large three-way mirror sets and ornate wooden shelving, remained in the store until the 1990s. In 1993 the building was vacated by its last owner and not maintained. The physical deterioration continued with water infiltrating the building until a wall collapsed onto the sidewalk along Harris Street. There was a lot of public clamoring to tear the building down, and a debate over the building's fate was carried out in local newspapers and regional television stations.
In February 2003, the Willow Springs Community Foundation purchased the condemned building from Oscar Davis in California. The building continued to deteriorate and became a community issue for safety. In 2005, I wrote a $250,000 Community Development Block Grant with the idea that the problem would be resolved within a year. I had a lot to learn. With the installation of an elevator, new HVAC, and other improvements, the restoration price tag ended up almost double, taking another three years and a lot of volunteer effort. It is arguably the strongest building downtown, with a sizeable timbered frame supporting the three brick thick walls and sheetrock walls inside. An open house was finally held in August 2009, celebrating the near completion of the building and opening it for public use.
Crossing Harris Street, we proceed east to 201 East Main and Frank Sass' three-story "skyscraper" built in 1910, where a barn had stood. The Whitten-Sass Hardware firm occupied the building from 1913 through 1925. John Whitten and Adolph Sass owned the building until 1930. Gary Holloway owned the building in the 1970s, and in 1982 Bobby and Karen Pitts bought the building and used the upper floors as a residence; the first floor was a Radio Shack franchise. In recent years it has been a bar, coffee shop, and beauty supply store, and today is home of the Willow Tree Restaurant.
The back of the Whitten-Sass building housed Fatty Anson's blacksmith shop for years. Anson's smithy was moved behind Lovan Lumber Company on First Street before it closed.
Next door, at 205 East Main, we come to the Star Theatre and Star Annex. The building greatly predates its use as a theatre. The building was finished in 1905 and seems to have ushered Willow Springs into the automotive age with a business that sold automotive parts, tires, and batteries from the Model T through the Model A era. In February 1928, Adolph J. Sass hired local contractor J.O. Brown to remodel the building at this location into a "modern theatre on the ground level." Adolph inherited the old Star Theatre location in the Opera House across Main Street. He went to talkies and air conditioning in 1930 and lit a marquee in 1931. Adolph and his wife sold the Star to Dick Fisher in 1945, who operated the Star until 1967, when he sold the business to Jim Taylor of Houston. Taylor was killed in a plane crash in 1972. His widow lived above the annex and ran a clothing shop below. In1982, the Star Annex was Frederick's Pizza.
213 East Main is another park and green space downtown. Known now as "Star Park," the space was donated to the Willow Springs Community Foundation by US Bank. The building that stood here was built around 1900. Garrett Graham of Pomona owned the building which housed Simpson's Donut Shop in 1982. Graham was also a jeweler, and the building was home to a print shop in the 1920s.
219 East Main is another building built by Frank Sass on the northwest corner of Walnut and Main Streets. Sass built the building in 1935 and operated a nearby gas service station. A blacksmith shop was here for several years and was the home of James Motor Company for decades and the Dream Car Store in 1982. Today the building houses Coulter Heating and Air.
Crossing Walnut Street to the 300 block of Main Street, this corner has been a service station for as long as I can remember. Frank Sass operated a gas station in the early 1920s on this side of the intersection in addition to a station across the road. I think the first Sass station was in Coulter's parking lot. Marshal Ogle worked a Sinclair service station for many years, and Randy's Service station was first located here.
A cycle of building and renewal followed by long-term deterioration of the buildings downtown is tied to occupancy. When a business leaves, maintenance often ends. Willow Springs has some hard decisions to make in the future. For example, the old W.A. McClellan building isn't far from irretrievable damage, and the price tag for restoration is close to the price of a new replacement building. Even the cost of destruction and removal is prohibitive. We have many vacant buildings downtown though some progress has been made in recent months in filling downtown storefronts.
Our snapshot of downtown Willow Springs through the years is incomplete. I've been gathering a lot of business information from readers and period sources and will make a list of businesses in each location through the years. I'll plan on sharing that in the future.
I grew up just four blocks from the downtown area. At an early age, I was allowed to walk to town, usually with my siblings or alone. My earliest recollection of downtown is from the late 1950s before we got a television. My parents would take us in the car on a weekend night and park near the four-way stop. There we would sit and watch traffic (Highways 60/63 came through town) and, with the windows rolled down, visit with others milling along the sidewalk doing something similar.