From 1890’s Hardware Store to Present Day Business Hub
Growing up in 1960’s small town Iowa, “going uptown” to Main Street was something we looked forward to. The city park, school, Community Building, and uptown were the main hubs for community activities. My parents owned a business on Main and so, I think I spent more time there than most of my contemporaries. I was sent off to other businesses for supplies or errands. I was a frequent visitor to the post office which at that time was on Man Street and also the bank where I would bring the pennies from our tavern’s peanut machine to be counted by the magical mechanical coin sorter. I can still hear the sound of that machine vibrating the coins down to the correct position to be rolled in dull colored paper rolls. Fascinating stuff when you are ten.
Most of the time, though I was a wanderer. An aimless kid passing the time by exploring that one block long section of Main Street between Wilson and Clark streets. My favorites haunts were the two hardware stores; Hix’s and Barnes & Brinkmeyer’s and of course, our dime store with its alluring displays of wonderful items and oh so much candy.
My parents were friends of the Hix’s. We spent time with their families and so I felt very at home in their store. I could always count on Lindsay for a teasing and welcoming smile. Ed, his brother, always seemed a bit more reserved but my family had lived close to his at one time and so they were also friends. A trip to Hix’s meant tight aisles filled with all kinds of items, some of which I understood and many of which were a complete mystery. In the front of the store they kept the household items and some toys. I spent most of my time up towards the front, but whenever Lindsay and Ed would get busy with a customer, I loved to sneak off and explore the rest of the store. In the back, it was dark with creaking floors and seemed like a big adventure to me. I liked to catch a glimpse of the back room where I was sure the best stuff must be hidden.
I felt less at home at Barnes & Brinkmeyer’s. They were not friends of my parents, did not attend the same church as us, and I had no context for them other than at their store. There was no banter or visiting to be done there. I don’t mean to imply they were not friendly but, as a child you don’t kid around with adults you don’t know. In that situation, invisibility is the goal. In addition, there were a lot more things that a clumsy child could break in their store, so caution was always on my mind. My trips to their store were a quiet affairs but no less loved than the ones I made to Hix’s. The store was very large and whereas the Hix store seemed to have everything crowded altogether, items here were much more separate making them easier to see. The north part of the building contained the hardware. Old wooden bins with nails and screws; all the stuff needed to build or repair just about anything. The floor creaked and squeaked and provided it’s own sense of adventure. The building smelled of old wood and metal.
The south side of the store was where the real magic happened for me. In this room were the beautiful Frankoma pottery pieces with their lovely glazes in blue, greens, browns and oranges. As I recall this room also had some toys to drool over but for me the draw was always the pottery. They don’t make this pottery anymore and I only own one piece; a small orange and brown pitcher with a chip but it stands on my shelf as a reminder of those days and the place where I think I first noticed the beauty of an object.
By the time, I was at the height of my childhood in about 1968, the Barnes and Brinkmeyer building had been in continuous use as a hardware store for 77 years. The north portion of the building was built in 1891 by J. C. Walters. It was described in the local paper as being 94 feet deep with a 21 foot frontage and was “the first building in the town furnished with a handsome plate glass front.” It was two stories tall and sported an attached covered staircase on the exterior. It was designed for retail on the lower level and offices upstairs. According to newspaper accounts the upstairs has been used over the years for both business and residential purposes.
Originally from Cedar Falls, J. C. Walters first became a merchant in Dysart when he purchased the hardware business of Harrison and Freise in February of 1889. That business appears to have been housed in a small building at the corner of Wilson and Main, where the current building still stands. For a time, that building was moved to the middle of Wilson Street while the new building was built. It was then moved somewhere in town and served as a residence. At some point, Walters added the selling of implements to his hardware business.
In 1895, a 32 x 42 foot addition was added to the building. His brother-in-law, Mr. Beale, joined the business in 1896 and it was then known as J.C. Walters & Co. Hardware. In 1897, the paper noted that he was building a “big, fine home in town” for which he had red rock from Pipestone, Minnesota, shipped in for the foundation.
In the spring of 1900, the nearby town of Clutier was begun and J.C. built a second store there which was to be managed by his sons G.F. and Benjamin Walters. This building was described as a two story brick building next to the bank. That same summer, there was excitement in the Dysart store described in this article from the Traer Star Clipper:
In January of 1901, it was announced that J.C.’s sons, G.F. and Ben suddenly quit the store in Clutier and the stock from that store was sold to either John Parizek or Andy Ryan. The building was sold to John Horstman although a conflicting report shows it being sold to a Mr. Maine.
The Dysart store was expanded again in 1902 when an addition to the store room was added and remodeling of the upstairs was done to add two sleeping rooms and an office space for the Farmer’s Telephone exchange. Mr. Beale left the business in 1904. J.C. got out of the implement business, selling a half interest in this business to A.H. Schuhart of Pipestone, Minn., who along with his family moved to town and bought the Beale’s home. Another addition to the store was announced at that time as well as the addition of a cement sidewalk on the north side of the building.
In the late fall of 1904 it was announced that Mr. Walters had reached a deal to trade his store in Dysart for a farm in Minnesota. At that time, he was noted in the paper as having “done more for the improvement of Dysart than any other business man here. His extensive business interests require the attention of from five to seven clerks and they are always busy.” That deal fell through and then in January of 1905, J.C. sold one-half of the business to Arthur Schuhart.
In the summer of 1905, J.C. Walters sold his business in Dysart to his brothers, George and Harvey and the name was changed from J.C. Walters & Co. to Walters Hardware Company. A new corner entrance was added to the south building as well as a large plate glass window. After the change of ownership, the business started selling furniture in addition to hardware and implements.
J.C. and his wife sold the property they owned in Dysart. The house pictured above was sold to Rudolph Cold. Two residential lots on Main Street near the park were sold to Charles Thiele. In 1907, J.C. purchased a fruit ranch in Covina, California, where they planned to grow walnuts, figs, peaches, pears, plums and oranges. This venture only lasted about two years. The family were regular visitors to Dysart throughout the 1910’s and appear to have divided their time between Covina, California; Pipestone, Minnesota; Cedar Falls, Iowa; and Dysart.
In the fall of 1909, the wheels were set in motion for the Walters brothers to sell their building and business to three young men; Eugene Braden, Ed. Heineman and Walter Schmidt. They took ownership on January 1, 1910. At this time, the store’s name changed again to B.H.S. Hardware Company. According to the Dysart Reporter all three men were well known in the community; Heineman and Schmidt having been reared there and Braden having worked at the Klemme Hardware store (located directly across the street from the Walter’s building where the current Dysart State Bank sits) for many years.
This business appears to have been quite prosperous. This article from May of 1914, shows that not only did they sell hardware and furniture, they also served as a Ford dealer.
The three men operated the store together until Mr. Heineman’s death in January 1920. It was known after that as Braden and Smith Hardware.
From 1920 to 1940, the store continued operations. In August of 1940, due to Mr. Schmidt’s declining health, Mr. Braden became the sole owner of the business thenceforth known as Braden Hardware.
Due to poor health, Mr. Braden sold the two buildings to Howard Barnes on December 1, 1944.
According to a news article in the Waterloo Courier on July 27, 2009, Howard Barnes was joined in the business by his son, Bill Barnes, after Bill completed his military service and schooling in about 1947. They operated the business together for ten years until Howard’s death in 1957.
Kermit Brinkmeyer, Bill’s brother-in-law, took over Howard’s portion of the business in 1959. Together, they expanded the business to include appliances and on the advice of their wives, Margaret Brinkmeyer and Joan Barnes, added “things women use in the home” including the Frankoma. They expanded the walkway between the two buildings. Bill and Kermit retired and sold the building in 1994.
Between 1994 and 2006, the building was used by several different businesses and then starting in 2006, it was purchased by Deb Roettger who transformed it into the “Brick-a-Brack Building” which has served as a business incubator for several small businesses over the years. Deb’s Blacksmith Boutique where she welds old and rusty metal into highly sought after sculptures has been the constant through the years.
The old building looks much different now than it did in my childhood both inside and out but it has served the community well for almost 130 years. It is hard to imagine how many people have entered and existed the building in that time or how many friendly conversations have been had within its walls. Here’s wishing the building a long and useful future for the people of Dysart, Iowa.