Early Rock Island Businesses

Early Rock Island Businesses

The first brick store in Rock Island was built by Lemuel Andrews, and is still in existence, just east of the Court House, and now occupied by Mrs. Roessler, adjoining the old frame house built and occupied by Mr. Andrews, and long occupied by Mrs. Benjamin Cobb. This old brick building was a general store, kept by Andrews and Mc-Masters. Mr. Andrews later building on the site of the present E. P. Reynolds’ homestead, a good brick residence with a large porch around three sides, and facing the slough, beside the county road, where the railroad tracks now are. Mr. Andrews afterward built the large, costly mansion known as the Cable residence. He also built the first saw and grist mill in the lower end of town, in 1841. The first boat yard was established by J. C. Holt, in 1841, succeeded by Bailey and Boyle, about where the present Arsenal viaduct bridge is located. They later established a large general store in a new brick block, on the present site of the Mitchell and Lynde block. The principal early-time book store was that of H. A. Porter and Brother, in 1849, located on the south side of Illinois Street, between Buffalo and Eagle Streets. At one time their chief clerk was Richard Crampton, who arrived here from New York May 1, 1854, and ever since has been in the book business in this city. H. A. Porter and Brother went to Chicago in 1858, where they established the Chicago Type Foundry. Mr. Crampton succeeding to their book business, later forming a partnership with John G. Devoe, who at one time was a proof reader for Horace Greeley on the old New York Tribune, the firm becoming Devoe and Crampton. They started in at the old stand, afterwards moving to Frank Warren’s old store, where Sam Wright now is, and then to the old post office building of L. M. Webber, on which site Miss Byrnes is now in business. Later they moved into a new building erected by Tom Plummer, the old livery man, in the center of the same block, where his old livery stable was, the first story being below the street. The building was quite a distance from the sidewalk, having a very wide and long platform making a carriage way to the second story, nearly even with the street. Afterwards the firm moved across the street to the Peter Fries building, located nearly on the site of the old W. H. Whitman residence, which Mr. Fries and family at one time occupied, where Young and McCombs now are. Devoe and Crampton’s store was the political and newspaper headquarters of the city, everybody going there after supper for the Chicago papers and talk. Those were lively, chatty evenings. At one time they had a prominent elevated sign in front of the store on the outer edge of the sidewalk representing a very large wheel, the spokes of which advertised their wares, and on the rim was the motto by which the establishment was long known- “The Moral Center of the Intellectual World.” Where Bengston’s block is, in the early fifties, stood an old two-story long frame building, called Doty’s Row, built in the forties. In 1855 Smith and Lathrop leased forty feet of the ground on the corner for twenty years, at a yearly rental of four hundred dollars and taxes, and tearing down the old Doty Row, they built a three-story brick block, which they later sold to E. H. Smythe. It was called the E. H. Smythe block, a covered stairway running up the outside of the building, as does the present Bengston block, built on this old site in 1875. E. H. and H. A. Smythe were old clothiers here, having been preceded by Knox and Company. The chief caterers were Mr. and Mrs. Butcher, two respected colored people, who will be remembered by a great many of the old timers. At their restaurant the best supper, game, steaks and chops, could be had, none better since their day; game, especially, being very plentiful. Quail could be bought for twenty-five cents per dozen in those days, and prairie chickens in comparison. Mrs. Butcher often served families at their home parties. The Butchers were located in a good sized frame house, back of the old Rock Island House toward the river, on old West Eagle Street. They had an unusually bright, smart son, and there was no better dressed man in town than Al. Butcher. Dame Rumor says he used to wax the white boys at poker; no names mentioned. He paid a short visit here a year ago from Memphis, his home now, where he was made provost marshal after the War of the Rebellion. The main provider for the inner man was old Fred Ridenbaugh, who conducted the old Young America – called the Empire-on Market Square, a place where the best men in town went for a supper, oyster stew, or drink-business men, lawyers and doctors. At his demise, according to his desire, the funeral was held from the First Presbyterian Church, its pastor, Reverend S. T. Wilson, officiating. One of the very early butcher shops, in 1852, was that of L. Buttrick, situated in Market Square, near the present drinking fountain and hay scales. It was a small, one-story frame building, boards running up and down, with a small shed addition in the rear, and all whitewashed. The first foundry and machine shop was established by Webber, Boyd and Company, in 1849, on the corner of Illinois and Broad-way Streets, succeeded by C. C. Webber and Company, and known as the Union Foundry. One door east, in 1855, was established the office of Lowry, Thomas and Company, proprietors of the Carbon Cliff Coal Mining Company. In 1853 N. B. and T. J. Buford built a foundry and machine shop on Water Street east of Buffalo. Another good old foundry man, an expert, was W. H. Thompson, who in 1856 had the Vulcan Foundry near Broadway and Moline Avenue, facing what is now Twenty-fourth Street. His son, David C. Thompson, for the past thirty-six years superintendent of the foundry at Rock Island Arsenal, became, under the tutelage of his father, an adept. W. H. Thompson was a great ” Bobby Burns” man, and always recognized his birthday. He could quote Burns galore, and with the genuine Scotch idiom. John Bulley, an Englishman, in 1855 kept a crockery store on the corner of Buffalo and Rock River Streets, and was an importer of china, crockery and glassware. The building was a long one-story frame building, the boards running up and down, and white-washed both inside and outside. He was commonly spoken of as the “bully man.” Lee and Wilmans had another crockery store in 1854, in a frame building just east of the present Central Presbyterian Church, north of the Court House. John Bengston came here in 1862, clerking in the drug store of C. H. Fahnestock, in the center of the block east of Buffalo Street. The store was conducted afterwards by Fahnestock and Lewis, and then by Charles A. Benser, who moved to the corner of Eagle and Illinois Streets, the present place of T. H. Thomas, where the old corner has had Cook, Sargent and Parker’s bank, the grocery stores of M. S. Herrick, and Charles M. Knox, son of Joe Knox, one of our old time lawyers. There have also been two drug stores on this site. J. K. Bard, in the middle sixties, kept a grocery store called the “Painted Barrels,” located under Dart’s Hall. The store took its name from a prominent elevated sign of a barrel painted in varied colors. In the centre of the block between Sixteenth and Seventeenth Streets, in the early sixties, used to be a large sized nursery display grounds for the Hakes Nursery, which was in the rear of Holmes Hakes residence, now Joseph Rosenfield’s residence, on Seventh Avenue near Eighteenth Street. A two-story brick building was built there afterwards, occupied by W. C. and H. T. Wadsworth as a dry goods store; they were succeeded by Mitchell and Parsons. Next door west, in 1854, was the grocery store of Gray Brothers, Tom and Jessie. Near where Carse’s Block now is, a heavy set man, known by the name of “Puff and Windy Smith,” had a dry goods and general store. Henry Honsman started a stove store and tin shop in 1845, in the center of the post office block on Illinois Street, next door to a butcher shop kept by James Copp, senior, and his son, George. Mr. Honsman some time later moved to the present Buford Block, leaving Rock Island for Denver in 1863. He was succeeded by Hass and Kane, and afterwards by Michael Kane, J. B. Dan-forth being a silent partner. In 1855 George Whisler kept a grocery and seed store next to Copp’s meat market; next door was Eric Okerberg, who came to Rock Island in 1851, said to be the first watchmaker in Rock Island County. In 1852 David Bowen and brother kept a one-story, good sized frame grocery store on the present post office corner. In 1862 David Don opened a stove store and tin shop on Illinois Street just east of the present Illinois Theatre. Robert Don, in 1860, ran a bakery where the Beecher property is, just west of Carse’s Hall. The old-time baker was Charley Yates, on Illinois Street east of Buffalo, and then Jake Aster on Market Square. For years Ernest Krell was baker, confectioner and caterer; always ready to assist the ladies at their church socials. W. B. Sargent started a small grocery store in 1860 en the corner of Illinois and Washington Streets, where the Peoples National Bank stands, afterwards having as a partner, Harry Williams, then David Hawes. After Major C. W. Hawes, his son, returned from the Army, he bought his father’s interest. The store was a small frame building, painted a reddish brown, and Sargent and Hawes used to advertise it as the “Dilapitated Corner.” It made way for future improvements. Mr. Sargent and his son, Nute, in 1868, bought out the grocery store of J. B. Plummer, under the old Rod-man House. Warnock and Kelly started the first soap factory, prior to 1855, advertising as manufacturers of “candles, variegated soaps, and common soaps, and dealers in soda-ash and rosin.” This manufactory was near the boat yard. In December, 1859, Archie and Tom Shaw commenced pork packing on the present site of James S. Gilmore’s packing house, and continued until 1870, when they went to Chicago, and James S. Gilmore succeeded to the business, which he has carried on ever since, making a continuous pork packing business for over forty-eight years at the same place. Joseph and Mayer Rosenfield started business in 1856, in hides and leather findings, in a one and one-half story building next to Gray Brothers’ grocery store, on the north side of Illinois Street, between Buffalo and Eagle Streets, afterwards moving to the Iglehart corner, then to the N. B. Buford Block, east of Carse’s Hall, and afterwards to more commodious quarters at 1628 Second Avenue.


City of Rock Island 


Source: Historic Rock Island County, pub. Kramer & Company, Rock Island, Illinois, 1908

1 thought on “Early Rock Island Businesses”

  1. This is fascinating. I am looking to research information from slightly later on – namely the 1920’s. I have acquired a number of printing plates that relate to Mae’s Grocery, 400 Seventh Avenue, Rock Island, Ills. I think these plates were used to create adverts in local newspapers along with, possibly, promotional cards given out to existing customers. I am unable to find any digitised newspapers from that era but will continue to look. If anyone has photographs of that address in the mid-twenties or any other information I would be thrilled to hear from you.

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