Charles Culver Family of Cherry Valley

Charles Benson Culver, born in 1873 in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada, married Mary Adams, born in 1880 in Beath, Scotland, in 1903. The couple moved to Cherry Valley in 1906, where they opened the town’s first general merchandise store. Their home at 113 North Van Buren Street was where they raised their three children: John Classon, Charles David, and Ruby Mae. The store was a central hub until a devastating fire in 1928 destroyed it. Charles subsequently opened a gas station on the same lot. Both Charles and Mary died in 1956. Their descendants have since spread across various states, continuing the family legacy.

by Ruby Culver Rutishauser

Charles Benson Culver was born in 1873 in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada. Mary Adams was born in 1880 in Beath, Scotland. Charles (Charlie) Culver and Mary Adams were married in Chicago in 1903, and went to Rockford to make their first home. From Rockford they moved to Cherry Valley in 1906. They purchased their home at 113 North Van Buren Street in which they spent the rest of their lives.

Charlie and Mary Culver
Charlie and Mary Culver

They settled in Cherry Valley because of the promising business opportunity in starting the first general merchandise store in town. Their store was on the southwest corner of East State and Cherry Streets, directly across from the old bank, and diagonally across from the old post office. There was much business because Rockford was “too far away”. The population was growing, and a great number of farmers came from the surrounding areas.

Our home on Van Buren Street was a white frame with clapboard siding with a porch along the front. A few years later the porch was continued along the south side. The street was nothing more than a horse and buggy trail. Elm trees extended the full length of the street, creating a beautiful arch. Each house had a “horse block” where the horses were tied. All of our property from the house over to Elgin Street was planted in potatoes, corn, tomatoes, etc. for approximately the next forty years.

Three children were born to Charlie and Mary in this home. John Classon was born in 1909; Charles David, born in 1916; and Ruby Mae, born in 1914. We spent our early years here, attending the school, which was composed of five rooms, two grades to each room, including first and second year of high school.

There was one teacher to each two grades, or each room. My teachers through those years were: Miss Orpha Dornek, first and second grades, 1920-21: Mrs. Alchee Waddle, third and fourth, 1922-23; Mrs. Charlotte Gannon, fifth (I skipped sixth), 1924: Mrs. Ruth Meyers, seventh, 1925; Mrs. Marie Markham, eighth, (replaced Mrs. Meyers), 1926; William H. Brown, ninth and tenth, 1927-28. Miss Evelyn Patterson replaced Miss Dornek in 1922 for several years, followed by Agnes Schamberger.

Schooling in Cherry Valley brings happy memories of a huge playground, many hiding places, porches for games on rainy days, endless sidewalks for jumping rope, hopscotch, roller skating, the big outside pump where we all drank water from the tin cup hanging on it, programs for the public when we performed with excitement in beautiful crepe paper costumes made by teachers, mothers and ourselves, and the loud school bell that was heard all over town calling us to classes morning, noon, and recesses. We had no playground equipment of any kind, no organized playtime, but I treasure the memories of clean fun; the use of imagination and ingenuity in creating our own activities in our free time. I recall the joy and pride we had in making a “gymnasium” out of an old unused classroom filled with stored items. After obtaining permission from the principal, we swept, scrubbed and cleaned this room, using it happily for our two remaining years in the Cherry Valley School.

After the first two years of high school we attended 11th and 12th grades in Rockford. Travel to and from Rockford High School was via the interurban. I never dared to miss that car in the morning – there was only one, and no other way to get to school on time.

An amusing incident which happened about 1926; Bessie Brown (Landquist) lived with her parents, Mae and Will Brown, on the opposite corner, the northeast corner of State and Van Buren Streets. She was quarantined with small pox or scarlet fever. There was a farmer who brought his children in from the country daily to school via horse and wagon. So great was his fear that they would all catch the germs, they never went past the house, but instead traveled by way of Elgin Street.

My father was Police Magistrate for many years until about 1927. He told us about all those “fast drivers” (20 M.P.H.???) from those far away places whom he fined for speeding through the town. Someone stopped them – I know not whom or how, there was no police car, motorcycle, or uniformed policeman, and brought them to my father’s store, where he imposed the fine.

If there had been a modern fire truck, fire station, etc. in existence in 1928, perhaps the fire that occurred then would not have resulted in such great destruction in the downtown area of Cherry Valley. The date was January 25, 1928, when I was 13. It was just before noon and I was in school. The Methodist Church bell, the town’s fire alarm, began to clang wildly, endlessly. A few dongs were usually sufficient to call for volunteers for a bucket brigade, but this furious peeling of the bell had to be a desperate call for help. Looking out of the west school windows, we saw black smoke billowing to the clouds over the downtown area.

“Our store, our store,” I cried, running out of the school in a panic of fear and dread, hoping desperately that I was wrong. But then I saw what we had always dreaded – flames leaping, a volcano of smoke, yes, our corner store. I ran into our kitchen, shrieking, “Mama, Mama, the store is on fire”. Gasping in fright, she hurried away, admonishing me to “stay here, do not leave”, as I had been very ill with surgery during the summer.

From the front window, I watched the flames leaping higher over the trees and houses, blocking my vision. The smoke became blacker and more dense with explosion after explosion. “Papa, Papa, where are you?” I screamed inside, watching in terror. Little could I know then, but learned later, that my father, in his desperation to save his credit file, cash register, and safe had barely escaped from the falling east brick wall.

The Fire Departments from Rockford and Belvidere had been called, but six and seven miles then was a long, time consuming distance. Water hoses had to run from the river. Too late: The fire swept from one store to another,, consuming the C. B. Culver General Merchandise (two joining) Stores, the John Jordan Meat and Grocery Store, and the Ray Lee Hardware. All were two story buildings with basements.

I later found my dazed father next to the Post Office, sitting on a chair, head in hands, sobbing, shaken and mumbling in disbelief. “All those rubber boots (Ball Brand)! Hundreds of new rubber boots just arrived – all gone! Just last week the insurance man wanted me to take out more insurance. I said, ‘No, I don’t need it’. What will I do now? My lifetime of work gone. If only I could have saved those boots.”

I remember how the sidewalk along the east side of our store was raised about three feet above the street level, with rings imbedded in the cement to tie the horses when people came with their various wagons and buggies. Our east building was comprised of a large grocery department with pickle barrels, coffee grinder, boxes with glass windows full of cookies, crates and crates of fresh eggs brought in by the farmers. They were in the “egg candling” room where father tested each egg against a light to see if it was good. Sometimes they contained baby chick embryos.

Then there was a long glass enclosed display case containing jewelry, shelves of caps, mittens, gloves, overalls, (Oshkosh B’Gosh) and work shoes. The middle section by the side door held shelf upon shelf of the rubber boots. The large round pot-bellied stove and coal scuttle were in the center near the counter and cash register.

The adjoining west part of the store contained kerosene lamps, hardware, garden tools, etc. The rear area contained tanks of kerosene and oil. People brought their empty cans here to be filled for home consumption – kerosene cooking stoves, etc. Oil and kerosene, of course, frequently dripped on the floor in this process, but was carefully wiped up. However, over the many years the old wooden floors became thoroughly saturated, although dry in appearance. The fire, from all available observation, apparently started between the wall of this area and the John Jordan store. The weather was warm, and it was believed to be the result of spontaneous combustion and tinder box conditions.

Nothing remained, not even the walls, except intense heat in the blackened holes of rubble and the popping explosions of canned goods for several days.

Father built a gasoline station on our two lots in 1928. I believe it is still remaining. (the present Sunoco station)

Both Charles and his wife, Mary, died in 1956.

John Classon Culver and his wife, Stella, presently live in Monroe City, Missouri. They have no children.

Ruby Mae Culver Rutishauser and her husband, Marvin, live in Brookfield, Wisconsin. They had four children born to them. Karl was born in 1938 and died in 1965. Karen and her husband, William Irwin, presently live in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. They have three children, Michael, born 1969; Anthony, born 1971; Chandra Ann, born 1974. Kristine Rutishauser was born in 1949, and her sister, Kathryn, was born in 1952.

Charles David Culver and his wife, Dorothy, live in Brownsville, Texas. Their daughter, Beverly, and husband, Brian Nelson, live in Rockford with their three sons’, Mark, Christopher, and Jay Charles. These are the birthdates of the children: Mark, March 12, 1959; Christian, April 17, 1964; and Jay Charles, January 26, 1971.

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