LIMA — In August 1952, workers were preparing the J.J. Newberry store for a brighter future — which would include an escalator — when they came across a reminder of a darker past.
“A memento of the Brady gang will be eliminated when Newberry’s gets its new front,” The Lima News wrote Aug. 24, 1952. “There is a bullet hole in the metal frame of the display window to the south … It could be that the bullet is still in the steel support.” The Depression-era Brady gang visited Lima twice in early 1936. On the second visit they shot it out with Lima police officers, peppering the Newberry store with bullets and sending lunch counter patrons diving for safety.
Long before that trigger-happy gang drove into town for an encore armed robbery, jewelers, clothiers and other merchants had conducted business on the site of the Newberry store. Newberry’s lasted another 16 years at the site after 1952 before a changing retail economy forced its closure. The building was razed in 1987.
“Four score years ago,” the News wrote Dec. 12, 1926, “carpenters, perhaps six, and a few helpers, with dinner pails in hand, stopped at 135-137-139 N. Main St. Their mission was to erect a one-story frame structure where the residents of Lima and, in fact, most of the residents within a 30-mile radius, might trade.”
When they finished a “queer shaped building” stood on the site, according to the story. “It was just a single store room with a front high enough for a second floor. Projecting from the front was a canopy to protect the folks from the ravages of the elements.”
Jeweler Isaac W. Satterthwait, one of four Satterthwait brothers who had arrived in Lima around 1840, began operating a store in the Public Square around 1850 before moving into the building. After several years in the wood-frame building, as newer, brick buildings rose all around, Satterthwait decided it was no longer suitable for his business.
“Plans were drawn and a few weeks later another gang of workers, this time carpenters and brick layers, appeared on the scene ready to dismantle the time-worn frame building,” the News wrote. “This they did and in less than a year a brick building stood on the site. To the right was the palatial Empire Hotel.”
Satterthwait operated his jewelry store out of the Satterthwait block until his retirement in 1883. Richard N. Hughes, who served as an apprentice jeweler under Satterthwait and was associated with several other jewelers in the store after Satterthwait’s retirement, took over its operation in 1902. The block also housed the Boston Clothing Store — “one of the squarest dealing houses,” according to an 1888 newspaper ad — and later the Sol. Weisenthal clothing store.
In 1905, the News reported that the Brunswick bowling alleys would open in a building directly behind the clothing store. The building “has been very greatly remodeled and will be thrown open to the public tomorrow,” the newspaper noted Aug. 31, 1905.
By 1906 Satterthwait had relocated to California and that year sold the building to Henry Deisel, founder of the Deisel-Wemmer cigar company.
Weisenthal and the Brunswick bowling alley were still in business in 1912 when the George Kraft & Co. purchased the lease on the building. “Workmen are now engaged in the work of tearing down the two one-story buildings at the rear of the Deisel block which were formerly occupied by the Brunswick bowling alleys and a sheet metal shop,” the News reported Oct. 15, 1912. The building housing the Weisenthal store would then be extended to Cherry Alley, the News noted, adding that the Weisenthal store “is to be replaced in a few months by a five and ten cent store.”
The 1926 article described the building. “The Deisel block is built of pressed brick, three stories in height with a frontage of 50 feet on Main Street and a depth of 200 feet. At present it houses the Metropolitan store and Hughes and Son Jewelry store on the ground floor with office suites, apartments and an auditorium on the upper floor.” During a 1928 remodeling, the Metropolitan store took over the entire first story.
In 1931, J.J. Newberry’s signed a 20-year lease on the Deisel building. The store, the News reported March 1, 1931, “retails merchandise ranging in price up to $3.50.” Newberry’s, which at the time operated nearly 400 stores nationwide, was founded by John Josiah Newberry in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, in 1911.
Newberry’s got off to a rough start in Lima. “Loss estimated at more than $150,000 was caused early Tuesday morning in a fire of undetermined origin which swept the three-story Deisel building, 139, N. Main St.,” the News reported Sept. 19, 1933. “The fire which broke out in the early hours Tuesday morning wiped out the J.J. Newberry Co., a dancing academy and a dentist’s office. Shooting sparks and flying debris menaced scores of other buildings in the business district and for a time threatened to destroy the Leader store and the American building, two structures located on either side of the wrecked structure.” Six people were rescued from apartments in the building.
The fire, the News noted the following day, drew hundreds of gawkers to the scene but initially not a single firefighter. No one, the newspaper noted, had notified the fire department. Finally, the manager of the nearby Faurot Theater “conferred with a policeman suggesting the fire department ought to be notified.”
A month after the fire, the News announced that the rebuilding of the Deisel block would soon begin. “A one-story building will be put up extending from Main Street to the alley in the rear. A second story will extend from the front only about half way back. The first floor will be occupied by the J.J. Newberry store, which used the business room prior to the fire. Office space will be available on the second floor.”
The Newberry store reopened Feb. 21, 1934.
Next week: Dangerous day at the lunch counter.
Reach Greg Hoersten at firstname.lastname@example.org.