Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chariton's first brick building?

Appearances can deceive and that certainly is the case with the building on the right here, home to the South Central Mutual Insurance Association for many years. Located just north of the alley on the east side of the square, it has a facade that probably was added in the 1920s, a date suggested by its bricks, metal window frames and patterning.

A small bronze plaque mounted on the building some years ago gives a guestimated build date of "ca. 1900," close for the frontage but most likely off by 30 years or more when the building as a whole is considered.

In fact, I'd be willing to bet that this actually is Chariton's first brick building, nearing completion on Feb. 18, 1867, when Elijah Lewis stepped off a Western stagecoach from Albia (after a supper stop in Lagrange) into his new home, then a village of perhaps a thousand souls occupying small buildings of frame and log.

Elijah, then in his early 30s, a lifelong bachelor and with his brother, Evan, a pioneering Chariton miller, was an interesting character about whom I'll say more another time. By 1897, then in his 60s, he was editor of The Chariton Patriot, published by his nephew, Elijah Lewis Jr.

Feb. 18, 1897, marked the 30th anniversary of his arrival in Chariton and he published on that date in The Patriot memories of Chariton during those years under the headline, "Thirty Years."

When he stepped off the stage, Elijah wrote, "Oliver Palmer was just finishing his two story brick store on the east side, at that time the only brick building in town."

According to Lucas County's 1881 history, the site of the Palmer Building as well as the Knights of Pythias and Hickman buildings immediately north were parts of a lot with 82-foot frontage purchased by David Waynick on the first Monday in November 1849 --- the first public sale of lots in Chariton.

By 1881, according the history's author, Dan Baker, the south half of that larger lot --- by then divided into four commercial lots --- was occuped by "the dry goods and grocery houses of Palmer and Van Sickle."

If the age of the building is not reflected in its facade, the situation changes along the alley and in the rear. The nature of the brickwork, in most cases covered by multiple coats of paint and in the rear largely by stucco, is one indicator of age. In addition, the building has been stabilized at some point by insertion through it of cast iron rods, held by exterior plates visible along the alley.

And the fully arched headers of three windows on the second story in the rear (one converted to a door) and one along the alley also are indicators of what, for Chariton, is extreme age. As years passed, the arches of brick window headers flattened, then for the most part disappeared, replaced by stone, cast metal and, on secondary facades, simple metal plates. The alley facade of this building suggests that openings were punched through it at varying times as the years passed since all three types of headers are evident.

 Oliver Palmer occupied his new brick building for only about 10 years, passing it on initially to relatives who continued the family business name.

The Chariton Leader of July 7, 1877,  reported that Oliver was planning to sell out in Chariton and move to Kansas, and, on Aug. 22, that the move was imminent.

Thirty years later, The Chariton Leader of  Jan. 16, 1908, reported Palmer's death in Kansas as follows:

C.H. Palmer  received a telegram, last Friday, from Atwood, Kansas, informing him of the death, the previous day, Thursday, January 9, of his uncle, Oliver L. Palmer. This death brings up the memories of earlier days in Chariton and Lucas County. Thirty-five years ago O.L. Palmer was one of the best known men in this part of Iowa. He was then in his vigorous manhood and was one of the leading merchants in Chariton. He was a man of fine presence and business skill and men relied on his integrity and judgment. Mr. Palmer was a native of New York State but in his young manhood made an overland trip to California. This was in the palmy days of the gold excitement. Later he returned as far east as Burlington, Iowa, where he was temporarily engaged in business, thence to Chariton where he engaged in general merchandising, where he pursued trade with success. This was in the early fifties. Many years ago he removed to Kansas where he  carried on business quite extensively in the stock and ranch line. The causes of his death are not given but his nephew thinks liver and kidney trouble may have been instrumental as he was known to have been thus afflicted. For the past three years he had been residing with a daughter in Minnesota, but recently returned to Atwood, Kansas, where other children live. His wife died a number of years since but he is survived by two sons and three daughters. He was a brother of the venerable T.E. Palmer, of this city, and was a couple of years his junior.

O.L. Palmer was primarily a business man but always took a great interest in public affairs. In politics he was a Republican but during the Greeley campaign he did not endorse the administration of President Grant and ran on the Greeley and Democratic ticket for congress but was defeated --- we believe by Hon. H.J.B. Cummins.

Mr. Palmer was a man of upright character and the older citizens of the county will read of his death with the utmost sorrow.

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