Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Building Detective: Piper's

Joe L. Piper, who purchased during 1908 the grocery store still operating at the intersection of Braden Avenue and North Grand Street as Piper's, might be surprised to learn that the business is now, during 2013, the oldest on the square with an enduring name. He would have no trouble recognizing the Piper's Building, however, 14 years older than the business and looking much as it always has.

So far as we know, the Piper's Building is only the second to stand on this single-front lot. Col. Warren S. Dungan, prominent Chariton attorney, state legislator and Iowa lieutenant governor just home from Civil War service, purchased the property on Dec. 6, 1866, from Edward T. Edginton, among other things a real estate speculator, and probably during the next year built on it a two-story frame building with commercial space below and his and other offices on the second floor.

During 1893, Dungan was elected Iowa's lieutenant governor and moved to Des Moines for his two-year, 1894-95, term. As a result, he closed his law office and sold the building on Jan. 12, 1894. The purchaser was Lizzie Eikenberry, recent widow of Daniel Eikenberry, one of Chariton's most prominent residents. The commercial tenant was Fred C. Stanley, at the time Chariton's most prosperous grocer.

Daniel Eikenberry, who died at age 68 on Oct. 11, 1893, had left his widow and two minor children, William A. and Sarah E, a substantial fortune. Lizzie, an astute businesswoman, managed her share of the estate. Daniel --- with Lizzie's assent --- named his friend, Henry Kubitshek, to manage the shares of his children. Property on the square at that time was considered among the best possible investments for liquid assets.

In addition to the Dungan lot, Lizzie also purchased the two single-front lots immediately to the west during 1894, both also occupied by wood-frame buildings. It probably was the viability of Stanley's business that motivated her to invest in a fine new brick building to house it while leaving the other two frame buildings much as she found them to generate rental income.

At roughly the same time, Kubitshek decided to invest some of the Eikenberry children's assets in an equally fine but larger double-front brick building for J.T. Crozier, another of Chariton's most prosperous merchants, on the southeast corner of the square.

Mrs. Eikenberry's intentions were announced in The Chariton Herald of Feb. 22, 1894: "Among the prospective building improvements for this season is a new two story brick building, to be erected for Mrs. Eikenberry, on the Dungan corner recently purchased by her."

In order not to disrupt Stanley's business, permission was obtained from the Chariton City Council to move the old frame building sideways off its foundation into what now is North Grand Street so that the business could continue to operate. The same strategy was adopted for Crozier before construction of his new building began.

On March 30, 1894, The Chariton Democrat reported that "preparations are being made to move the building occupied by Fred Stanley out into the street, while the new building is being erected."

The new building was completed during July and Fred Stanley celebrated by, among other things, investing in a fine new delivery wagon. "It is a beauty," The Democrat of July 13 reported, "and is the work of Schreiber & Co. Fred says it is available for picnic parties, etc., and that he won't charge any more for groceries now than he did before he purchased the wagon."

Lizzie Eikenberry continued to own the three north-side buildings until her own death at the relatively young age of 49 on Dec. 30, 1901. They then passed into the joint ownership of her children, W.A. Eikenberry and Sarah (Eikenberry) Sigler.

During May of 1904, the Eikenberry heirs sold the three buildings for $20,000 to Chariton's I.O.O.F. lodge, which then announced plans to remove the two frame buildings and construct in their place the fine new I.O.O.F. Building that still stands in that location, just west of the grocery building.

Fred Stanley continued to operate his store in the 1894 building until he retired during late December of 1908 and sold the business to Joe L. Piper. The Chariton Herald of Dec. 10, 1908, reported that transaction as follows:


A deal was consummated Monday of this week whereby J.L. Piper purchased the Fred C. Stanley grocery stock, fixtures and good will and he is now in possession of the establishment. Mr. Piper is not new to the grocery business having conducted a store at Oakley for six years, in connection with his brother, R.D. Piper, and for two years after his brother came to Chariton. The new proprietor of the Stanley store has lived in Chariton almost five years and is quite well known by most citizens of this town. He has been in the railway mail service for some time and is glad to get back into the business he is so well acquainted with and likes. Until he can be relieved of his duties in the mail service the establishment will be in charge of Mr. Stanley and all customers and friends of the retiring proprietor will be as kindly treated in the future as they have in the past.

The I.O.O.F. Lodge retained ownership of the grocery building as an income-generating property until Jan. 1, 1913, when Piper purchased it. Since that date, the business and the building have had the same owners.

When Joe L. Piper purchased the building, the rear of the lot was occupied by a wood-frame annex that may have been the original 1867 building in its final incarnation. During 1922, that building was demolished and the current rear third of the Piper's building, brick rendered in stucco, was constructed. The Herald-Patriot of Aug. 10, 1922, reported upon this project as follows:

"Workmen have finished tearing down the old Piper Grocery produce building on the alley way at the rear of the store and are now laying the foundation for a new and modern ware room to be built on as part of the store building proper. The new room will be 30 x 22 1/2 feet."

The store continued to operate under various configurations of family ownership until Joe L. Piper's son, Bob, and his wife, Ruth, became sole owners in 1946. After Bob Piper's death during 1987, Jim and Anne Kerns took over the business while retaining the Piper's name and traditions. It passed to their daughter, Jill Kerns, in 1999 and she continues to operate it. Under Jill's ownership the Braden Avenue front was restored after brickwork began to sag. Beyond that, the building looks much as it did when Fred Stanley moved in 120 years ago.

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