Thursday, March 17, 2016

Every building has a story to tell ...

I posted last week about removal of 1970s shingled arcades from building fronts on the east side of the square and promised to come back and take a closer look at facades exposed for the first time in 40 years and the structures behind them. So here we go.

The most northerly building affected by arcade removal actually was the 1894 Knights of Pythias building (left), but the awning there was taken down late last year. The 1925 front of the 1866-67 Palmer building (right) was fully exposed by the more recent demolition project. The Knights of Pythias building is involved in the Facade Improvement Project --- arcade removal was mandatory for those buildings; the Palmer building isn't part of the project.

Preliminary work already has been done to the Knights of Pythias facade and the Palmer facade proved to be in very good repair when the arcade came down. The dark rust-colored paint was visible under the arcade; the lighter paint is older, covered by the arcade roof. The beautifully framed street-level storefront of the Palmer facade, exposed when the arcade came down, as well as the metal-framed windows on the second floor appear to be a classic William Lee Perkins design, but there is no record to confirm that.

The Knights of Pythias building, constructed during 1894, originally housed retail operations on its first floor and offices on its second. It is one of the few buildings on the square to retain its original cast metal cornice containing both the year of construction and the name of the organization that commissioned it. The cornice will be fully restored.

This structure also can be documented as a design by prolific Chariton architect O.A. Hougland. The Chariton Herald of March 15, 1894, reported, "Architect O.A. Hougland was awarded, on bid, last Monday, the contract for the new Knights of Pythias building, and if the weather permits, excavation will begin early next week."

The Knights, once one of Chariton's largest fraternal organization, built this structure as an investment on the site of a frame building owned by Julia Palmer when it burned during 1893. Frame buildings located immediately to the north also were destroyed and the Hickman Block was built, also during 1894, on their location.


Although refaced twice, the Palmer building is Chariton's first brick commercial building and the oldest structure standing on the square. Its age is evident on the south side and from the rear. The current facade dates from 1925.

Elijah Lewis, a longtime editor of The Chariton Patriot, arrived in Chariton during early February, 1867, by stage coach from Albia. At that time, he recalled in an article headlined "Thirty Years" and published in The Patriot of Feb 18, 1897, "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 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 was occuped by "the dry goods and grocery houses of Palmer and Van Sickle."

Oliver Palmer, however, had sold out and moved to Kansas during the summer of 1877, according to reports in The Chariton Leader of July 7 and Aug. 22, 1877. By 1881, the dry goods store located in a frame structure on the site of the current Knights of Pythias building was being operated by Oliver's  sister, Julia Plamer, and their venerable father, Phineas, then in his early 90s. Van Sickle's grocery was located in the Palmer brick.

During the years that followed Oliver Palmer's move west, his brick building was occupied by a wide range of mercantile operations. At some point during those years, its early brick front, which had featured arched windows above, display windows by then considered too small below and plain molding all around, was rebuilt in the style of the 1880s or 1890s. The upper windows received cast-metal cornices, large plate glass display windows were installed on the first floor and a cast metal cornice capped the structure.

Pete T. Paton was operating a cigar and "gent's furnishings" store here during early 1925, when the building was purchased by John C. Flatt, who had been operating a candy and ice cream store on the north side of the square. During June and July of 1925, Flatt commissioned an entirely new front --- probably designed by Chariton architect William Lee Perkins --- which remains in very good repair.

Flatt had been making and selling candy and ice cream in Chariton since 1903, most recently in half of the north-side Blake Block.

When the remodeling was completed, the Flatt family moved into the upstairs apartment and opened their business downstairs. Candy cases and a soda fountain occupied the front of the building, an ice cream parlor filled a 20-foot by 26-foot area behind it and the candy kitchen brought up the rear. Ice cream-making operations were installed in the renovated basement.

The business proved to be so successful that it was necessary during November of the following year to build a 20-foot x 36-foot addition onto the rear of the building.

John C. Flatt was in business at this location as Flatt's Candy Kitchen for only 10 years, however, before he died at age 57 in June of 1936. After that, the building passed through a number of hands before it was purchased by the South Central Mutual Insurance Association and the current street-level storefront installed. The building currently is occupied by Jack's Place Pet Shop.


This procession of three identical 1914 brown-brick buildings just south of the alley unites to form a unified business block. The north building now has one owner; the south two, a local owner who is redeveloping his buildings privately. None are involved in the Facade Improvement Program.

The block stands on the lot where Lucas County's original log courthouse stood and, as a result, was not sold by Lucas County until 1860. This late start may help to explain why development here was slow.

The buildings were built during 1914 as a joint project by those who owned the subdivisions of Lot 6, Block 9, original City of Chariton, where they are located --- Walter Custer (north), Jennie Anderson (center) and George W. Carpenter (south).

Until just before construction commenced, these three lots were filled with a rag-tag collection of old one-story wood frame buildings along with untidy areas of outdoor warehousing. All three have housed a wide range of mercantile operations during their century of service.

Here's how this stretch of the east side of the square looked before the shingled arcades were removed.

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