Saturday, April 21, 2018

Lunchtime at Agnes McKinney's Annex Cafe

We hear a good deal about self-made men back in the good old days, but there were a good number of self-made women, too --- and Agnes McKinney, standing here in the kitchen door of her Annex Cafe on North Main Street in Chariton, certainly was one of those.

Born Agnes Wardlaw during 1884 out in Pleasant Township, she got her professional start as a servant girl in the Mallorys' big house, Ilion, then honed her skills as a cook in the kitchen of the C.B.&Q. Depot House Hotel restaurant. By 1920, then in her 30s, she was operating her own restaurant on the levee near the depot in partnership with Laura Maloney.

The move downtown, to the North Main Street block where she would continue in business for nearly 50 years, came in January of 1921 when she dissolved her partnership with Mrs. Maloney and purchased the Annex Cafe, then apparently located somewhere north of the alley on the east side of the 200 block of North Main.

This photo from the Lucas County Historical Society collection probably was taken in that cafe, perhaps not long after Agnes had taken over --- although it's impossible to be sure about that. And no, I don't know what the Annex Cafe was an annex to. The photo was taken by Harold Hedger, in business as a photographer in Chariton through the 1920s until January of 1931.

In addition to Agnes, we know who some of the people in the photograph are --- but not necessarily which is which. The couple seated at the rear table to the right are identified as Mr. and Mrs. John Miley --- he was a Chariton undertaker. The young men seated at the table in the foreground are Floyd Davis and Roy Bridges.

The first four men seated at the counter are identified as Harden Brenaman, a county agent of the day whose name has faded too badly to be read, Swede Johnson and Mahlon Brown. The staff member just behind the counter beyond them probably was Rose McGovern. That may be Mary Mitchell standing to the left of Agnes. The other young woman could be Mary Richards or Em Henry.


Agnes, then 37, took as her husband on Christmas day, 1922, Frank McKinney, 38 --- marrying in the presence of a few friends at her home. After a quick trip to Knoxville to visit her mother, they returned to spend their wedding night in Chariton and Agnes was back at work the next day.

Frank, who had had the misfortune to lose a leg just below the knee at age 9 in an encounter with a train at Hiteman --- a coal town down the road in Monroe County --- had always worked in and around the mines. He was employed as a pumper in one of the Lucas County mines at the time of the marriage.

During 1924, however, he purchased a taxi and launched the Yellow Cab Taxi Service, which he continued to operate for the next 20 years, selling out only when his health failed. He died during 1947 at the age of 63.

Agnes never put her restaurant business on pause --- and worked hard and long. Some of the time, her restaurant was open 24 hours a day. One Christmas greeting from the 1930s advertised that she would be open as usual on Christmas day --- 5 a.m. until 8 p.m.

During 1936, she relocated her business into another building --- at 218 North Main. Not long after Frank died, she moved across the street into a small new concrete block building at 219 North Main where she remained in business for about 30 years. Her small home was located a short distance behind the restaurant.

Hard work apparently agreed with Agnes. She survived until age 92, passing to her reward on Feb. 19, 1977, at what then was known as the Chariton Manor nursing home.

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