Friday, February 08, 2013

Building Detective: The Gasser Block

The Gasser Block, constructed in 1875 and now the home of the Sportsman Bar, is the oldest building on the south side of Chariton's square and one of the largest. Except for the usual slings and arrows, it really hasn't been much altered. But for some reason it doesn't get noticed much --- perhaps because of the battleship gray paint that covers its original brickwork and for some reason causes it to recede.

It also has the distinction of standing firm as all but one other of the south side's earliest buildngs were consumed by major fires in 1930 and 1965.

George Frederick Gasser (1840-1894), who built it, was of German descent and arrived in Lucas County with his wife, Georgianna, during 1865. He was by trade a baker and a grocer, but dabbled in a variety of other enterprises in post-Civil War Chariton.

Here's how the building was described in an 1875 newspaper article summarizing construction that had occurred in town during that year:

The Chariton Patriot, Dec. 29, 1875

We give below the improvements in the way of buildings and additions to buildings that have been made in Chariton, during 1875, as fully as we have been able to ascertain the same up to the time of going to press:

The best building that has been erected during the year is Mr. G.F. Gasser's south side brick. This is 41 x 70 feet, and is two stories high and is classed among the best buildings in the place. It is a substantial structure, with cellar under the whole and divided into rooms as follows: The lower story is divided into two store rooms, and the upper into four rooms, three of which will be used for offices and the other and rear room, which is about 30 x 40, is designed for a dancing hall, or for other purposes requiring more space than the common office rooms. It will, however, for the next year or probably longer, be occpied by Burch & Scoby's business college. The brick and stone work on this building was done by Mr. Geo. B. Routt and the carpenter work by Mr. M. Ritzer, both of whom are good mechanics, and have credit for doing a good job on this block. The roof is of tin, and was put on by Messrs. Goodrich & Ensley, the enterprising south-west corner tinners. On the whole, the building is a good one, and speaks well for the enterprise and thrift of Mr. Gasser. Its cost is abour $7,000.

During May of 1885, Gasser sold the building to Lewis Bonnett, at the time Lucas County's biggest farmer. Lewis and his wife, Maria (Virgin) Bonnet, also had arrived in Lucas County during 1865 and during the 20 years that followed had acquired roughly 4,000 acres of land south of Chariton. Their livestock operation was legendary, including a sheep herd that at one point number 4,000 head, and it may be that he located offices in his new purchase although retail continued to occupy the ground floor.

Also in 1885, William E. Lewis --- then operating a grocery store in the block --- was named postmaster and move the post office into the building, where it remained for some years. (Chariton's post office was a transient operation, moving from place to place on the square, until construction of the current post office building in 1917).

Upon Lewis Bonnett's death in 1899, his heirs sold the building to Howard Darlington Copeland --- a major mover and shaker in Chariton --- who immediately transferred ownership to his sister-in-law, Anna (Gibbon) Copeland and her mother, Laura Gibbon. Their drug store on the northwest corner of the square was a major retail presence in the city. Because the Copelands retained ownership of the block as an investment property for many years, it became known as the Copeland block.

In the near century that has passed since the Copelands sold the property, the block has had many owners and many tenants and remains one of the square's most persistent although often overlooked landmarks.

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