Thursday, May 16, 2013

More Travers Building History

(This blog entry is a continuation of a story started last time about a building on La Farge’s Main Street.  Built in 1899, the brick veneer building was originally called the Travers Building after its owner Art Travers.  Travers and others operated a variety of business places in the store building during the first twenty years of its existence.   We continue the story of the Travers Building with some of its more recent uses as a hotel annex and the village’s post office. – BDS)

            In its most recent history, the old brick building next to La Farge’s busy Z-Zip Stop convenience store/gas station has been the home to a real estate office, Hometown & Country Realty.  For a few years before that, it was the home of a restaurant for a while.  Both of those types of businesses were reincarnations of former enterprises carried out in the building’s first-floor retail space.
            For over forty years, from 1950 until 1991, that space was occupied by La Farge’s Post Office.  There is an entire generation or two who grew up in the community who will always remember the brick building as the post office.  For much of that time, Mac Marshall Jr. was the postmaster in La Farge, working in a building that his family owned.  There were usually one or more members of the Green family working at the La Farge Post Office in that building as well.  Lester Green was the postmaster in 1950 when the post office was moved from its former location on south State Street (across from the lawyer’s – Ralph Freeze at that time - office).  Lavern and Willard Green also had rural mail routes and for many years worked out of the post office in the brick building, that previously had been known as the Hotel Annex.
            The brick building became part of Mac Marshall’s hotel in the early 1930’s.  Mac’s Hotel was located on the corner lot, two doors east of the brick building (which was still then known as the Travers Building).  Mac’s became La Farge’s only hotel when the Curry Hotel (the old Hotel Ward located on the corner lot which is currently a parking lot for the La Farge Medical Clinic) burned down in June of 1929.  At that time there was still a strong demand for hotel rooms in La Farge.  Teachers who taught at the school in La Farge would often rent rooms in the hotels in town during the school year.  (Fred Mercer, La Farge’s agriculture teacher and coach, was staying in the Curry Hotel when it burned down in 1929.  Mercer, who still lived in Wauzeka at the time, lost all of his possessions except the clothes on his back in the fire.)  Railroad workers also stayed at the La Farge hotels, indeed it was a man named Cox, who was a conductor on the Kickapoo rail line, who first discovered the fire at the Curry Hotel.  There were ten guests at the Curry Hotel on the night that it burned down.
  Mac Marshall needed more hotel rooms, so he purchased the Travers Building to meet that need.  (One source said that Mac bought the property from C. E. Yeomans, who had purchased the Main Street building from the Travers family.)  They called the new acquisition the Hotel Annex and moved the dining room from the basement of the old hotel building over to the first floor of the Annex building. 
Mac’s Coffee Shoppe, as the dining room/restaurant was called then, was a going place in the community.  Besides offering guests in the hotel hot meals three times a day, the hotel’s dining room was also a bakery with homemade pies, doughnuts, cakes and cookies for sale.  A 1929 advertisement in the La Farge Enterprise for Mac’s restaurant also listed candy bars and box candies; tobacco, cigars and cigarettes; and ice cream, soft drinks and fresh fruits for sale.  The ad finished with “School students and Farmers especially welcomed”.
The Hotel Annex dining room was a very busy place in those days.  Mary Lee Muller shared some memories with me about the hotel’s dining room.  Her mother Anna Norris and Maggie Potter were cooks in the hotel dining room and that dining room would be filled with customers during the busy dinner and supper hours.  (Mary Lee also related an interesting story about another of the cooks at the hotel.  Alphreda Lawton cooked at Mac’s and was also a midwife who helped deliver babies in the La Farge area.  One night, Georgia Evans, who lived on the family farm up on Maple Ridge, had to hook up the horses to the family buggy and race down the hill to Seelyburg and then to La Farge to get Alphreda to come help with Georgia’s mother’s birthing.  Then it was a quick ride back to the Evans’ place where Georgia’s baby brother, Pete, was brought into the world.) 
The men who worked for the railroad always ate at the hotel, as did many men who operated businesses on Main Street.  Mary Lee could remember Tony Novy, the village’s blacksmith and Dr. Frank Gollin sitting at the same table each day for lunch.  There were no lunches served at the school at that time, so teachers and students alike would hustle down to the hotel during their noon hour (which really was a full hour back in those days) to eat their lunch.  The hotel’s cook stove was usually going before five in the morning, as the baking had to be done before breakfast was served.  Besides the hotel guests, many people coming into La Farge for work would catch breakfast in the hotel dining room.
 The apartments on the second floor of the Annex building were converted into hotel rooms.  Maxine Shird, who grew up in her folk’s hotel on Main Street, said that the rooms in the Annex were usually reserved for the railroad workers who needed a place to stay.  She said there were usually three or four railroad men staying at the hotel during the week.  When the Kickapoo Stump Dodger made its last run on August 15, 1939 and the railroad buildings and tracks were pulled out of La Farge later that fall, Mac’s Hotel lost some steady customers.
Mac’s Hotel building burned down in 1942 – it was the last hotel in the village.  The Major’s Feed Store building, which was just to the west of the hotel, was burned out at the same time by the hotel fire, but the Annex building survived.  Although the hotel business would not be revived, Mac Marshall continued to rent out the upstairs rooms in the Annex, which were later reconverted back to apartments.  The dining facilities were also rented out and a restaurant remained in the first floor space throughout the 1940’s.  In September of 1950 when that space in the Annex was converted for use as a post office, the Bluebird Café, which had been operating there, moved across the street to the Tony Novy building, located on the northwest corner of Main and Silver Streets.
At a meeting of the La Farge village board held on April 22, 2013, it was decided to order that the old Travers Building be razed and the demolition material from the building moved off the property.  Negotiations are under way for that order to be executed, but neither the building’s current owner, who is in bankruptcy proceedings, nor the lien holder on the building want to incur the responsibility and costs of the demolition.  The village has issued a “Notice And Order To Raze And Remove” and wants the building taken down within a week of the notice.  Regardless of how it happens, the end of an old building in La Farge is near.  The last of the five buildings on the old Central Hotel block will be gone.

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