101 N Main Bounces Back

101 N Main Street 07-19-2013The last time I wrote about 101 North Main it was because it was on the list of the most endangered buildings in Cape Girardeau. I told Mother that I expected it would be a parking lot the next time I hit town. The upper story was leaning out over sidewalk and a big cable looked like it was holding the building together.

I am happy to report that the historic building has been pulled back from the abyss. It’s got a long way to go, but I’m not afraid to walk next to it now. The Common Pleas Courthouse is up the hill on the left and the building that was once Hecht’s Department Store is on the right. You can click on the images to make them larger.

Cable gone

101 N Main Street 07-19-2013The building has been repaired to the point the restraining cable is no longer needed and the plywood tunnel that protected passersby from possible falling bricks has been removed.

The old building had been the Sturdivant Bank (the oldest bank in Southeast Missouri), the site of Cape’s first long distance phone call, Minnen’s Dress Shop and Cape Wiggery, among other things. Here is more of 101 North Main’s history. Its neighbor, the St. Charles Hotel, home to General Grant in the Civil War, was torn down in 1967.

High in the Common Pleas Courthouse

When you look at the Common Pleas Courthouse from Spanish Street, you hardly notice the windows in the dome. (You can click the photos to make them larger.)

Looking east from the courthouse

If you’re lucky enough to hook up with guys like IT director Eric McGowen and public works director Don McQuay, folks who have the right keys and know where the hidden passageways are, you can see some impressive sights. I’m glad Friend Shari and I picked a day when it wasn’t 107 outside for our tour. Even on a relatively cool (sub-100) day, it was hot and dusty. The tiny and winding staircases were made for smaller people than me.

Here’s a view down Themis Street. The greenish building on the left side of Spanish and Themis was Doyle’s Hat Shop. One of the Teen Age Clubs was in the building across the street from it. The tall, red brick building that was the Sturdivant Bank may not be with us for long. It’s on the Endangered Building List. A steel cable is keeping bricks from the top floor from raining down on Main Street.

View to the west

This is the view in the opposite direction. The Civil War fountain and statue is to the right of the roof. Don shared an interesting story about it when we were at the Jackson Courthouse. We’ll save it for another day.

DR. C.E. Schuchert’s bandstand

The bandstand dedicated to Dr. C.E. Schuchert and the KFVS tower can be seen to the northwest. The view from the 11th floor of the KFVS building is pretty spectacular, too. There’s a photo looking back toward the courthouse that provides an interesting counterpoint to this one.

 

Endangered Buildings List

Scott Moyers had a story in The Missourian that the Cape commission had released an endangered buildings list. Here are the ones considered most endangered:

  • B’nai Israel Synagogue, 126 S. Main St.
  • Broadway Theater, 805 Broadway
  • Esquire Theater, 824 Broadway
  • Fort D blockhouse, 920 Fort St.
  • Franklin School, 215 N. Louisiana St.
  • Hanover Lutheran School, 2949 Perryville Road
  • Old Jefferson School, 731 Jefferson Ave.
  • Kage School, 3110 Kage Road
  • Lorimier Apartments, 142-148 S. Lorimier St.
  • Sturdivant Bank, 101 N. Main St.

I’ve done stories on almost all of them. Here’s a look back:

Kage School

I imagine the long, cold walk to the outhouse was not fun for this little guy,

Broadway Theater

I spent many a happy hour in the Broadway balcony

  • I was sure that the inside of the old Broadway Theater would be a disaster with the roof falling in and debris all over the place. When I got my first glimpse of the interior, I was transported back to the days of Saturday matinee movies in a grand theater. It’s ragged, but it’s still grand.
  • The basement under the theater was HUGE, but the dressing rooms for the old stage actors were tiny.

Esquire Theater

The Esquire had over a mile of neon lighting when it opened in 1947

Fort D

The building we know as Civil War Fort D didn’t exist until 1937. It was used as a residence in the 1960s.

 101 North Main / Sturdivant Bank

Bank, telephone exchange building, Minnen’s Dress Shop, Cape Wiggery. The old building at 101 North Main Street has been many things and has some interesting connections to other pieces of Southeast Missouri history. Its neighbor, the St. Charles Hotel, home to General Grant in the Civil War, was torn down in 1967.

B’nai Israel Synagogue

The B’nai Israel Synagogue is in an historical triangle that includes the Red House and St. Vincent’s Church.

Jefferson School

Jefferson was a black school in 1953-1955 before the system was integrated.

Franklin School

This part of Franklin School will be torn down when the new building behind it is completed.

 

101 North Main Street

I was walking east on Themis toward the Common Pleas Courthouse trying to spot the old Teen Age Club that got to bouncing so hard one night that the city inspector shut it down because he was afraid the floor might collapse. On the opposite of the street was a nondescript red brick building that had a plaque on it. (Click on any photo to make it larger.)

The Rotary Club plaque read, “Telephone Service. In 1877 the first long distance telephone line in Missouri was completed December 18, 1877, between Cape Girardeau and Jackson. In 1896 here in a 10′ x 12′ second floor room the city’s first telephone exchange was established by A.R. Ponder, L.J. Albert, J.F. Brooks and M.A. Dennison doing business as the Cape Girardeau Telephone Company.”

As a former telecommunications manager, I was vaguely intrigued.

I flashed back to when I was offered the telecom job just before I left on vacation to head back to Cape in the early ’90s. I knew absolutely nothing about phone stuff, but I remember thinking as I was going through little villages like Old Appleton, “Wow, if I take this job I’ll have a bigger  phone system than this town.”

That call to Jackson

I put the story on the back burner for a slow day. When Friend Shari Stiver and I took a stroll down Main Street one day when we were both in town, she said she’d like to swing by to look at the old telephone exchange, which had also been the Sturdivant Bank, the oldest bank in Southeast Missouri.

“The call may have originated in Cape,” she said, “but do you have any idea where it terminated in Jackson?”

Somehow or another, knowing Shari, I was pretty sure I was going to find out.

“The first call rang in my great-grandfather’s kitchen,” she elaborated. “He was the J.F. Brooks mentioned on the plaque. He was the engineer who laid out the railroad for Louis Houck. Houck wanted to be able to get hold of him, so he had him pull a phone line between Cape and Jackson.”

Major Brooks “advanced” down to Advance

“Are we talking about the Major James Francis Brooks who Houck told to ‘advance’ down the line another mile to a stand of mulberry trees where land for a train depot could be bought for $10 an acre instead of $30 an acre in Lakeville?”

That “advance” turned out to become Advance, Missouri, Mother’s hometown.”

Yep, it was the same guy. Major Brooks’ engineering ended up resulting in the establishment of many of the small towns like Sturdivant, Brownwood, Blomeyer and Delta.

Brooks came west on a spotted pony

Shari added that her great-grandmother, “Bookie” (Florence Adele Turnbaugh Brooks) played telephone operator after the initial excitement of the first couple of calls died down. Maj. Brooks got his engineering degree at Vineyard College in Kansas City after he rode his spotted pony west with a wagon train to get there.

The Turnbaughs were Southerners who owned slaves, which Shari suspects caused some heated discussions over a bottle of whiskey on the front porch of the Turnbaugh house in Jackson.

Brooks created SEMO terraces

The excellent history, A Missouri Railroad Pioneer: The Life of Louis Houck (Missouri Biography Series), describes how Houck was concerned with preserving the pastoral beauty of Normal School (which became SEMO) and reducing water runoff so he hired Maj. Brooks to landscape the terraces on the east side of Academic Hall that are still visible today.

The book said that part of the project was to build a two-foot sandstone retaining wall along Normal Avenue, “although admittedly this last project was more to stop wayward farm animals from straying onto the grounds.”

101 North Main condemned

The landmark building has been condemned by the city. You can read the details of the wrangling in this Missourian story by Melissa Miller.

Cable reinforces wall

As much as I love old buildings, I can see what the concern is. When you look through the gallery of photos taken over a three-year period, you can see that the upper level has deteriorated to the point that a covered walkway had to be constructed to protect passersby from falling wayward bricks.

A double cable around the top of the building keeps the walls from sagging outward. I don’t know that I can argue with a Missourian commenter who wrote, “Look how the front is shifting out. If it falls about all the plywood awning will do is separate the bodies better from the rubble.”

Sign says Cape Wiggery

I’m not sure what the last business was to be in the building. The sign still says Cape Wiggery Shop. The 1969 City Directory said Kay’s was in there.

Interior has been cleaned out

The inside, at least from looking through the window, looks pretty clean.

It’ll be missed

I’ve made some iconic pictures of the building over the years, so I’ll miss it if it’s pulled down. It would be nice to think it could be saved, but it sure has the sniff of a parking lot about it, based on what I’ve seen and the news stories.

101 North Main photo gallery

Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery. (Thanks to Shari for the Jackson house picture and for sharing the story of her great-grandfather.)

Copyright © Ken Steinhoff. All rights reserved.