Clinton Wren Remembers Smelterville

Former Smelterville resident Clinton Wren, photographed as a child c 1966-67.I’ve got to get on the ball if I want to have an updated version of my Smelterville project out by this summer. Clinton Wren and I took refuge in Long John Silver’s on a scorching hot day in July 2011 while he talked about growing up in South Cape. (Click on the photos to make them larger.)

Everybody was loved

Smelterville“Everybody was loved,” he said. “Everybody was family. If one done something, another parent would take care of you. Everybody’s parent looked after you. It wasn’t like now, you know. It was one community of love. I’ve got good remembrances from there, you know. Some of that made me the man that I am now.”

Floods and chopping wood

Hogs in Smelterville 08-01-1967“Worst thing was the floods and high water. Actually, coming back in and lots of cleaning to do. After that ’73 flood, we didn’t come back after that. We went through two floods before finally Mama made the decision to move out.

“I’ll tell you another thing – making fire, too. Going out there in the cold and chopping wood; that’s another thing coming back to me. Outside bathrooms. We had some hogs back there, too. That might have been our hog pen, but I don’t remember us having that many pigs.”

A quarter went a long way

Smelterville 06-05-1967“Henry Warfield was in the construction business. Sold a lot of lumber; tore down a lot of houses. There used to be a couple of big houses at Morgan Oak and Frederick. He just tore down stuff all over the city. He’d haul it down there and salvage what he could salvage. He’d save all the bricks. You can drive all over this city and see brick homes built with those bricks. Cleaning bricks… Made a lot of money then.

“We always had a little money. Of course a quarter was quite a bit of money. We’d get a quarter a month allowance. A quarter went a long way. After school we’d work for Henry. Maybe make 50 cents or a dollar, depending on what he was doing. Brick work, you’d make a little bit more money. A quarter was quite a bit of money in those days.”

Other Smelterville stories


Another Smelterville Cleanup

Smelterville clean-up 06-19-1967Two things were constants in Smelterville: floods and periodic cleanups that accomplished little. I took these photos June 19, 1967.

Arena Building and cute cat captured the news

Smelterville clean-up 06-19-1967The photos didn’t run. The bigger stories of the week included the wooden floors being ripped out of the arena building and a picture of a cat in Oshkosh surrounded by ducklings. The paper also warned that the river was coming up and that some lowlands could be covered.

When are this summer’s reunions?

Smelterville clean-up 06-19-1967I’ve been trying to find out when some of the Smelterville family reunions will be held, but haven’t had any luck. Last year was the first time the Vine Street Reunion was held, but organizers decided not to hold one this year. If you know of any, please let me know.

Smelterville and South Cape stories

Here are some earlier stories about Smelterville and South Cape:

Lohmann Fixture Company

Lohmann Fixture Company is about the only old building left in what used to be called Smelterville. You have to look hard to see it peeking above South Sprigg Street.

The road has been raised to keep it from flooding. Seeing how far Lohmann’s is below street level will give you an idea how low the community was and why it flooded every few years.

Lohmann’s in 2008

Brother Mark and I paused on one of our bike rides to shoot a few photos of the building in 2008.

Lohmann’s in 2010

Niece Laurie Everett wanted to go on a photo ramble in the fall of 2010. We spent some time down at the 1929 railroad bridge over Cape LaCroix Creek, then we did some “peeling paint” photos of the old building.

Tool Ghosts

I always like to spot traces of things no longer there.

Not much info on business

I saw some Missourian briefs about rummage sales to be held in the building, but not many other stories. The 1968 City Directory had a listing for Lohmann Fixture Company at 2300 South Sprigg. The building has 2200 on the front of it, but I assume it’s the same business. Clarence A. Lohmann was listed as the president of the company.

Clarence A. Lohmann

I found an obituary for Clarence A. Lohmann in the October 13,2008, Missourian.

Clarence A. Lohmann, 89, of Cape Girardeau died Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008 at The Lutheran Home in Cape Girardeau.

He was born May 11, 1919, in Cape Girardeau, son of Edward and Emma Kohlfeld Lohmann. He and Vera (Felter)Lohmann were married Nov. 18, 1939, in Chaffee, Mo.

Served in World War II

Lohmann was owner of Lohmann Supply Co. and Semo Leasing for 60 years. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II and was a member of VFW Post 3838 and American Legion Post 63. He was a member of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, where he served as Eucharistic Minister, and was a member of Cursillo, St. Vincent Society Men’s Club. He also was a member of Father Marquette Knights of Columbus 11205 and Thomas A. Langen 4th Degree Council and served as Faithful Navigator. He belonged to the Jesuit White House Retreat.

He was a former member of the Jaycees and charter member of the Exchange Club of Cape Girardeau for 50 years. He formerly belonged to Kimbeland Country Club and the Refrigeration Service Engineer Society. He graduated from Rankin Technical School of St. Louis.

Mr. Lohmann’s family

Survivors include his wife, Vera Lohman of Cape Girardeau; a son, Dan (Tammy) Lohmann of Cape Girardeau; a daughter, Jane Lohmann of Houston; a grandson, Kirk Lohmann of Cape Girardeau; and a brother, Elmer Lohmann of Scott City.

He was preceded in death by his parents; three brothers, Elvis Lohmann, Arnold Lohmann and Richard Lohmann; and a sister, Erma Richter.

Photo gallery of Lohmann’s Fixture Company

Here are a few more photos of the building, including an aerial. Click on any photo to make it larger, then click on the left or right side of the image to move through the gallery.

Smelterville’s Billy and Margaret

In the spring of 1967, I had a Missourian assignment to shoot a cleanup in Smelterville – called South Cape or South Cape Suburb in Missourian style. I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I used that as an excuse to wander around the community taking pictures of kids, adults, homes and piles of trash.

When I unearthed the photos a couple of years ago and started showing them around, I realized I had half a treasure: I needed to track the subjects down to see what had happened to them. I kept following promising lead after promising lead until this weekend when I struck pay dirt.

Family reunions

I was lucky enough to be in town for the First Annual Vine Street Connection and a reunion of the pioneer families of Smelterville: the Turners, Phifers, Wrens, Beals, Robinsons, Underwoods, etc.

My biggest break was sitting down with Fay Beal Powders, who is related to almost everybody I had photographed in the ’60s and knew most of the rest. One of my subjects was her mother. It was the only photograph of her she had ever seen. “I had the picture in my car and I had to pull off the road twice because I was so overcome by emotion,” she said.

On Saturday, she tracked down the adult versions of the two kids with the cat.

Here is her brother Billy (it’s Bill now, he says pointedly) Beal and his first cousin Margaret Turner. The cat, I was told, had exhausted all nine of its lives long ago and wasn’t available

Title is going to change

I’m going to turn the project into a book. The couple dozen prototypes with me were snatched up as quickly as I could hand them out. Even if it doesn’t make it into general circulation, there are a lot of folks who like to remember the caring, tight-knit community they grew up in. I wish I had spent more time documenting it.

My working title – Smelterville: The Shame of Cape – is going to change. Everyone I talked with was confused. “We weren’t ashamed,” they pointed out.

I had to explain that the shame was that Cape Girardeau would neglect a part of town in a way that would never have been acceptable north of Tollgate Hill.

I’ve heard some wonderful and moving stories in the past week and I have a list of more folks I have to interview. You’ll be hearing a lot about Smelterville as  work my way through it.