By the turn of the 20th Century, Clarkson was an energetic, bustling community on the prairies of Eastern Nebraska. Incorporated in 1887 on a branch line of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad, the settlement already had a general merchandise store, hotel and post office (all three housed in the same building), blacksmith shop, two saloons, a dance hall, a bank, a lumber and grain dealership, and a population of 300. The village grew rapidly to serve the surrounding farms and ranches, and within a year had added a bakery, a couple more saloons/pool halls, furniture store, livery/stable, butcher shop, building contractor, a dray service, and an ice dealer. One hundred buildings – homes and businesses, had been erected.
Our village weathered a 4-year-long national Depression (the Panic of 1893), and continued to grow. 1905 was a banner year for Clarkson – it saw its first automobile (shipped by railroad to the dentist, Dr. F.B. Schulz), the construction 25 new houses, the installation of a telephone system, and the construction of a public waterworks and 64,000-gallon water tower. In 1908, the prospering village voted to construct a power plant whose steam would operate the pumps for the waterworks and a generator to provide electricity. On December 23, 1908, the power plant was fired up, and villagers could purchase electricity for 10 cents a kilowatt-hour (it now sells for about 9 cents per kWh in Nebraska). With a population of 475 we were bursting at the seams. The business lineup looked like this:
|Clarkson Business in 1908||Business Name/Proprietor|
|Bank||Clarkson State Bank – L.F. Folda, President|
|Bank||Farmers State Bank – F.J. Petr, President|
|Commercial Club||Josef Kriac, President|
|Construction/Carpentry||Vaclav J., Frank, and Jim Chleboun|
|Dentist||Dr. Frank B. Schultz|
|Furniture||Frank J. Miller|
|General Merchandise||Anton J. Karel and Phil Suchy|
|General Merchandise||Wesley Moore and Frank Stodola|
|General Merchandise||Julius Wacha|
|Grain Mill||Clarkson Milling and Grain – Ed Polcin, Manager|
|Hardware||Josef Filipi and Anton Indra|
|Hardware||Frank Wolf and Anton Vais|
|Harness Making||Frank Červ|
|Harness Making||Frank Hejtmanek|
|Hotel||Fred W. Noh|
|House Mover||John Pospichal|
|Lumber and Grain||Crowell Lumber and Grain – Fred Sixta, Manager|
|Lumber/Grain/Coal/Livestock||Nye Schneider Fowler Co. – Anton Vlach, Manager|
|Medical Doctor||George H. Allen and Silas G. Allen|
|Newspaper||Clarkson Herald – Harry Phelps, Publisher|
|Newspaper||Domaci Noviny – Anton Odvarka, Publisher|
|Real Estate||Joseph Mundil|
|Restaurant||Joseph F. Jirovec|
|Saloon||John F. Swoboda|
|Saloon||Emil Tomes and Emil Slama|
|Shoe Store||John Markytan|
|Train Depot/Telegraph||Charles Kamensky, Agent|
Forty two listed businesses, not including uncounted numbers of seamstresses, “shade tree” mechanics, typists, teachers and preachers, farmers and stockmen. I’ve been looking at a marvelous photograph of one of these businesses, an interior shot of the Julius Wacha General Merchandise Store. It is displayed in the Clarkson Historical Museum and has been published in Images of America – Colfax County by Mary Maas, Jim Krzycki, Judy Brezina, and Ruth Waters (2014). The photograph is not dated, but if the identifications of the people in it are correct, my guess is it was taken between 1908 and 1911, in a building that burned in 1912.
It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Let’s take a slow walk through Julius Wacha’s General Merchandise Store ca. 1908 and see what stories emerge from this old photograph.
As we enter the store, with its solid wooden floor, we are greeted by a wooden bushel basket of apples and another basket behind it with farm fresh eggs. Small American flags decorate the center aisle. Also in the center aisle are the only brand names that are visible in the picture – an advertisement for Woodward’s Fine Chocolates and a pair of cuspidors named Irene. [One has to wonder who Irene was, to inspire someone to put her name on a spittoon].
Woodward’s Fine Chocolates were a product of John E. Woodward & Co. (“The Candy Men”) of Council Bluffs, Iowa – a candy manufacturing giant in the early 20th century. Their factory at 211 West Broadway in Council Bluffs occupied an entire city block. Woodward’s specialized in butterscotch and stick candy, but at their large factory they also produced chocolates, pails of mixed cream candies, Princess fudge, iced batons, sun-roasted peanuts, jaw breakers, suckers, and plug licorice. Sweets that, according to their advertising, were “good for the baby, good for Grandma, good for all.”
On the left side of the store was the fabric, dry goods, and millinery department, presided over by Miss Emma Čada. Emma was born on May 19, 1892 on a farm southeast of Clarkson and was a graduate of Colfax County rural school District 28 and Mrs. Van Housen’s Sewing School. She moved to Clarkson around 1911 and was employed as a clerk in Julius Wacha’s store. On December 30, 1915, Emma Čada married Louis Roether in Fremont. The Roethers had one daughter, Mrs. Almarine (Johnny) Mastny. Emma Čada Roether enjoyed a long life; she passed away on September 24, 1990 at the tender age of 98.
The shelves behind Miss Emma display numerous bolts of fabric and spools of yarn. Cardboard boxes likely stored shirts, blouses, underwear, handkerchiefs, fine leather and white cotton gloves, and other ready-made apparel. The glass cases in front of her probably displayed spools of thread, buttons and other small items. Atop the case is what looks like a very fancy clock. Above her head can be seen an unfolded umbrella hanging upside down, one of many large incandescent bulbs that lighted the store, and a series of fabric squares (curtains?) hanging from the decorative tin ceiling.
The center of the photograph features the store owner himself, Julius Wacha. Born on a farm south of Heun on February 16, 1877, Julius became a Jack of All Trades. In his early life he was a farm hand in the Heun area and moved to Schuyler to work in his brother Thomas’ general store. In 1907 he came to Clarkson and opened a general store in the former Rozmarin building, but it was destroyed by fire in 1912. For a time he carried on his business in another building, then in 1914 he purchased at auction the old CSPS/ZCBJ hall for $3,500. In addition to operating a general merchandise store in that building, Julius Wacha was a corporal in the Clarkson Home Guards during WWI, substituted as a rural mail carrier, supervised and policed the municipal light plant, served as secretary of the fire department, managed the local Standard Oil supply station, and, after his retirement, traveled with Frank Richtig to county fairs and other demonstrations of his wondrous knives (Frank was not much of a talker, so Julius gave the speeches while Frank put the knives through their paces). Julius died suddenly in 1952 in the home of his brother Blazej, and is buried in the Schuyler Cemetery.
Stacked up in the background we can see 50-lb. white cotton bags of flour. Locavores would be pleased – the flour most likely came from locally grown hard winter wheat, milled at the Clarkson Milling and Grain Co. a few blocks away, and brought over by a local drayman. At a time when most people baked their own home-made bread and pastries, those sacks of flour were cycled through the store quickly. Along the back wall are boxes of shoes. Hanging from the ceiling is what looks like a collection of flags, including one with a British Union Jack (possibly Australia), Portugal, Scotland, and possibly Rumania. A skylight cut in the ornate tin ceiling supplemented the electrical lights. The two unidentified boys on the right side of the picture probably worked in the store – the shorter boy has dark sleeve coverings so that he could work with food or pen and ink without soiling his shirt sleeves. If you have really good eyes (or a magnifying glass), you can see the top of the larger commercial coffee grinder behind the taller boy’s right shoulder. The coffee grinder has a large wheel with ornate, curved spokes, and behind the wheel is a conical hopper into which the vender poured the roasted coffee beans.
On the right side of the store is the grocery section, presided over by a young man (Edward Makousky) and a boy (Filbert Wacha, the son of Julius Wacha). Ed Makousky (sometimes spelled Makovsky) was another versatile businessman. Born on August 1, 1893, he would have been in his late teens in this photo. Ed’s immigrant parents endured an unusual amount of hardship in the New World, but they prevailed and were able to save enough money to purchase the Kopac building and set up their two sons, Joseph B. and Edward R., in the men’s clothing business. Ed Makousky apparently learned the merchandise trade from Julius Wacha, and in 1915 Ed and his brother Joe acquired a clothing store from Emil Pokorny and Frank Schulz; the One Price Clothing Company was renamed the Makousky Brothers Clothing Store. In February of 1942 the Makousky Bros. divested themselves of their clothing business and leased the downstairs of their building to Joe Swoboda, who operated the City Meat Market and Locker Plant. Ed Makousky occasionally appeared in the pages of the Colfax County Press. Here are some interesting items:
November 25, 1920 – J. M. Zrust, Richard Karel, Ed. Makousky and Leonard Rozmarin were at Humphrey last Sunday participating in a shooting match. They succeeded in bringing home several turkeys, geese and ducks and of course, Richard was the “high” man.
June 24, 1920 – During the past few months there has been much discussion among some of the citizens as to the possibility of ghosts in Stanton County in the neighborhood of about 10 or 12 miles from Clarkson. Last Friday night 4 autos loaded with some of our young warriors with sufficient ammunition and a lot of courage went out to the mystery place to see the visitant of the spirit world. The visits of the spook have caused considerable discomfort to the residents of the community, especially to the tenants occupying the ghostly farm. Our boys went out to see all there is to be seen, but the ungracious spook some way or another happened to know about their visit and failed to show up. The expedition as known to us consisted of the following: Jos. Mundil, Emil H. Slama, Joe Jonas, John Jonas, James Stransky, Ed Makovsky, Frank Kubik, Ben Jonas, John Knapp, Ed Vitek, Jerry Zak and Richard Karel.
Moviegoers may remember that Ed Makousky and his father-in-law Petr Zak managed the Opera House for more than 40 years, and in 1930, they brought talking movies to Clarkson. Ed was the projectionist and his wife Emma Zak Makousky sold tickets. I think he and his wife were still running the theater when the last picture show was screened in the early 1960s. Edward Makousky died on May 23, 1966 and Emma died in October 1973.
Lastly, a tender memory of Ed from my sister-in-law: “I believe it was in the 1950’s when Jirsaks owned a bar up from Joe Rez’s store. Ed Makousky was an employee of his and our neighbor. On his way home from work he would stop by our house to deliver Rocky Mountain Oyster sandwiches whenever the occasion occurred. At the time our family enjoyed them very much–unique in flavor but tasty. It wasn’t until after I learned what they were that I stopped eating them. But, thank you Ed, for thinking of us.”
The young lad on the right side of the photo, crouching behind the candy case with a guilty look on his face, was Filbert Wacha, the son of Julius. Fil Wacha grew up to become another multi-talented man – musician, bookkeeper, Notary Public, mail carrier and postal employee…
Born on July 5, 1900, Filbert was the oldest of 5 children. Presumably he spent a lot of his childhood in his father’s store, and by the age of 17 he was already developing a reputation as a drummer with a variety of musical groups, including the highly regarded Jirovec Orchestra.
Colfax County Press, June 6, 1918 – Filbert Wacha was in Schuyler Monday and Tuesday assisting the Schuyler orchestra during the engagement of the Ludvik theatrical company. Filbert is gaining fame as an expert drummer.
By the age of 20, he had been promoted to Assistant Manager and bookkeeper of the Fajman Motor Company. Colfax County Press, November 18, 1920 – In recognizance of the efficient service rendered his superiors, the owners of Fajman Motor Co., have shown their appreciation to their employee, F. J. Wacha, who has been their bookkeeper for a number of years by promoting him to the position of assistant manager and bookkeeper. Filbert is a faithful employee and worthy of every advancement given him.
And in 1922 he was appointed a notary public. Colfax County Press, April 20, 1922 – Our friend, Filbert J. Wacha, received a commission from Governor McKelvie, appointing him notary public. From now on, Filbert’s official signàture will have a meaning above the ordinary.
Fil became a rural mail carrier near Leigh, and then moved to Schuyler to work in the post office. Filbert Wacha’s first wife [Klotilda (Tillie) Karel Wacha] died at age 45 on April 14, 1947; in 1952 he married Clara Tichacek. Filbert Wacha died on June 7, 1988.
Above Ed and Fil are two long lines of men’s and women’s hats, suspended from clips attached to rods that spanned much of the length of the store. Obviously, hats were a big business in those days. I won’t attempt to guess at the styles of ladies hats, but among the men’s head coverings I can identify boaters (white straw hats), panamas, and fedoras. It’s worth noting that if you weren’t satisfied with Julius Wacha’s selection you could walk down the street to see the hats on display at Mary Bukaček’s millinery store. That’s far cry from our present day, when men wear baseball caps or cowboy hats and women don’t seem to wear hats at all.
Ed and Fil are surrounded by food. Behind them are boxes, cans, bottles, and jars of preserved food. I can’t make out any of the labels, except for a row of cans of sauerkraut – a staple in the diets of the local Czechs and Germans. In the glass cases in front can be seen wieners and other sausages, and most likely a selection of Woodward’s fine candies, and cigars and other tobacco products. There are two scales atop the glass cases for weighing the unpackaged food items. I think I see small cans of Prince Albert and Red Man tobacco on the shelf behind the two young men, and perhaps larger cans of tobacco stacked on the floor between the two spittoons, next to lard buckets. Old Timers will remember that pipe smoking was a very common habit among the immigrant men in those days – my grandfather always enjoyed a pipeful of Prince Albert after supper. (Among some of the denizens of our village, the Czech word for a smoking pipe “dýmka” was conflated with the German word “Pfeife” to yield “Pfeifka”).
Quite a store, wasn’t it? Walmart has nothing on Julius Wacha’s General Merchandise Store.
So, is a picture worth a thousand words? Sure – the description of this photo ran to 2,656 words, over two and a half times the content of the average picture. Okay, the story was a little gassy, perhaps. But as Barry Goldwater said when he made a campaign stop in our village – “Extremism in the promotion of Clarkson is no vice; moderation in pursuit of its history is no virtue.”