As the days get shorter, and the chill winter winds begin to blow, we bring our recreation indoors – dancing, bowling, card playing, soup suppers, television, and movies. And we begin our preparations for Christmas.
The Christmas Season was a special time in Clarkson. Soon after Thanksgiving the city workers strung colored lights from light pole to light pole across main street (one of the widest small town main streets you will ever see); the glowing lights added a cheery cast to the long, cold December nights. The merchants began wrapping Christmas presents in colorful paper torn from long spools (that replaced the rolls of brown paper that were used to rest of the year). Ignoring the 6:00 PM siren, stores stayed open longer in the days leading up to Christmas, and holiday music was broadcast over loudspeakers in the street. Santa Claus often paid a visit to town on a December Saturday; after processing down main street he took his honored seat in the Lions Club and handed the children mesh bags of nuts and hard candies while listening to their Christmas wishes.
Many years ago, when Sunday was still considered a day of rest and a time for family activities, our family often spent Sunday night at the movies. We’d jump in the car and head for the Sky Theater in Schuyler or Opera House in Clarkson to see the latest films (that had been released in the larger cities and promoted in the Hollywood fan magazines months earlier).
Posters for the current movie and coming attractions at Clarkson’s Opera House were tacked up on the inside walls. If you walked up the inside steps to the ticket window and looked back toward the street, you would see hanging on the inside wall above the front doors a poster for the 1954 Alfred Hitchcock movie “Dial M for Murder.” It hung there for years; dozens of movies were shown in the Opera House after that thriller, but the poster was never replaced. It might still be there, for all I know.
At the top of the steps to the right was the ticket window, and to the left a concession stand where you could buy soft drinks, popcorn, Hershey bars, Milky Way and Baby Ruth candy bars, Necco wafers, rolls of Life Savers… all the necessities for a rewarding cinematic experience. Fortified with snack food, you stepped through the swinging double doors into the Opera House and stumbled through the darkness, searching for an empty, burgundy-colored, cushioned seat. Or climbed up the stairs to sit with the other kids on the wooden bleachers in the balcony.
And if you went to the movies in Clarkson during the Christmas Season of 1938, you would have seen the images from a series of colorful 2X2 glass slides projected on the screen while waiting for the newsreels to begin rolling. Pictures of coming movie attractions interspersed with Christmas greetings from your local Clarkson merchants.
Here is a sampling of the local advertisements you would have seen [Thanks to Jim Severa, who donated the glass slides to the Clarkson Museum].
Charles J. Novotny bought an existing furniture and undertaking business from Adolph Bukacek in 1928. In 1940, Novotny discontinued the furniture department and continued the mortuary business until 1960, selling out to the Miller Funeral Home. He continued selling electrical appliances, supplies, and service for many years thereafter. (Charlie Novotny was highly regarded in my family. Electricity had come to our farm in the early 1940s courtesy of FDR’s Rural Electrification Administration, but because of wartime shortages, electrical appliances were in short supply and there was a long waiting list for such items as refrigerators. When my brother was born in 1944, Charlie Novotny moved my parents to the top of the list so that they could buy a refrigerator to store milk for the baby.)
The Clarkson Bank was organized in 1934, soon after the collapse of the Clarkson State Bank and the Farmers State Bank. It quickly became the biggest bank in town, and remains so to this day. Emil Petr was President from 1934 until he retired in 1946.
Try to find free air for your re-treaded tires and water for your radiator and battery at a filling station these days, eh?
A drug store has been on the Clarkson scene since the 1890s, operated by a series of proprietors: J.B. Mathauser, R.G. McKibben, Mr. Bobisud, J. R. Koza, James L. Stransky, Richard Wlna, Cyril Wanek, La Verne Bryan, and last, but not least, Dale and Eldora Gentzler. I don’t know about the “gay colors” of the clothing dyes, but who can forget Gentzlers’ wide selection of comic books in the front and soda fountain soft drinks in the back? (I’ve heard you can still buy that emerald green soda pop “Green River” in Chicago.)
The Farmers Union Co-Operative Supply Co. was established in 1918. The Noh and Vlach Lumber Yards were incorporated into the business, and in 1919 a huge, white grain elevator with a capacity of 40,000 bushels was constructed. A 50-ton scale was installed in 1947 and a modern grain dryer installed in 1950. The Farmers Union Co-Op acquired Clarkson Lumber Co. in 1958.
For many years Frank Ferenc was the proprietor of a butcher shop downtown and a slaughterhouse on the east side, conveniently located on the hemp- and nettle-infested, slippery banks of the green, greasy Maple Creek. The abandoned slaughterhouse buildings stood for many years after Ferenc’s business closed down, and they briefly housed a notorious post-WWII nightclub – The Bloody Bucket.
In 1905 F.J. Miller Sr. opened his business in Clarkson, selling furniture and jewelry in conjunction with undertaking. He moved the store in 1909 and again in 1929. In 1932 his son Frank J. Miller, Jr. joined the business and in 1961 his grandson Frank J. Miller III became a partner in the furniture, jewelry, and undertaking business, operating Miller Funeral home for many years.
F.J. Miller & Son advertised some elegant and practical Christmas gift suggestions in their Colfax County Press ad of the day – Elgin and Bulova wrist watches, cigarette lighters and cases, cedar chests, Samson card tables and luggage, and Philco radios.
Walter F. Hahn and his wife Pearl owned and operated a local tavern, Hahn’s Place, from 1927-1947. Subsequently he worked as a bookkeeper at Farmers Union until a few months before his death in 1964.
On August 28, 1930 Joseph Holoubek purchased six lots from Frank Musil and erected a beautiful, landscaped filling station. Holoubek operated the service station until February 20, 1947 when he sold the business to Louis Kmoch.
Frank Humlicek arrived in Clarkson in 1898 and converted the Opocensky harness shop into a clothes tailoring business. In 1913 Robert F. Novotny arrived in Clarkson and went to work for Humlicek in the tailor trade. They entered into a partnership on January 1, 1925 and in 1928 the men added a dry cleaning business. In 1932 hat blocking equipment was installed. Tailored wool suits were sold for $23.75 and up. Novotny bought out Frank Humlicek’s interest in 1948, and with his wife Emilie continued the business under the name Clarkson Cleaners and Tailors. Owing to the heavy amount of dry cleaning, Robert Novotny was forced to discontinue his art of tailoring new suits, which he had learned in Vienna.
Clarkson had a large number of lumber yards over the years. One of them, the Nye-Schneider Co., was purchased by the Joyce Lumber Company on April 4, 1929. Louis J. Evert was put in charge of the lumber yard. In 1955 Mr. Evert resigned and was replaced by Leo Sixta. In 1956 Leo Sixta bought out Joyce Lumber Co. and stated a new business under the name of Clarkson Lumber Co.
J.R.Vitek purchased a share of an existing hardware store in 1909 and operated it as Wolf and Vitek. In 1922 Adolph Vitek purchased Frank Wolf’s share of the store, and operated J. R. Vitek and Bros. hardware store well into the 1950s. Before his death in 1959, J.R. Vitek had served Clarkson as Mayor (10 years), member of the Village Board (22 years), member of the School Board (4 years), and fire chief(20 years).
A.J. Karel and Sons opened a general store in Clarkson in 1902. A modern brick building was built in 1912 that still stands on main street and still proudly advertises the store. Groceries were sold in the south side of the store, dry goods in the north, shoes and clothing occupied the rear of the building. Over the years, A.J. Karel and Sons operated a cream station, a shoe repair shop, and a coffee and peanut roasting machine.
In 1915 brothers Joe B. and Edward Makousky purchased a clothing store from Emil Pokorny and Frank Schulz. 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.
Rudy F. Rosicky started his Nutrena feed and produce business in 1925, and in 1934 added a chick hatchery. Rosicky sold the business in 1958 to long-time employee Milo Faiman, who continued to operate it with his brother-in-law Hubert Selhorst.
Delicious baked goods at affordable prices! In 1941 the Skoda Bakery advertised their Saturday specials: Butterfly buns – 15₵/dozen, raised doughnuts – 12₵/dozen, cinnamon rolls – 12₵/dozen, and Douglas Chocolate Candy – 15₵/pound.
In January, 1935 Emil Uher bought the Henry Knapp Saloon, and with the assistance of his wife Marie operated Uher’s Place to the time of his death in 1945. His wife continued to run the tavern until she sold it in 1954 to Louis F. Vlach.
V.A. Chleboun was in the building construction business in Clarkson from at least the time of the First World War. He built houses and farm buildings in the Clarkson area; below is a picture of a home that he built in town. Often the building materials were sold by Farmers Union and the construction carried out by Chleboun’s construction company.
Not many of these businesses are still around, but there are still plenty of merchants and tradesmen who make their living in Our Little Village. Now, as in 1938, it’s a good idea to shop locally. Buying your goods and services from the people you live with promotes interdependence, and that fosters a sense of community and civility. This Christmas give your local merchants the business.
I hope these pretty pictures bring back some happy memories for you. May you enjoy the blessings of this Holy Season. I bid you a Merry Christmas (Veselé Vánoce), a Happy New Year (Šťastný Nový Rok), and goodbye.