Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ensley-Crocker Block

The Ensley-Crocker block was a joint project of George W. Ensley, who had arrived in Chariton on the morning of Aug. 1, 1871, with his father-in-law Benjamin Goodrich, after traveling from Van Buren County aboard a wagon loaded with tinner's tools "and a lot of ambition," and Frank R. Crocker, then cashier of First National Bank and even more ambitious. Crocker's ambition would over-reach itself just a few years after 1901 when his financial misadventures destroyed the bank and he took his own life. Construction began during the summer of 1901.

Here's how The Chariton Herald of May 9, 1901, described the men's new building: "On the west side of the square two of the handsomest buildings in the city will go up, work to commence on them within six weeks. They are to be owned by G.W. Ensley and F.R. Crocker, and will consist of a double block just south of the alley on the west side. The frame buildings now occupying the ground will be torn down. The new buildings are to be two stories high, unless the K.P. (Knights of Pythias) Lodge decides to rent a proposed third story, in which case the building will be three stories high. A handsome brown stone front will add to the appearance of the structures, and the interior will be fitted up in modern style. The rooms will be 20 x 90 feet each. Mr. Ensley will occupy his building with his own stock of hardware and will also use most of the second story. He will rent the front rooms up stairs for office purposes. Mr. Crocker's lower room will be occupied by Dr. B.E. Dougherty with his drug store."

No mention of the architect who designed the building. It could have been Frank Crocker's brother-in-law, Edward S. Stebbins, of Minneapolis, who designed other buildings in Lucas County.

The Ensley half of the building seems always to have been a hardware store. George W. Ensley, also a plumbing and heating contractor who worked widely across Iowa, remained in business until 1926, when he retired and the business passed to his son, George B. Ensley, who continued to operate here until the 1950s. Although some of the links are missing, it then became Coast to Coast Hardware and finally, True Value.

The Crocker half of the block has had a more varied history and some of those links are missing. It eventually became a grocery store, operating as The Supply Store when Hy-Vee was organized and after that, for a time, was one of two Hy-Vee stores located on the square. When Hy-Vee built its first "supermarket" on North Main, this west-side building became the Regal Stamp Store (Regal was the brand of trading stamp distributed by Hy-Vee to all its customers). Finally, it was incorporated into the hardware store to the south, an arrangement that continued until True Value moved out.
Because the facade on the Stanton building just to the south of Ensley-Crocker appears to be a seamless continuation of it, it would appear that the buildings were constructed at the same time. That is not the case, however. The Stanton facade was added some years later to a much older brick building.

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