The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

March 10, 2013

Stroll down memory lane continues


— Nice e-mails have come in following two recent columns about downtown Danville, 50 years ago.

Ever eager to beat a dead horse, I resume my mental stroll …

— Howard’s Café, 24 W. Main St. This little restaurant, east of the Brown Derby, was my favorite. Dad would take me there mainly because I loved the antique rifles, pistols, swords, daggers and brass knuckles that covered the walls. The airborne hamburger grease kept the collection rust-free.

— The Grier-Lincoln Hotel, northwest corner of Walnut and Main streets. One dining room transported you back to Merry Olde England. It had oaken beams, triangle-shaped leaded windows and other Tudor touches. Some Commercial-News reporters lived at the Grier-Lincoln, paying discount rates. Who else offered them their own bar, restaurant, maid and room service?

— The Baum Building, 41 N. Vermilion St. This elegant little limestone skyscraper was built in 1907-08. I remember its little cage elevator, run by a little elevator operator. Like the Temple Building, the Adams Building and the First National Bank Building, the Baum Building was full of optometrists, dentists, lawyers, insurance agents, engineers, barbers and beauticians. My great-uncle, Ferdinand “Ferd” Clifford, was long remembered as the lad with a right arm strong enough to throw an orange over the top of the seven-story structure.

— Wabash Passenger Station, east Main Street. The once-beautiful Wabash Station was already rather rundown when I was a kid, but you could still catch trains there. The C & EI had its own passenger station, south of the Fairchild Street Subway.

—Arp’s Barber Shop, also on Main, just east of the station. Bob Arp ran this shop for years. It was a place of cigar smoke, Vitalis, straight razors and buzzing clippers. The mirrors had reflected on more skulls than had the American College of Brain Surgeons.

— Second-hand stores. East Main and North Jackson had several second-hand stores. I recall Mack’s, Red’s, Jesse Burge’s and Morgan’s. They were dusty, dim and heated with pot-bellied stoves. Used furniture was the big draw, but I still use a carpenter’s hammer that I bought at Mack’s, and I still refer to a copy of Hiram Beckwith’s “History of Vermilion County, 1879,” that I bought for a dime.

— Union Car Wash, South Vermilion Street, near the Palmer Bank. I remember the guys with rubber boots, rubber coats, sponges, brushes and chamois skins. They also had wands that shot live steam, for melting tar and grease.

— Vermilion County Jail, South Vermilion Street. This Italianate structure of red brick with limestone trim dated to the 1870s, with an addition from about 1917. The front of the old jail was really a Victorian house, because the sheriff and his family used to live there. I was in the jail many times because my dad did business there. Seeing the inmates in their cells was educational; every boy should have that experience.

Ah, downtown Danville, 50 years ago. Gone, but not forgotten!

Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at