The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

December 30, 2012

Bakery got start in Southtown

BY CAROL ROEHM
Commercial-News

Before there was South Danville, there was a place called Southtown.

“Southtown was at the south end of Memorial Bridge and at the north end of the overhead bridge,” said 87-year-old Dorothy Swaim, who grew up in Southtown.

The overhead bridge was actually a wooden bridge that was located where the bridge is now near South View Middle School, she said.

Southtown boasted a doctor’s office, two grocery stores, two filling stations and two churches, Swaim recalls.

One of Southtown’s more notable businesses was Harvey’s Poultry House, where Swaim said “you could buy any kind of chicken or eggs.”

“It was an area within itself,” she said of Southtown.

One of Swaim’s childhood friends from Southtown, 92-year-old Lucille Lyman, said Southtown children attended Grant School until seventh grade and Washington School for eighth grade before moving on to Danville High School.

Swaim said Southtown’s town square was located at the four corners of Bridge Street — the current location of which perplexes Lyman to this day.

“I lived in Southtown until 1940 and something I’ve always wondered about is why the city allowed Arby’s to build on what had been Southtown’s square,” Lyman said.

“It was houses all along there,” Lyman said of South Gilbert Street, which she said used to be known as Main Street in Southtown. “Anker’s Bakery was at the northwest corner of Second and South Gilbert streets.”

Price Brothers

It also was in Southtown where another bakery, Price Brothers Bakery, got its start in the basement of the family’s home at Fourth and Stewart streets.

“For 10 cents you could buy as many day-old doughnuts as you could fit in a bag,” Swaim remembered.

Lyman is related to the Prices and also remembers the bakery well.

“Some of the Prices are related to me. My mom was a Price, and they were my cousins,” she said of the baking kin.

“Some of us kids went down there and they gave us day-old doughnuts, which I don’t think pleased my father too much,” she recalled.

“They later had a bakery on Main Street.”

It might seem hard to believe now but Mel Price, who is well known in the area for his rock-hauling business, used to decorate and assemble wedding cakes as a teenager along with his younger brother, Dave.

“I worked there from the time I was 13 or 14 years old until a little after high school,” he said. “Dad made all the kids work. It was a family business.”

Price said there were five Price brothers — Howard, Harlan, Leo, Ray and Fermer — and two or three of them along with his father, Howard, started Price Brothers Bakery in the 1930s.

“He started cooking doughnuts in his basement and delivered them to restaurants around town,” Price said of his father.

“They participated in the business until the Depression,” he added, referring to his uncles.

Howard continued to run the bakery with his wife Pearl and three to five other bakers for more than three decades.

After leaving its basement location, the bakery moved to a brick building that still exists behind Watson Tire and then to a former Grab-It-Here store at the northwest corner of East Main and Buchanan streets, which is a used car lot today.

When the bakery moved into the larger Grab-It-Here location, it became known as Price Brothers and Coffee Bar.

“It was a full-line bakery and on the east end was a coffee bar,” Price said. “We made everything, even tiered wedding cakes and Italian bread.”

But it was the strawberry shortcake and the peanut roll that distinguished the bakery from the others in Danville.

For the strawberry shortcake, Price said, “They took a yellow cake that was flattened like a pie crust and cut the top piece off.

“They filled the top with whole strawberries and jam and piped really heavy whipping cream around the edge.”

Another famous Price Brothers confection, and Price’s personal favorite, was the peanut roll.

“It was deep-fried sweet dough with cinnamon sprinkled on it. Then we spread icing on them and hand-dipped them in peanuts and bread crumbs,” he said.

Howard Price closed the bakery when he retired at age 65 in 1968.

“He sold the property and a Top Boy was built there,” Price said.

Price laments the loss of Danville’s old-fashioned bakeries, such as Bob Starns’ bakery, Arnholt’s and Price Brothers.

“My dad said the downfall of bakeries was when Betty Crocker came out with cake mix in a box in 1960s,” he said. “It’s a dying art.”

Carol Roehm is the education reporter. Contact her at 477-5174 or by e-mail at croehm@dancomnews.com.