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 Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, April 12, 2012, Page 16

By Mike Avitt

This [ca. 1913] photo was at the Mount Ayr Depot Preservation Corp. when I joined in 2001. At first, I had no information on this picture so my interest in it was minimal.

Then, one day, I came across a postcard identified as the Farmers State Bank and the building had the same vertical "BANK" sign as can be seen on the far right of the Downie photo. To the right of the Farmers State Bank was an empty lot and in the distance was a house.

I was able to identify the house as one directly west of today's US Bank. Therefore, I put the location of Downie's Harness Shop as about where Hospice is today. I would say that this week's photo was taken between 1912 and 1920. You can be able to read the awning which says "Rush's Harness Shop." That would have been F. J. Rush who had his harness shop on depot street before moving to the west side of the square around 1912.

When Mr. Downie bought the business he conducted his real estate business out of the same shop. E. S. Downie lived in Clearfield and Tingley before coming to Mount Ayr in 1910. Downie was the father of Dr. Gerald Downie who was a missionary to China through the Methodist Church.

The west side of the square has undergone many changes since this photo was taken. Probably the biggest change came on the morning of September 20, 1927 when fire broke out in the Perry Dress Club, a wood-frame structure. The flames quickly spread to the W. N. Finch & Sons produce house, the old Masonic Hall, and crossed the alley to the south at E. M. Rosebaum's tire repair shop.

The Mount Ayr Record-News of September 27, 1927 says that Frank Wilson's two-story building received some damage. The ground floor was unoccupied with the offices of Dr. J. G. Garton and Stephens Chevrolet taking up residence in the upstairs. I believe this is the same building as Downie's Harness Shop. We can see the bottom of a bay window and a staircase in the photo so we know it is a two-story building.

It's possible that the damaged upper story was removed and it could be that the building was rebuilt but the Wilson building is mentioned again in February of 1936 when the United Food Market was affected by a small fire. The articles mention the building next door, Mount Ayr Cleaners (owned by E. S. Downie's daughter Aileene and her husband Brady Beaman), was not harmed. The United Food Market moved to the east side of the square after this fire.

The first week of September 1944, I find that C. O. Wiley has purchased the Wilson building on the west side of the square for use as his heating and plumbing shop. Clair and, later son Ron, had this shop for several decades.

I'll throw in another little piece of history on the west side. In 1946, Dr. Thomas Moffitt tore down another doctor's office (Dr. C. L. Seaman) to build a new office for himself with an apartment in the rear for he and his wife, Sylva. Today that building is Abstract & Title Co. at 115 South Fillmore.

 Mount Ayr Record-News
Mount Ayr, Ringgold County, Iowa
Thursday, August 20, 2012, Page 10

By Mike Avitt

I first ran this picture [top] in an April 12, 2012 Snapshots of History, so it's time to update. I've found more information plus a paragraph on E. S. Downie when he was included in the 1940 Iowa Press Association Who's Who. ["The Iowa Press Association's Who's Who in Iowa, a Biographical Record of Iowa's Leaders in Business, Professional and Public Life." Iowa Press Association. Des Moines IA. 1940.]

The building in this week's article was built in 1898 by R. M. Bowlby. It was located at 107 S. Fillmore and burned down September 1927. Many businesses occupied this building during its lifetime and Friend Rush's Harness Shop was one of them.

You can see the awning with the words "Rush's Harness Shop" and I know now that F. J. Rush was the occupant immediately preceding E. S. Downie. Friend Rush bought Charles Teale's harness business in February 1909 and opened up shop on Depot Street. About the end of July 1909 he moved to the storefront we see pictured today.

E. S. Downie moved into this building in early October 1913 and I believe this photo was taken at that time. Downie appears to be the man in the middle with the harness shop worker to the right of Downie. I'd say the man on the left is Express Office (later called Adams Express Co.) manager as they rented half of the building. I don't know what harness business was here after Rush.

I've read many old newspapers and the Record-News often referred to E. S. Downie as the "tireless toiler." He oversaw many important real estate transactions but my favorite thing he did was tear down the old Mount Ayr Opera House (104 E. Monroe) and use the lumber to build the house at 219 Dunning Avenue. This area was called the Highland Addition in those days and came on the heels of the development of Sheldon Heights.

His piece in Who's Who, written by Randolph Beall, say Everal Sumner Downie was born and raised in Illinois, moving to Clearfield in 1898. He then bought a farm near Tingley and farmed until 1908 when he came to Mount Ayr. Besides being a real estate agent, he also had peach orchards and alfalfa fields. His hobby is listed as "Doing things that others says can't be done." How about that!

Now, back to our building. The fire that burned our featured edifice occurred in 1927 but all the buildings that burned changed hands between 1920 and 1927 and were located at 107, 109, and 111 S. Fillmore. The buildings at 109 and 111 S. Fillmore were bought by H. H. Wilson in 1920 and 107 S. Fillmore was bought by H. H. Wilson's son, attorney Frank Wilson, in 1926. H. C. Milligan had a jewelry store at 107 S. Fillmore from 1922 to 1926. At the time of the fire the bottom floor was being remodeled but Dr. J. G. Garton's office was lost as was Stephen's Chevrolet office upstairs.

The building at 109 S. Fillmore was Perry Dress Club and this is where the fire started. The building had previously been John Horne's drug store, although not since 1907 or before. John was the father of John Earl "Barney" Horne, who also owned a drug store for several years.

The building at 111 S. Fillmore was W. N. Finch & Son produce house. This building had previously been the Masonic Hall and a jewelry store. Finch moved to this location in 1920 after being at 202 S. Taylor for one year. There were no fatalities in this fire of September 20, 1927 but three buildings on the west side of the square were lost. So now we rebuild.

The first building replaced was 107 S. Fillmore in 1928. Frank Wilson owned it and it was supposed to be leased to the Great Atlantic Tea Co., but I never saw an ad for them. This building became the home of (Clair) Willey's Plumbing & Heating in 1944.

The buildings at 109 and 111 S. Fillmore were built in 1931 by the H. H. Wilson Estate. 111 S. Fillmore was immediately occupied by the Mount Ayr Post Office and 109 S. Fillmore would be occupied by Mount Ayr Cleaners before 1936. E. S. Downie's daughter, Aileene, and her husband Floyd "Brady" Beaman, would own the Mount Ayr Cleaners for many years.

  • Everal Sumner Downie obituary

    Photograph courtesy of Mount Ayr Record-News
    Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, October of 2015

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