The Pierce Pennant Tavern

Miami Businesses

At the corner of N 22nd Street was an impressive white two story building which was a clear memory for Miami’s Boomers. The building had a history equal to its own dignified look.

Postcard showing a Pierce Pennant Tavern (possibly the Miami location). Click to enlarge.

It started out in 1930 as a Pierce Pennant Tavern. “Tavern” in this sense is used in its original connotation as a lodging place for the night. Below is the text from a July 21, 1929 News-Record article announcing the tavern.

Pierce Corporation Is Expected to Begin Construction of Second Unit on Tract North of Here Late in Fall

Construction of a 40-room tourist hotel as the second unit of the Pierce Petroleum corporation’s development two miles north of Miami on U.S. Highway 66 will be started late this year, according to information received from the corporation’s headquarters in St. Louis.  The structure will cost approximately $300,000, it is understood.

The corporation plans to open its first unit, the tourist terminal and restaurant building, now nearing completion on the 10-acre tract, late this month or early in August, according to Edward D. Levy, president.

Similar projects are under construction in Columbia, Mo., and in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.  Key buildings have been completed in Springfield and Rolla, Mo.  When finished the chain will extend the length of Highway 66, according to T. W. O’Donnell, Oklahoma City district manager.

Development of the chain follows the success of the first hotel built in Rolla, Mo., O’Donnell said.

Eventually the company plans to have these hotels scattered the entire length of the country from 125 to 150 miles apart.  Amarillo and some city to be selected between Oklahoma City and Amarillo, will be the next projects to be started, O’Donnell said.

A detailed description of the company’s tourist terminal program was contained in the May 11 issue of Tavern Talk, hotel trade magazine.  The article was as follows:

“That long stretch of highway extending from coast to coast, from New York to Los Angeles, indicated on the map as U.s. Highway 40 and U.S. Highway 66, may properly be called the ‘Main Street of the Nation.’

“Winding its most direct way from coast to coast, this great national thoroughfare passes through a territory that is the center of the Nation’s population and wealth.

“Within parallel boundaries, just a day’s ride to the north and to the south of these highway, we find 66 percent of the population of the United States.

“Sixty-six percent of the nation’s wealth—

“Sixty-six percent of the 23,000,000 registered motor vehicles—

“Sixty-six percent of the tourists travel over the two great connecting highways.

“What a pathway for modern development!  Visualize, if you will, that great army of motor tourists who travel U.S. Highways 40 and 66 annually.  Picture the accommodations necessary for their comfort and convenience.  Hotels and restaurants.  Service stations for their automobiles.  You are visioned the inspiration for the building of pennant terminals and hotels.

“Pennant hotels and terminals are a project of the Pierce Petroleum corporation, famed for Pennant petroleum projects, with headquarters in St. Louis.  The undertaking has attracted the interest of hotel operators throughout the Southwest.

“The Pierce company has for its president E. D. Levy, able executive and transportation authority and one-time general manager of the Frisco railroad.

“The Pennant Terminal system contemplates the building of tourist accommodations approximately 125 to 150 miles apart along U.S. Highways 66 and 40 from Los Angeles to New York.

“Hotel units will be built at all terminal points, but during 1929 they will be available only at the Rolla, Mo., terminal and Columbia, Mo., terminal.

“These hotel units of 40 modern rooms will be equipped with the very finest appointments money can buy and every comfort for the traveler has been given the utmost consideration.

“At Rolla and Springfield, Mo., the Pierce Petroleum corporation last year erected and had in operation during the greater part of the touring year the forerunners of the present terminal.

“This year, profiting from the initial year’s lessons, improvements have been made, enlargements have been decided upon, refinements have been added, and the result will be the most elaborate and distinctive utility of its type on any highway.

“With plans to open by June 1, and construction already under way, a new Pennant terminal will serve the motoring public at Columbia, Mo., on U.S. Highway 40, midway between the two Missouri metropolis of Kansas City and St. Louis.  The chain will be extended further into the Southwest on U.S. Highway 66, with units being established and opened about June 1, at Miami and Tulsa, Okla., Rolla, Mo., is being improved and enlarged to meet the increased demands of 1929.

“Each Pennant terminal will have a complete restaurant, restrooms for men and women, emergency hospital, lounge, and refreshment facilities, in addition to complete service station equipment.

“Close to $1,000,000 will be spent in the development of Pennant terminals this year, building comforts for the American tourist, with the expectation of materially increasing the construction budget in 1930.

“In addition to the hotel units now in course of construction at Rolla and Columbus, Mo., it is the intention of the corporation later in the year is commence construction of a terminal building and hotel unit near Springfield, Mo., a terminal building and hotel unit near Oklahoma City—and to construct one hotel unit each at Miami and Tulsa, where the corporation is now engaged in constructing terminal buildings.

“Fred Hutchinson, a former hotel man and at one time with the Greystone Hotel, Bedford, Ind., has supplied Tavern Talk with a description of the Pierce hotels and terminals.  Mr. Hutchinson is superintendent of terminals for the Pierce corporation.

“Each of these terminals is located on a minimum of 10 acres of land outside of the city limits, and having a minimum frontage of 600 feet on the highway.  This 10 acres of land is to be placed in landscaping.  In the center of the 10 acres is to be constructed the terminal building, and grouped around the terminal building in the landscaping is to be one or more hotel units of 40 rooms each.  The number of these 40-room units that will be constructed will depend upon the business done at each place and the necessity for extension.  To begin with, only one 40-room unit will be constructed.

“The hotel units being built by the corporation will be far ahead of anything ever constructed for tourist use and will be equal to or better than the modern hotels in the larger cities.  The building is fireproof throughout.

“The entire fire floor is a garage, there being garage space for the 40 guests rooms.  One each of the first and second floors are 16 guest rooms and on the third floor eight guest rooms, a total of 40 guest rooms.  On the top floor are five rooms without bath for chauffeurs and these rooms can only be occupied by bonafide chauffeurs actually driving tourists.

“Each one of the guest rooms is an outside room and has an outside private bath.  The furniture and equipment in the guest rooms will be above that of the average hotel in the large cities.  The bath rooms will be floored with rubber tile, lined with white tile, and equipped with circulating ice water, hot and cold water tub and shower.  Both bed rooms and bath rooms will be equipped with an electric fan.

“The springs, mattresses, linens, towels, blankets, carpets, draperies, etc., will be equal to the better hotels in the large cities.

“Each bed room will be 12×16 and will be equipped with two beds.

“The halls throughout will be covered with inlaid rubber tile and all of the woodwork in the halls and bed rooms will be finished in polished automobile lacquer, no ordinary paint being used in the interior.

“In addition to each room having two full sized beds, when there is an infant in the family, a modern steel trundle bed will be placed in the room for the occupancy of the infant without any charge to the family.

“The Pierce corporation invites guests to do such washing as they care to do in their rooms, and has provided the proper facilities for them.  In the clothes closet of each room has been placed an electric drier, a folding ironing board and an electric iron.

“In the basement of each terminal building is a modern steam laundry for laundering the linen of the terminal and hotel buildings.  This laundry will work nights and tourists delivering their laundry to hotel employees before 9:00 p.m. can have it returned to them any time they desire after 4 a.m. the next morning.

“Each one of the 40 guest rooms is identical and the rates will be $4.00 or a single room, and $10.00 for four in each room.

“There will be no charge for the automobile in the garage.  During the night each machine will be vacuumed out, all the glass washed and polished and the car given water and air without any charge.  If gasoline, or or grease is desired, the tourist of course will pay for it.

“The charge for a chauffeur’s room without bath will be $1.00 per person.

“An investigation made by the corporation developed the fact that the average tourist car contained three people and that in a large proportion of cases all of the occupants of the car wanted to occupy one room, and for this reason the rooms were built large and equipped with two full sized beds which will make them serve for one, two, three or four persons.

“Upon alighting from his automobile under a massive white pillared canopy and entering the spacious doors of the terminal, the visitor will be immediately impressed by the depth of the main waiting room.  Depending upon the season, his senses will react to its cool coziness or satisfying warmth.  In the chill days of late spring or early fall, he will find an open fireplace at the end of the room, logs blazing merrily, just the tang of wood smoke redolent of the Ozark backwoods hanging in the air, inviting a relaxing “stretch” before its hearth.  Summer, with its heat and glare and dust, is quickly transformed by the refreshing coolness of the well ventilated lounge, huge ceiling fans silently wafting synthetic lake breezes to the massive and comfortable divans and easy chairs.  This room is 50 feet long and 35 feet wide, backed by a soda fountain for soft drink and sandwich service, with tables and chairs to accommodate 50 guests.

“To the left of the main waiting room will be three rest rooms for women.  The first is a French renaissance room, oddly in contrast to the Colonial simplicity of the public lounge, yet peculiarly appealing in the loveliness of its feminine appointments.  Then comes the women’s toilet, the floors of which will be inlaid rubber and walls finished in white marble and chromium.  To the left of the French room is an emergency hospital equipped with three hospital beds, with white tables and chairs to match, and three trundle beds for infants.  In the center is a standard hospital operating table, so arranged that normally it assumes the appearance of an ordinary table.  A cabinet containing all the surgical instruments, supplies and appliances necessary for an emergency operation is placed in the wall.  This room has a large double door, so that an ambulance may have easy access.  A trained nurse will be in constant attendance.  Either sex may receive treatment here.

“To the right of the main waiting room will be the men’s toilets, as elaborately equipped as those for the women.  In addition to the manager’s office, a special dining room and toilet for negro chauffeurs is also at this side of the main floor.

“Ascending the winding stairway, rested and refreshed, the visitor seeking satisfaction for the inner man will find awaiting him a modern dining room that for service, cuisine and appointments will be on par with the larger hotels of the country.  With a seating capacity of 100 diners, this room is so built that one-half of it may be closed off to accommodate bridge luncheons and club dinners.  Music, when desired, is convenient, as the facilities include a Victrola, radio and grand piano, and the entire spacious dining room is available for dance purposes.  A modern and compact kitchen is situated at the rear of the dining room.

“In addition to the heating and refrigerating apparatus, the basement is equipped with a modern steam laundry, insuring clean linens at all times for dining service and clean, freshly laundered uniforms for waitresses and attendants.”
(Miami Daily News Record ~ Sunday ~ July 21, 1929)

Spartan School of Aeronautics, aerial view, 1941. Click to enlarge.

The Depression was brutal on the chain, and the Miami location closed in 1935. Two years later, a skating rink was opened in the building. In 1940, the Spartan School of Aeronautics took over the property, and the building was converted to offices and barracks, with more barracks built to the west.

Winart Pottery, 1955. Photo by Ken Ellwood

And in 1953 or possibly a bit earlier, Winart Pottery moved into the old Pennant building, its large arrow out front a distinctive landmark the rest of the decade.

The building is gone now, Karnes Pro Tire and Auto Center now inhabits the block. But a generation of Miami kids remembers the imposing two story building that was a monument to a luxury hotel chain which was the victim of the Great Depression.

Miami Armature Works

Miami Businesses

In 1916, a young man named Aymer Scholes received a marriage license in Joplin.

Aymer lived in Picher, and was employed as a mechanic by one of the many mining companies that sprang up virtually overnight. By 1920, he and his bride had relocated to Quapaw, and she was a constant subject of social news in the paper. Eventually, they would reside in Commerce, Aymer’s career tied to mining.

Miami Armature Works opens, June 9, 1944

In June, 1944, with a war raging and the mining business brisk, Scholes made a career change, and with partner A.P. Cooper opened Miami Armature Works at 212 NE 1st.

Eventually, Cooper would depart, and another partner would join forces with Scholes, J.D. Helmick.

212 SE 1st, Miami Armature Works’ original home

Around 1964, they moved shop to a brand new metal building at 1925 North Main. The front of the building was done up beautifully in Miami Stone. And that’s where they still are today, over fifty years later.

Son Corbin Helmick runs the shop now, a 75-year-survivor among Miami businesses. The well-worn workbench tells tales of hundreds of motors rewound or otherwise repaired, keeping Miami running.

Here’s to you, Miami Armature Works, for showing the Wardog spirit, and sticking to it.

The well-worn workbench at Miami Armature Works, 2019

Miami Armature Works, at this location for well over 50 years. Check out that Miami Stone, and that vintage sign!

Miami’s Railroads

Miami Businesses

Miami cofounder Wayland Lykins knew that the infant town needed railroad service. So he donated $30,000 in land for a right of way which the Kansas City, Ft. Scott, and Memphis Railway would use for tracks, and in 1896 they rolled into town for the first time.

The first KC,FS, & M train rolls into town, September 12, 1896. Click to enlarge

First KC,FS & M train, September 12, 1896, depot seen under construction. Click to enlarge

In 1901, they were acquired by Frisco, which continued to service the town and expand operations. Frisco built a bridge across the Neosho and ran tracks to Afton that year, and Miami became an artery, with 25-30 trains passing through daily.

Frisco bridge across the Neosho, early 20th century. Click to enlarge

Frisco bridge over flooded Neosho River, circa 1911. Click to enlarge

Frisco Bridge, 1909. Click to enlarge.

Frisco terminal 1940’s. Click to enlarge

Frisco Firefly parked at Frisco Terminal, late 1950’s. Click to enlarge

Frisco station robbery, January 4, 1931. Nineteen dollars was a lot of money in a depression!

In 1908, the Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri Inter-Urban Railway Company built four miles of line heading from Miami north to Hattonville, which was later renamed Commerce. More track was soon added to access the burgeoning mine fields.

There was a trolley in place on Main in 1909, but very little is known about it. A photo shows tracks which look pretty primitive.

In June, 1916, they began laying new trolley tracks up Main Street connecting to the interurban tracks. The first car ran on Thursday, October 12 of that year, entering Main at N 3rd Avenue, and turning around at S 3rd. The non-electrical cars were less than reliable, and the Herald-Record bemoaned their less-than-stellar service record.

In 1919, Miami stockholders purchased the railroad and renamed it the NEO some time afterwards. Besides making freight and passenger runs, the NEO also ran an electrified trolley from SE 3rd all the way to Picher. The trolley would make the trip every 30 minutes, generally. There, customers could debark and jump on a Southwest Electric Railway trolley and ride to Joplin. The trolley service was discontinued in 1934, and the tracks were removed, some sections being simply paved over.

The NEO Railroad was purchased by Eagle-Picher in 1938.

NEO got a shot in the arm when the Goodrich plant went in in 1943, it hauled materials in and tires out until it closed in 1986. Goodrich kept them busy long after the mining industry staggered to a stop.

NEO trolley car. Click to enlarge

NEO train, 1950’s. Click to enlarge

NEO electric train in Picher. Click to enlarge.

NEO railroad engine in 1954. Click to enlarge

NEO Railroad engine in 1969, in front of North Main depot. The NEO logo has been replaced. Click to enlarge

NEO Railroad trolley ad, 1930. Click to enlarge

The third supplier of train service was the Missouri, Oklahoma, and Gulf Railway. They were in business in Miami, using the line that ran along SE H and which crossed the Neosho just south of Riverview Park, since 1913. In 1919, they filed bankruptcy and were reorganized and the Kansas, Oklahoma and Gulf Railway took over their holdings. They lasted until 1964, when they were purchased by Texas and Pacific, under the auspices of Missouri-Pacific. They evidently ceased service to Miami at that time, and their roadbed was abandoned.

Building the M,O, and G bridge, 1912. Click to enlarge

The M O and G bridge, 2011. Click to enlarge

M O & G trestle, east side of the Neosho. Click to enlarge.

First M O&G train rolls into town, February 14, 1913

MO&G depot, south of the Frisco, 1915. Note how the tracks turn right and head for the Neosho, MO&G’s tracks ran straight south before crossing.

A fourth railroad company formed in 1917 which deserves a mention: the Miami Mineral Belt Railroad. They were a freight/passenger line which ran from Picher to Quapaw, and terminated at Baxter Springs. In 1923, they leased to Frisco.

While they had Miami in their name, they didn’t actually haul here. It appears that their purpose in life was to give Frisco a shot at the lucrative ore and freight hauling in and out of the mining area. NEO had a virtual monopoly on the business there, but little MMB’s 14.137 miles of track was Frisco’s way of getting in on the fun. In 1950, they were fully absorbed by Frisco and ceased to exist.

Miami Mineral Belt pass, 1919. Click to enlarge

Advertising clock featuring Miami Mineral Belt Railroad. Click to enlarge

1926 ad for Miami Mineral belt Railroad. Click to enlarge

Miami Mineral Belt Railroad route map, 1917

Frisco ceased offering passenger service to Miami in 1960. It hadn’t been profitable for at least three years. NEO had already stopped their passenger runs, I have been unable to determine exactly when, probably a year or two earlier.

In 1963, Frisco purchased NEO, but the company retained its name until 1967, when it was dissolved, and Miami was served by one railroad, until Frisco itself was taken over by Burlington-Northern in 1980.

Golden anniversary article about NEO railroad, October 24, 1958. Click to enlarge

Golden anniversary article about NEO railroad, October 24, 1958. Click to enlarge

Frisco bus schedule, 1947. Click to enlarge.

New NEO Bus Terminal to open at 116 N Main on February 1, 1943

Both Frisco and NEO offered bus service for a time. NEO started out in 1936, having retired the trolley service in 1934. Frisco first advertised in the local paper in 1942. Both ceased operations between the end of WWII and the late 40’s.

Making Airplanes in Miami

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

Edward DeChenne was born in Illinois in 1870. By 1905, he had relocated to southwest Missouri. His trades were blacksmith and machinist, and this made him valuable to the mining industry.

In 1910, he moved to Joplin. There, he became familiar with two Monett businessmen, Ulysses S. Barnsley and Judge Ludwell B. Durnil. Barnsley owned a successful cutlery factory, Durnil was likewise a blacksmith. All three men shared a passion for flying.

DeChenne’s first airplane, 1910. Photo courtesy of the Monett Times

Dechenne airplane engine. Water cooled, direct drive, made of aluminum. Courtesy of the Monett Times

DeChenne invented and produced an all-aluminum airplane engine. He also designed aluminum framing for a plane. Aluminum, only recently made affordable by advancement in refinement techniques, was lightweight, perfect for aviation.

In June, 1910, DeChenne and his partners built their first plane at the Joplin Machine Works. The machine used the aluminum engine with the propeller directly connected to the shaft. On July 3, it successfully flew, staying about five feet up for nearly six minutes. An August flight, with a man named E.H. Simpson at the controls, ended with a crash from which Simpson walked away.

By 1911, the men had moved their manufacturing facilities to Monett, and had a second generation plane built and ready to test. Since very few men had ever flown, nerves of steel were found acceptable in lieu of experience. They found such a brave man in Edward Wilson, formerly a trapeze artist and hot air balloonist. Wilson would shoot himself out of a cannon from a balloon 5000 feet up and parachute to the ground. On March 8 of that year, Wilson successfully piloted the DeChenne airplane in Joplin. The flight took place at present-day Shifferdecker Park, and ended with a successful crash, i.e. Wilson walked away. A few weeks later, Wilson again took the plane up, handled a stall instinctively, and landed smoothly.

Logan McKee in the second generation DeChenne, 1911. Photo courtesy of the Monett Times

Another test flight was scheduled for July 4 that year in Monett. This time, DeChenne went with Logan McKee as the pilot. McKee was a Monett pharmacist who had been commissioned to take photos of the plane. When he expressed a desire to pilot it, DeChenne and his partners took him up on the offer.

Logan McKee about to take off on July 4, 1911, Monett, Missouri. Photo courtesy of the Monett Times

The flight was successful. That was followed by more demonstrations across the four state area as well as Texas. These flights too frequently resulted in crashes, but no deaths were ever attributed to the airplane.

DeChenne airplane in flight over Miami, 1911

Included in the barnstorming tour was Miami. A three-day festival celebrating the Farmer’s Institute in July of 1911 resulted in several successful flights, often meaning walk-away crashes.

1959 article about the 1911 flying exhibition. Click to enlarge.

McKee was known for making flights of perhaps 50 feet in the air, landing, and manually turning the plane around for returns. The article above explains the unusual flight technique. But while these bunny hops were being performed, Wright and Curtiss planes were achieving altitudes of 2000 feet, maneuvering with ease.

1929 News-Record article giving history of the Robinson-DeChanne plant

The Live Wire announces an airplane factory, March 15, 1912

Later that year, DeChenne moved his factory to Miami. He teamed up with S.D. “Doc” Robinson to create the Robinson-DeChenne Aero-Plane & Motor Co., located on NW 3rd, not far from the river. The next year, in 1912, a DeChenne plane was manufactured in Miami. It flew successfully at a July 4th exhibition in town.

But the planes DeChenne made weren’t competitive with those offered by Curtiss and the Wrights. Tired of losing money, DeChenne opened up a machine shop in town, eventually settling in at 210 S Main, in a building that still stands. Robinson kept going as Robinson Aviation.

Edward DeChenne obituary, February 11, 1935

He died on February 10, 1935. Curiously, his obituary implies that he first entered the airplane building trade as a result of the 1912 aerial demonstration. Whether this was poor journalism or done to avoid lawsuits from former partners is not known.

The Robinson-DeChenne factory history, 1928

As the article above outlines, Doc Robinson went on to manufacture at least 25 more planes at a facility near Commerce. He died on March 8, 1930, and thus ended Miami’s airplane manufacturing. His field north of town continued to function for a time as the area’s only airstrip.

By the time the city airport opened in 1931, airplanes had been manufactured here for nearly 20 years. Add to that the Spartan Aviation School we had during and after WWII, and Miami can boast of a strong history of flying. But it all began in Joplin in 1910, with a man named Edward DeChenne.

Miami’s Theaters

Miami Businesses

Auditorium ad from September 24, 1915

Miami has always had movie theaters, it seems. By 1912, the town had seen open for business the Pastime (located where the Cardin building, aka the former Security Bank building, now sits), the Orpheum, the Idle Hour, the Odeon (on the first block of SE 1st), the Starlight, the Lyric (East Central and A), the Airdome, and the Electric Theater, located somewhere on N Main. Most of these theaters didn’t last long.

The Airdome got new life breathed into it when it was purchased in 1912 by J.W. Hatfield and renamed the Auditorium.

The Dreamland opened at 12 South Main, where Security Bank now sits, in 1914. It soon changed its name to the Grand. For a while, the Miami Record-Herald would have big ads from the Grand and the Auditorium running side by side. In 1916, the owners of the Auditorium purchased the Grand and both theaters remained open for business. Late in the year, they purchased the Opera House, which had been sitting idle since 1911, revamped it, and closed the Auditorium. The Opera House was set up with a projector. It was a busy place until the next year, when the building was purchased with the idea of renovating it into office space.

In 1917, the Grand received some competition: the Glory B, which opened directly across the street (at the site of the present-day Jeannie’s). Both of these theaters had stages large enough to accommodate vaudeville acts and live bands.

Glory B and Grand Theater ads, January 6, 1928

Glory B and Grand Theater ads, September 7, 1927

Glory B ad, January 5, 1940

Ottawa and Coleman ads, January 4, 1946

Both theaters eventually came to be owned by Sarah Cardin Staton. A Staton owning a South Main business was a common situation in the twenties. The Grand lasted until 1928. It apparently never converted to sound, and the rival across the street announced it that year. In fact, the last Grand ad was placed in the News-Record the weekend before the Glory B debuted sound.

Vaudeville and Talkies at the Glory B, November 2, 1928

On April 18, 1929, the Coleman theater opened. The Coleman also had a vaudeville stage, and Miamians once again had their choice of two theaters to attend.

Coleman Theater writeup, January 20, 1929, the article mentions three obscure playhouses that Miami had in the past. Click to enlarge.

The article above is valuable because it mentions three obscure playhouses from Miami’s past: the Odeon, the Pastime, and the Airdome. A pre-1917 postcard of South Main shows the Pastime in the ground floor of the Cardin building. The Odeon, as mentioned before, was on the first block of SE 1st. No clue on where the Airdome was.

January 20, 1933

The Glory B and the Coleman both survived the Great Depression, providing entertainment which was just barely affordable enough, combined with a nice air-conditioned place to escape dust bowl summer heat.

In 1945, Miami again had three theaters, when the Ottawa opened at the same location formerly occupied by the Grand.

Ottawa Theater’s first ad, April 4, 1945

The Ottawa from the beginning advertised itself as a second-run theater, and it did well. But in 1949, the theater scene in town would be shook up by the appearance of the drive-in theater. Click the link to read the history of Miami’s drive-ins.

Ottawa Theater, late 1940’s

Sometime after 1950 (1951 and 1952 are missing from my newspaper archives), the Glory B closed its doors. By 1953, the Miami Theater had opened there, complete with a gorgeous art deco marquee.

Artist’s depiction of the Miami Theater.

Miami’s theaters peaked in 1954. There were two drive-ins, the Sooner south of town and the Tri-State to the north, and three walk-ins, the Coleman, the Ottawa, and the Miami. The Sooner would close that year after a flood, promising to reopen but never doing so. The Ottawa would close the next year. The Miami would close in 1958. It would reopen for a few weeks in 1961.

Five Miami theater ads, June 11, 1954

Obviously, television was the culprit. As more and more Miami residences obtained the one-eyed monsters, theaters felt the pinch. By the time I came along in the 60’s, it was the Coleman and the former Tri-State, renamed the Sooner early in the decade.

The Tri-State’s site is covered by a Wal-Mart. But the Coleman lives on, in what is one of the greatest historical renovations ever done. The theater where I watched Mary Poppins, The Monkey’s Uncle, and Bonnie and Clyde (thanks, brother Bill, for exposing me to some great edgy entertainment, and making me the coolest kid in the third grade) is much more beautiful now than it was then. The decrepit balcony had already been closed off by the time I was attending there.

Mention should be made of the Thunderbird Twin Theater, which was built on SE 3rd (it was Steve Owens Boulevard by then) circa 1971 by developer John Haralson. The theater remained in operation until some time in the 80’s.

And of course, Miami has a modern multi-screen cineplex. So movie theaters have run continuously here since 1914. That’s impressive, because many communities Miami’s size have stopped supporting them.

George Mayer and Miami Stone

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

George Mayer was a self-made man. He was born in Rhineland, Missouri in 1915. He was fascinated with airplanes, and in the freewheeling days before FAA regulation, he was able to teach himself to fly. He was good at it, too, good enough to be hired as an instructor in 1941 at the Spartan School of Aviation. Mayer moved to Miami and would soon make a huge impact on not only the business community, but in the looks of structures in Miami and all over the US.

As Mayer would fly around, he was amazed at the mountains of chat all over Ottawa county. What potential for material there!

When the US entered WWII, Mayer enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross in the Pacific theater.

In 1949, Mayer opened up a paint and wallpaper store in Miami. One day, while mixing paint, he had an epiphany: wouldn’t a custom colored building stone be quite a popular item? He set up some molds in his garage and started experimenting.

His first thought was towards the discarded chat left over from the mining industry. Virtually unlimited, and almost free. But it wasn’t to be. He couldn’t make strong enough blocks with the chat. The lead it contained would fortunately never be an issue with his new product.

You see, Mayer knew the biggest issue with manufactured stone: porosity. If water could get inside it and freeze, it would break. So Mayer strove for a ridiculously high 5,000 PSI product which would be impervious to water. And they were! Mayer’s quality control include a cycle test, where the stones were soaked in water for 24 hours, then frozen at -12 Fahrenheit for 24 hours, then thawed for 24 hours. This cycle continued for nine months.

If a stone could survive that, mere weather conditions would be a snap to overcome. Sure enough, not even a surface deterioration could be found by independent laboratories.

Miami News-Record article on George mayer and Miami Stone, 1955

He soon rented a building on the Truck Route to refine his concept. By 1955, Mayer had perfected his formula, had purchased a manufacturing site between the curves north of town, and was offering Miami Stone for sale. One of the first buildings in Miami to use it was the new dental clinic on 216 W Central. The first News-Record ad placed by Miami Stone in December, 1955 paid tribute to the new office.

Miami Stone pays homage to one of its first clients, Dr. Leon Lewis’s new office at 216 W Central. December 14, 1955

216 W Central in 2016, the Miami Stone is still in perfect shape

Besides being an inexpensive, durable, attractive building material, it had even more cachet: it looked Mid-Century Modern, the building style that was just beginning to take off across the country. Thus, Miami Stone was an instant success.

To say that Miami Stone was a brilliant design would be quite an understatement. Besides being as durable as can be imagined, its modular design leads to imaginative use. The blocks ranged in size from one to four and a half inches thick (eventually they maxed out at 3 1/2″). The sizes jumped by 1/2 inch, so use a 1/2″ mortar joint and you can create patterns with different block thicknesses.

Miami Stone yearbook ad, 1963

Miami Stone plant worker, date unknown

Miami Stone flyer, early 60’s

Miami Stone flyer, interior. Click to enlarge.

Miami Stone flyer, back cover

But Mayer didn’t stop there. He marketed Miami Stone as a franchise, and soon had locations all over the US making his stones.

By 1968, the MCM look was starting to slow down, and so was demand for the sleek building blocks. Unfazed, Mayer created another stone: the Rus-Tique Brik.

It looked like a brick, but was actually more durable, being manufactured to the same standards as Miami Stone. Mayer’s market from the get-go was franchises for this product. An entrepreneur could have a Rus-Tique facility up and running for $500,000. That’s 1/10 the cost of a clay brickmaking facility!

Rustique brick, currently available from a company in Slovakia

The response to Rus-Tique was even greater, and soon facilities were open in Europe and Australia.

In 1975, Mayer invented the Queen Air, a vented fireplace that kept the heat in the room, instead of sending it up the chimney. In 1979, he formed George Mayer Manufacturing Inc. to begin manufacturing them.  The Queen Air fireplace was a success, but not as big a success as the fireplace insert which could turn any fireplace into an efficient source of house heat. The insert was a monster hit, spawning many copycats, but most folks insisted on the original Queen Air.

Miami Stone’s longtime location, seen in the present day

By 1993, Mayer was looking to retire. He sold his businesses to outside interests. Sadly, they lacked his genius. Within five years, Miami Stone and Queen Air had vanished, and most Rustique franchises as well. But some have held on, and Mayer’s legacy continues.

His legacy also continues in dozens of structures all over Miami, and thousands more across the nation, which feature Miami Stone. And as the Mid Century Modern look has proven to be timeless, people are proudly leaving their 50-year-old and older Miami Stone installations right where they are.

George Mayer, who passed in 1998, would be happy, I’m sure.

Mushroom Horticulture, Circa 1932

Interesting Local Characters, Miami Businesses

Miami currently has a thriving mushroom business, good news in times where any type of local manufacturing is becoming scarce in the US. But make no mistake: it’s not the first in the area to raise edible fungi.

Dick Wills’ Cardin mushroom farm, 1932

A grandson of Miami pioneer J.F. Robinson, Dick Wills envisioned a use for the inactive Anna Beaver mine in Cardin. Grow mushrooms! The temperature was perfect, the lack of light was perfect, and the humidity was just right.

Mushrooms weren’t Wills’ first choice. He tried growing various vegetables and flowers under artificial lighting first. He actually achieved some success with, strangely, tulips and rhubarb. But then he tried his hand at mushrooms, and the mine’s fate was set.

Popular Science article from May, 1933, telling about Dick Wills and his mine

Temperatures varied by two degrees year round in the mine. The humidity likewise remained fairly constant in certain areas. And there was already an elevator system in place, ready to go.

So Wills shipped in ten traincars full of compost material and went to work. Wills went with the dryer areas of the mine, since it was easier to add than remove moisture from the air. He strategically covered and uncovered test holes in the ceiling to provide just the right amount of ventilation.

Dick Wills wants horse manure! 1932

After much trial and error, he got the knack of setting out molded manure as a growing base and replacing it just as its nutrients were depleted. He hired a work force that eventually reached twenty, and was soon shipping 450 lbs. of top quality mushrooms a day to Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Kansas City, St. Louis, and Chicago.

Wills paid royalties to the Indian owners, just like the miners.

Dyer Bros. Grocery sells Dick Wills mushrooms, 1932

The last mention of Wills and his trade was made in the News-Record in April of 1934, when he spoke to a local businessmen’s group about mushroom farming. After that, the Wills name is only mentioned in the sense of his wife and social events. According to a recalled conversation by a local Miamian, he had to stop his operation because of a problem that they don’t have in Washington D.C.: a lack of horse manure.

The equine by-product provided the perfect base for growing, but Wills couldn’t get it in sufficient quantity to stay afloat. He attempted to create a contract with the army base at Ft. Sill, where horses were still being used for military purposes, but was unable to make it happen. Thus, he shut things down.

J-M Farms should have a photo of this fungal pioneer hanging in their office.

OK Plumbing: Getting There by Horse or by Motor

Miami Businesses

In 1912, Miami was nineteen years old. Main Street had recently begun to be paved, but other streets in town were dirt that turned to pure mud in a rain. Oklahoma, the state, had been in existence for five years. And OK Plumbing Company was born.

OK Plumbing wagon, circa 1912, with Lisle Torbert Sr.

Lisle Torbert and his father, William, and a partner, Theodore Potts set up shop at East Central, close to what would be known as the Cardin Building, Security Bank’s long-time home. They had a store with a section where the newest plumbing fixtures were displayed. By summer, Potts was bought out and it was a Torbert business.

In 1913, two spinsters were scandalized by the appearance of one of those new-fangled flush toilets, right there for the whole world to see! When Torbert’s new wife refused to remove the offending fixture, the ladies took great pains to stay on the opposite side of the street.

In the 1919 city guide, OK Plumbing is listed at 104 North Main.

OK Plumbing display window, 1924

By 1927, they had moved to their location remembered by Miami baby boomers: 34 North Main. That address was shared by the Canteen, a news shop/snack bar/delivery service/bus station. They stayed there for the rest of their existence.

By 1929, OK Plumbing was well-enough established to land the job of plumbing the five story building being built for First National Bank. With a Depression on, it was welcome work. That winter, temperatures dropped to -25, but the plumbing held up during construction, and is still working fine. Indeed, buildings all over Miami have OK Plumbing-supplied pipes and fixtures.

Around 1964, Lisle Torbert Sr. passed away, and Junior took over. Lisle senior was active in the local Lions Club, and Lisle junior kept up the tradition. Both ended up 50+ year members, and Lisle senior’s wife managed the Lions Eye Bank for many years.

Mary Lee Torbert, Lisle senior’s granddaughter,  at North Main, next to the sign for Lion Torbert Park, late 50’s

The Torbert family was honored by the Lions when the park at 1802 NE E was dedicated in their honor in June, 1957. The park was actually named for Lisle senior. The park is still there, by the way.

OK Plumbing stayed at it until the late 90’s, when Lisle decided to retire. But it had an amazing run, beginning with a horse-drawn wagon, and ending close to the 21st century.

Nott’s Grocery

Miami Businesses

In 1919, the city guide listed a grocery store at 602-604 S Main, evidently co-owned by S. Lee Hall and Silas E. Holland.

Golden Rule Grocery robbed, 1927

In the 1925 guide, there was a Golden Rule Grocery listed there. My News-Record access goes back to 1927. This article about the Golden Rule robbery was from October 3, 1927.

I recently gained access to, which allowed me to go as far back as 1926. Note this death notice:

Frank Nott dies at son John’s home and business site, February 1926

Young J.W. Nott hit by a car and injured, September 4, 1927

This newspaper report is dated September 4, 1927, about a 17-month-old J.W. Nott being hit by a car in front of 310 S Main, the location of a home AND a store owned by J.B. Nott. Note that other articles give 301 as Nott’s address, this is a typo. The 1925 city guide shows that address was a residence only for John Nott, his occupation listed as “dray.” There are no Notts in the 1919 city guide.

The Golden Rule wasn’t mentioned in the paper after 1927, except for a disputed tax in 1928 which often happened after a business closed.

In January, 1928, a two-room apartment was listed for rent at 301 S Main in the name of Nott Grocery.

April 5, 1929, first mention of Nott’s Grocery at 604 S Main

On April 5, 1929, the first printed ad appeared in the paper giving Nott’s Grocery an address of 604 S Main. They bought out the Golden Rule grocery and relocated to their present-day address.

Nott’s 41st year in a 1967 ad

Then, sealing the deal, I found a mention of Nott’s celebrating their 41st year in a 1967 ad.

However, since the Golden Rule grocery that they bought out was established in 1919, they can indeed claim a history dating to that year.

So there you have it. John Nott, former dray, founded Nott’s Grocery in 1926, at 301 S Main. When they bought out the Golden Rule Grocery, they moved three blocks south to 604.

Miami News-Record Celebrates Miami’s 50th

Miami Businesses

On May 6, 1941, the News-Record presented a nice three-page summary of Miami’s history. Here they are for your viewing pleasure, click on each image to open it full-sized in a new window.

Miami Golden Jubilee, Page 1

Miami Golden Jubilee, Page 2

History is history, and some of it is unpleasant. The page above gives some rare published evidence of Miami’s sundown policy, and the 1941 article makes it pretty obvious that it was still in effect at that time. It was always an “unwritten law, ” however, never on the books.

Miami Golden Jubilee, Page 3