Throwback Thursday: Downtown hardware store

This early Ripon photo shows the O.J. Clark and Co. hardware store at 109 Watson St., built around 1870, as the tallest building on the block. A hardware store occupied this building from 1870 until 1963.    

Recently on the “What’s Up Ripon” Facebook page someone asked for help in finding information on their family’s hardware store. A historical society volunteer was able to assist the family and provide information on Ripon Hardware, which was located at 109 Watson St.

This building was built around 1870 as a part of the O.J. Clark Block. It was originally three storefronts of cream brick taking up 107 to 111 Watson St. In the central storefront at 109 Watson St., Orville J. Clark (1831-1912), Jehdiah Bowen (1817-1891), and Charles Cowan (1846-1943) operated a hardware store. At one time, it was known as ‘O.J. Clark & Co.’

Bowen came to Ripon in 1850 when there were only four buildings and built a store to sell general merchandise. In 1863, he started a hardware business with Clark, which moved into the 109 Watson St. building after it was built. Cowan had moved to Ripon in 1859 at the age of 13 and enlisted in the Civil War at 17. He purchased Bowen’s interest in the hardware store in 1877. He also bought out Clark in 1886 and Cowan and operated the hardware store by himself until 1901, when he sold it to W.B. Nason, Ed Kopplin (1869-1931) and Charles Dodge (1862-1947).

Nason had worked for Cowan for 22 years. Dodge was a furnace expert who had worked for Cowan for 18 years and Kopplin was a tinsmith. They operated the store under the name of the “Ripon Hardware Company.” The Aug. 22, 1901 Commonwealth Press noted “the three young men who compose the new firm will hardly need an introduction to the people of Ripon and vicinity. They have lived here nearly all their lives and are all practical men — experienced in every branch of the business, and thoroughly competent to meet the demands of the public in every way.”

The Pedrick Genealogy of Ripon History also notes that Dodge operated a hardware store in this location with Charles Graham (1866-1927) which was called “Central Hardware.”

Eventually, the hardware store was sold to Frank Lueck (1871-1956), who lived at 842 Watson St. His son Nelson (1903-1977), a 1926 Ripon College graduate, joined his father in the business and ran the store until 1963.

When the building first was built, it was three stories high and had an elaborate brick corbelled cornice on the top. The upper story windows were segmented arches sitting on pilasters decorated with shield keystones. The building still had a third floor in 1951, but sometime after that the third floor was removed, possibly due to fire. It went from being the tallest building on the block to the shortest.

A hardware store occupied the first floor of the building until 1963. Since that time, the building has housed Campbell’s Store, For Kids Only, Tiry’s Sew and Vac, Western Union, Haase Shoe Store, Traded Treasures Resale and today the New Hope Church.

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