Friday, February 12, 2010

Eulogies for Eugene: The Eckerlen Building & its Owner

While we wait for the new grocery store - or whatever it is that's going to go in at 145 Liberty - we should remember Eugene Eckerlen. With Seraphin Beck and Maurice Klinger, he was also part of a cluster of Alsatians who came to Salem and were instrumental in its beer culture.1

Eckerlen (also Eugene Eckerlin) has appeared several times here at CT. He has appeared in stories about the burial of Seraphin Beck in 1899 near the site of Mary Eckerlen, about the 1903 sale of the Capital Brewery and formation of the Salem Brewing Association parnership, and the 1908 Saloon Ordinance. He'll likely appear in more!

I have no idea what Eckerlen was like as a person. Evidence for his personality is scant; most of his biography and personality remains opaque.

But what his clear is that he faced no small amount of trial and sorrow. Over his life he lost three great things: His first wife, a son, and a career.

Coincidentally, like its namesake, the Eckerlen building is also hidden. Like many of the downtown buildings, it has undergone a curvy moderne update in the 1940s. You wouldn't know how old it is from the outside. In this photo from 1939, the Bishop's sign is on the front of the Eckerlen building, which sits between the Gray building on the corner and the Montgomery Ward building. (Virginia Green's walking tour shows the Eckerlen Building as you're going the other way, and a straight-on shot of its front elevation.)

The Nomination Form for the Salem Downtown Historic District gives much of its history. Mostly it's pretty good, but we'll see a couple of instances where it's misleading.
The Eckerlen Building was built in 1894, and added to in the 1910s...the building is associated with the Gray and, primarily, the Eckerlen families, who played an important role in the transportation and commercial history of Salem in the late 1800s and 1900s.

The Gray family evidently had this two-story constructed in 1894, just three years after the completion of the larger Gray block of shops immediately to the south. In 1895 both floors of the Eckerlen building housed agricultural implements and machinery. The Gray brothers, Charles A., George B., and William T., contributed to the turn-of the-century up-building of Salem. In the late 1880s, Charles A. Gray was the superintendent of the Salem Street Railway Company. The Polk Salem directory listed George B. and William T. Gray as a realtor and a capitalist, respectively. By the early 1900s, William and George Gray worked as a general contractor. All three Gray brothers left Salem around 1907.

Gertrude G. Lownsdale owned this building briefly from 1907-1909. Eugene Eckerlen bought the property in May 1909.

One of the persistent problems in researching Salem history is City Ordinance 436, the address change enacted on October 10, 1904. Along this stretch of Commercial, the numbering of addresses lost a hundred or so. Failing to note the change adequately leads the researcher in the next passage to an ambiguity that reads more like a mistake: The Eckerlen saloon did not move. From 1889-1905, Polk directories list his Saloon at 260 Commercial, but afterwards at 152 North Commercial. Though it looks like a move, because of the city-wide change in addressing, these addresses identified the same building.

Eckerlen's Saloon was in the building whose footprint is now a parking lot between the Bike Peddler and Alessandro's. You can see historic photos of the 200-block of Commercial here and here. These show a continuous line of buildings, before the void created by demolition and the parking lot.2
For many years, Eugene Eckerlen operated a saloon in the 200-block of Commercial Street and, later, in the 100-block of Commercial in what became known as the Eckerlen Building. After Eckerlen purchased the building at 145-147 Liberty Street in 1909 it became known as the "New Eckerlen Building." Eckerlen, however, did not move his saloon into the building and, instead, rented out space to other Salem merchants.

The next oddity about the research is the silence on prohibition. There should be no mystery why the Eckerlen's "no longer operated a saloon"! The voters of Salem made their occupation illegal and forced them out of business. This formula is disingenuous and mystifies a significant social movement and change. (Details of Eckerlen shot glass here)
By the early 1920s, Eugene and Alice Eckerlen no longer operated a saloon on Commercial Street; they pursued farming until Eugene Eckerlen's death in 1933. The [New] Eckerlen Building on Liberty Street passed to Eugene Eckerlen, Jr., and his wife, Virginia Eckerlen.
The Eckerlen's farming seems to have preceded prohibition. They lived in the 600 block of Liberty NE, between Union and Division, just south of Boon's and on the edge of the city. They were part of a national association breeding pure-bred swine, the Poland-China breed, documented in 1900 and 1905.

Being forced out of business wasn't their only loss. In fact, Eugene Eckerlen faced other profound losses.

Eugene's first wife, Mary, died on November 16th, 1890. Her obituary says that she had been ill for five weeks from "inflammation of the bowels" and had left three children. She was 31. (Her grave marker in St. Barbara's cemetery gives the date of the obituary, not the date the obituary gives of her death.)

Nearly 30 years later, Eugene lost his son Ernest Theodore in World War I. Ernest's name is inscribed on the Doughboy memorial outside of the Veteran's Affairs Building. According to one source, he was a private in the 6th Machine Gun Battalion, 2nd Division, and perished just before Armistice Day, on 5 November 1918. He is buried in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery.

In March, 1921 Eugene's brother Theodore died in Alsace.

Eugene died on 16 September 1933. According to his obituary he was 76. He was born in Housen, near Colmar, Alsace-Lorraine, on 20 August 1857. He came to the United States in the 1870s. He was survived by his second wife, Alice (the obituaries did not mention first wife, Mary), son Eugene, Jr., daughters Leondine, Matilda, Mary, and Bertha, a sister Leontine, and a grandson by Leondine, Eugene.

His death just preceded the repeal of Prohibition, and the obituary didn't talk much about his role in Salem brewing. If in 1899 Seraphin Beck was still a big deal in town, by 1933 Eckerlen was much smaller fry. Salem and its economic base were much larger, more diversified, and a little gentrified. The genteel retailing of Bishop's and woolens, and not the Eckerlens and drinking, were getting the attention.

The walk of St. Barbara's Cemetery gives Eugene (Sr.), first wife Mary, second wife Alice, and daughter Mary as buried together. I was not able to find the other Eckerlens obviously nearby (though my search was cursory and hasty). However, I was able to confirm that Seraphin Beck is buried in the plot immediately adjoining, and that several Klingers, including Maurice Klinger, were also buried nearby. The neighborliness of their graves suggests they were also neighborly in life.

1The history of these Alsatians, who appear mainly to have looked to Catholic France (though others might look to Germany), and of other Germans like Samuel Adolph and the Breyman family, appears to be an important part of Salem history, little known and rarely told. It is more than we can do right now, but perhaps we can piece it together and add to the ethnic histories of Salem.

2Here's an annotated 1895 Sanborn for the old Eckerlen building. (Click through for a much larger image!) It shows the east side of Commercial street between State and Court. Before the 1904 address change it was the 200-block, and afterwards it was the 100-block. The Breyman Bros. block was also known as the White Corner. Note all the saloons and gambling establishments! The YMCA building is the current home to Alessandro's. The buildings demolished for the parking lot are also indicated.

1 comment:

  1. First wife, Mary, is indeed buried separately.

    In a different part of the cemetery, Eugene (Sr.); second wife, Alice; and daughter, Mary, are buried in a vault with a red granite headstone that looks to be about the same vintage as the large Klinger headstone. Daughter Mary died in 1975, so perhaps this dates the larger stone.