As we approach the sesquicentennial celebration of Spencer, Pressed Studio + Store dug deep into the history of 319 Grand Avenue.
The plat of land known as the north half of lot two of block A was drawn in 1871 by J. H. Hale and his wife Maria on May 8, 1871. 150 years later, Kristen and Eric Meeter own and operate Pressed on the same plat of land.
But what happened between 1871 and 2021?
The first owner, Julius Hale, came to Iowa in 1854 from New York to Butler County. In an article dated 1892 from The Spencer Reporter, Julius “was painstaking and untiring in his zeal and effort for Spencer’s prosperity and is among those early workers who laid so solidly and surely the foundation of Spencer’s future prosperity.”
Maria also came from New York. Maria graduated from New York State College and enjoyed pursuing higher education, which was uncommon for a woman of that time. Maria moved to Butler County, Iowa to live with an uncle. She taught at the school and met Julius in the area.
Julius and Maria were married on July 3, 1865. Five years later, the couple moved to Spencer, which was just a scattered settlement at the time with one log cabin and smaller, various buildings. Julius helped draw out the original plat of the town, and he held the position of postmaster for six years.
After the Hales, Patrick Baker owned the building from August 1871 to 1876.
The next owner of the property was John B. Edmunds, one of the first proprietors of the town. His history with Spencer starts in 1871, as his signature appears on the articles of incorporation of the Spirit Lake and Sioux Valley railway.
While he owned the building, he was a banker and real estate dealer while also editing The Owl, a local newspaper that only operated for two years. The paper was dedicated to real estate, and Edmunds sent many copies to the east to lure people to move to Spencer.
In the Spencer Centennial book, the authors label Edmunds as the man who “has probably done more to build up this place than any other man.”
Through Edmunds ownership, he mortgaged and transferred the property to trustees until the end of his ownership in 1888. Edmunds sold the property to Albert W. Miller Sr. for $700, with an $800 mortgage plus interest. In today’s money, that is a down payment of almost $20,000 and a $22,000 mortgage.
Both Albert Sr. and his wife Emma were from Maryland. They married on October 29, 1872, and the two moved to Spencer. An architect from Maryland designed their home, which can be found today on the corner of W. 10th and Grand Avenue.
Miller Sr. established the first state bank in Spencer. He was the president of this bank until he sold it, moved to Nebraska momentarily, and returned to Spencer and became the president of the First National Bank, until he died in 1892.
Carolyn Hastings, Albert Sr.’s great granddaughter, commented on the extraordinarily strong women the Miller family had.
“[The Millers] came when the city was just started, so they started the banks, the church and the school system,” Carolyn said. “[A. W. Miller] did all this and then he died in 1892. My understanding is that there were people in town that came to my great-grandma and said ‘We’ll take over the bank now.’ And she said ‘Oh no, no no.’ So she brought a couple of her brothers from Maryland to take over the bank so that she still maintained control. She was quite the woman to be reckoned with.’”
Miller Sr. and Emma had five children to live past childhood: Laura, Albert Jr., Jessie, Emma K. and Bessie. Three children did not make it past childhood: Edgar, Mattie and Hattie.
At the time of Albert Sr.’s death on December 18, 1892, the store was turned over to his wife. Emma Sr. passed away on January 25, 1913. In Emma’s will, heirs included the five remaining children, however, the property was left to Albert W. Miller Jr.
At this time, Albert Jr., Emma Jr. and Bessie resided in Spencer. Laura was in Minneapolis, and Jessie found herself in Alexandria, Egypt after marrying a Guatemalan diplomat.
However in a turn of events, during probate all the Miller children sued their brother, Albert Jr., over this property. In the end, the now Emma K. Miller Hastings owned the property. Prior to marriage, Emma K. had gone to finishing school in Dubuque and studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Emma K. married Irving Hastings in 1914, however the property on Grand was always in Emma’s name. Irving had gone to law school and was looking for a place to practice. Irving found an attorney in Garner who was looking for a partner. The two moved there shortly after marriage, and Emma K. leased the building.
The building was rebuilt in 1919, which is the same brick building that is standing today on Grand Avenue. Centered above the two second story windows is a monogrammed stone engraved EHM, for Emma Miller Hastings. She leased the building from 1919 until her death in 1970.
In 1919, Tracy Clyde Barton leased the first floor from Emma and started a bakery and named it Peerless Bakery. Barton was from Forest City and spent his life in the bakery and real estate industry. Barton made the move due to the access with the railroad. Not long after, he sold it to the Frink brothers. In 1923, Barton came back and purchased the bakery again.
In 1924, the bakery was sold to Vern E. Partlow, who once operated the opposing Spencer Bakery. At the time of Partlow’s purchase, six bakers were employed in the bakery to keep up with the demand.
In 1928, the Carroll Bakery bought the bakery from Partlow and kept the shop here until 1940, when they moved to the current location they are in now.
In the 1940s, clothing store Ella Hammer was in operation here. Upstairs was a physician’s office.
One of the many well-known tenants was Elsie Struck, who owned Elsie’s: the home of beautiful clothing. Women’s clothing and hats were sold to the public for almost thirty years until 1981. Some remember children’s clothes being in the basement, hats in the balcony and clothing on the main floor.
After Emma died in 1970, her son Charles took ownership, and at his death in April 1973, his wife Ruth owned it for a short three months until she sold it to Elsie.
Ruth and Charles had two daughters, Margaret and Carolyn.
Margaret, who now resides in California, and Carolyn, from Michigan, remember visiting their grandmother in Garner, Iowa. They both have visited Spencer to get a feeling for their grandparent’s ancestry.
Elsie and her husband Alvin owned the building until 1989, when they sold it to Jacobsen Homes Corporated. Jacobsen Home Corporated rented it out to different vendors, such as Jimmy Jay Productions, Kenkay Communications Inc., Rudy Salem Unemployment and Aventure.
In 2018, Kristen and Eric Meeter purchased the building and have housed their hand-made jewelry, screenprinted shirts and letterpressed greeting card business here.
Over the past 150 years, this plat of land has been home to bankers, bakers and now creators. Each owner and tenant of 319 Grand Avenue had a passion for the prosperity of Spencer. They all showed it in their own way, whether by starting the first state bank, keeping the building in the family for 85 years or by digging deep into the building’s history.
This deep-dive into history would not have been possible without the diligent work of the Clay County Heritage Center.
Here’s a deeper dive into some of our findings!
If you want just the audio version you can tune in below.