Museum Corner August 2019
Wilson's store and hall were a hub of activity
By Becky Buher, Guest Columnist—Published in Times Mail newspaper Aug. 14, 2019
The museum had a booth at the Lawrence County Fair this summer, and the exhibit hall theme was “Hometown Heroes.” The museum’s “Hometown Heroes” digital display was shown. If you missed it, you can see it in the museum gallery.
Many fair visitors had fun testing their knowledge on the totally low-tech “Quiz Machine.” A pictorial sampling of some of what can be found at the Lawrence County Museum of History and Edward L. Hutton Research Library was created for fair-goers to enjoy.
One picture initiated a lot of questions. It was a 1909 image of Wilson Hall decorated with flags, and teenagers were taking a spin around the dance floor.
The original photo came from the museum’s Jane Bass Collection. Teenage couples were identified with the photo as: Wilma Harris and George McNabb, Florence Norton and unknown, Mable Parker and Voyle Armstrong, Fannie Wallheiser and Von Graham, Anna McMahan and Wilbur Owens, Mattie Sears and Doc McNabb, Craigie Gainey and Peany Gainey. In the back, Dorothy Rariden, Carol Kuteleback and John Holmes, Josephine Dunihue and Stanley Ikerd, Jessie Fultz and Ralph Foster, Mary McCune and Vayne Armstrong, Louise Stoessel and Kent Bass. One might wonder how many of the dance partners later became life partners. It is known that two of the dance couples did change partners. Kent Bass must have fallen for Von Graham’s dance partner, Fannie Wallheiser, because Miss Wallheiser and Mr. Bass were married June 24, 1920.
The foremost question — since there is no Wilson Hall today, where was Wilson Hall located? Some thought it might have been at Wilson Park, others thought maybe somewhere in the Greystone Hotel, but back at the museum, librarian Joyce Shepherd solved the conundrum.
Wilson (Wilson’s) Hall was once on the second floor above Wilson’s Department Store. Today the building is known as the German-American Bank at 15th and I streets.
The building was erected about 1860 as a three-story brick building. At that time, it functioned as the Town Hall.
By 1896, W.A. Wilson’s Department Store had become the major business in the building. Wilson’s store advertised in the “Bedford Daily Mail” in 1906 celebrating Wilson’s 10th anniversary sale — “A Store for Everybody.” In 1912, its special of the week was a free set of Mrs. Potts nickel-plated cold-handled irons. In 1915, its extensive ad included house-cleaning and spring merchandise, including window shades for 29 cents, wallpaper cleaner for 9 cents, brooms for 35 cents, mops for 25-50 cents, ready-mixed paints for 10 cents, Old Dutch cleanser for 7 cents, children’s upholstered rubber-tired sulkies, poultry feed, suitcases, Buster Brown stockings (all sizes, black and white for 25 cents), Home Journal patterns and numerous grocery savings.
Wilson’s Hall was located above Wilson’s store, but the hall was not just a place for dances. Today we might call it an event venue. In 1910, the basketball game between Bedford High School and Mitchell High was there as were other BHS home games. “The Bedford Daily Mail” reported in 1910 that two Stone Cutters’ men had a knock-down fight there. In 1912, a group held a sing-in and speak-in. In 1913, a masquerade ball was held with music by the Beiser Orchestra of Indianapolis. In 1913, a Moose Social dance, an Elks Banquet, a Brotherhood of Railway Train men social affair with an Italian orchestra, and an event for the benefit of flood sufferers were all located in Wilson Hall. Julius Walters, a Cincinnati man reported that someone had taken the sheet music, which he had left at the hall after a dance. In 1917, the Annual Corn Show was held there and was open to all farmers in the county. The farmer with the best corn could win a free trip to Purdue University to attend the week-long Farmers’ Short Course.
It is not known when Wilson Hall stopped being an event venue, The building changed drastically in 1922-23 when a fourth story was added to the existing building. It was clad with limestone, and it became the Stone City Bank Building.
Since 1860, owners have changed, fires and high winds have affected parts of the building, it has been added to and remodeled, but it still remains; and now we know the location of the once busy and social Wilson Hall.