Do you remember when … ?Published 11:24am Friday, October 19, 2012
History presentation sparks countless memories of town
As the presenters flipped through the slides of downtown Austin, chatter quickly filled the room at the Hormel Historic Home. “Do you remember when … ?” people continuously asked their friends, looking for reassurance and connecting the memories from decades past. It was the definition of nostalgia.
About 60 guests — a mixture of members and non-members of HHH and the Mower County Historical Society — watched as those two organizations presented Remembering Downtown Austin on Thursday. The presentation was a year’s end treat for members of either organization and a push to get non-members to join.
Hormel Historic Home Director Laura Helle and Historical Society Executive Director Dustin Heckman compiled a list of iconic names, pictures and buildings from downtown on which to reminisce. It included the history of Knauer’s Market and that family, the Schleuder block, old bank buildings and more.
“Ben, you remember the Rose Room?” Duane Olson eagerly asked his friend across the room among the chatter. Others remembered it.
Some places tugged at memories more than others — places like Gildner’s clothing store, which opened in 1929 on North Main Street and Third Avenue.
“If you wanted a nice suit, you always went to Gildner’s,” said Bonnie Mogen, followed by others who said socks were always picked up at the back door.
Like the stories told across hundreds of cities in America, Austinites clearly remembered their old five and dime: Woolworth’s. Austin’s Woolworth’s opened in 1919 at what is now the Town Center and was store number 1,063. Among the necessities, it carried everything from dyed chicks for Easter, candy by the pound or ounce and leather engraving. It was a hot spot for many, such as men waiting for their dates after work, or those picking up treats on their lunch shifts.
“We’d run down to Woolworth’s and buy a piece of their cheesecake and bring it back to work,” one woman recalled.
Polly Jelinek, a longtime Historical Society member, remembers it dearly.
“My mother used to work at Woolworth’s,” she said. “I remember the old store.”
For Jelinek, a passionate Austin historian, the presentation was nostalgic, too. Like others, she couldn’t remember the way each street meandered or the way each building looked.
“It’s hard for us, too,” Jelinek said about the crowd remembering its days’ past.
Still, she remembers a lot and saw the presentation as a way to put some of the old puzzle pieces back in place. As memories came back, she wished some things were they way they used to be.
“The old [Horace Austin] park,” she said. “We don’t have a place like that just to draw people in.”
Jelinek remembered the monkey house, where visitors could feed monkeys near Horace Austin Park in a zoo setting. That was covered in the presentation. She remembered how her husband used to feed them during the lunch hour when he was in school, and how every street corner seemingly had a drug store on it.
Though it was impossible for the both organizations to include everything about downtown Austin in their presentation, they struck some chords and drew plenty of smiles. According to Heckman, there may be a part two, three or even more.