Commercial History, Wapello County, IA
From: History of Wapello County, Iowa
By Harrison L. Waterma, Supervising Editor
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. Chicago 1914


A great and growing influence in the business life of Ottumwa are its wholesale establishments and jobbing houses. The pioneer in the former category is the wholesale house of J. H. Merrill & Company, which began its existence in the spring of 1858. It was in the year just mentioned that J. H. Merrill and Charles W. Kittridge established the wholesale house of Merrill & Kittridge, the first enterprise of its kind in the then growing little city of Ottumwa. They created quite a furor among the inhabitants of the place when their stock of goods was brought here by water. An interesting account of that event was published by the Ottumwa Courier in 1858. which then was approaching the end of the first decade of its existence. That always reliable news gatherer, speaking of the unusual occurrence, had this to say:

"On Sunday morning in the spring of 1858, Ottumwa's 800 (the entire population at that time) were startled by the shrill whistle of the good steamboat, Clara Hines, which found a mooring on the river bank just in the rear of the present Courier office. The majority of the population were soon at. the wharf, and great was the interest manifested when it was learned that two daring young men, named J. H. Merrill and Charles W. Kittridge, had brought a whole boat load of goods from St. Louis, and would open up a store in a few days. The oldest inhabitants vowed that it was 'mighty reesky business,' but the young men grasped, even then, some of Ottumwa's present and future greatness as a business center, and declared that they were willing to 'risk it.' Nor has their early judgment played them false.

"All day long on that eventful Sunday, the roustabouts worked unload in the cargo, which consisted largely of salt, costing 90 cents a sack, and which was afterward sold readily at $2.25. Thus was established the mercantile house which afterwards became the first wholesale house and which is now known as T. H. Merrill & Company. Hon. J. H. Merrill was Ottumwa's first wholesaler, and mary an interesting tale has he told of incident and adventure in the freighting of goods by wagon from Keokuk and Burlington, or of the difficulties and vexations incident to navigation on the raging Des Moines.

"Ottumwa's present wholesale interests were originated and chiefly fostered by the fact that for six years Ottumwa was the terminus of the railroad, and this was a fitting out point for the great tide of immigration that pushed on over the rich prairies of Southern Iowa. During the war, Northern Missouri trade came here on account of the bushwhackers. This was a great cash trade, which came in the wagons and camped in the grove that stretched along the river bank west from the present Courier. office. This trade was eagerly sought by the merchants and mare were the sharp tilts which they had in the competition to secure the same." [Courier office then corner Court and Main. Ed.]

From a small concern, the house of J. H. Merrill & company has grown to a large establishment. At the outbreak of the Civil war Charles W. Kittridge went into the army as captain and in 1862 received his commission as colonel of the Thirty sixth Iowa Infantry. He became acquainted with Samuel Mahon, who was major of the famous Seventh Iowa. A friendship sprung up between the two veterans and in January, 1866, Major Mahon became a member of the firm of J. H. Merrill & company, the name of the firm then organized. In 1875 the wholesale house moved into a new building, corner of Market and Third streets, which later was considerably enlarged, and in 1884 branch houses were opened at Creston and Red Oak. The house steadily grew in importance and its business so expanded that more space became imperative for its stock. This resulted in a building being erected by Major Mahon in 1906 at 126-132 West Main Street, which was given an addition of thirty two feet in 1909. The structure is of brick, four stories in height, with a high basement, and is complete in every detail as a wholesale grocery establishment. Here are given employment to fifty persons and from its counting rooms go forth a small army of salesmen who cover a wide territory. The members of this firm are: Samuel Mahon, president; J. K. Mahon, vice president; J. T. Rowe, secretary; and J. E. Hinsey, treasurer. J. H. Merrill retired from business a few years before his death, which occurred after the new home was built.

The wholesale dry goods house of Lawrence & Chambers was established in the early '60s. Joseph Chambers retired from the firm in 1869, when John Wesley Garner acquired his interest and the firm name then became Lawrence & Garner. Previous to this Mr. Garner had been for several years with the T. Devin & Sons establishment. In 1879 J. W. Garner sold his interest in the Lawrence & Garner firm and embarked in the wholesale business on his own account, in a building erected for him on North Market Street, by T. J. Potter. Mr. Garner remained in this locality until 1911, when he bought the Ransier property on East Second Street, on which he built that year. This building is a three story brick structure. which replaced a building used by the Ransiers in early years as a livery stable and undertaking establishment. The Garner wholesale house has men on the road introducing its goods to the trade.

One of the oldest and largest wholesale houses in Ottumwa is that of the Harper & McIntire company, which dates back for its origin to the year 1856, when the business was established by William Daggett. In 1860 J. W. Edgerly became associated in the business with Mr. Daggett and the firm name then became Daggett & Edgerly. The interests of the last mentioned concern came into the possession of Timothy Eagan and Samuel H. Harper in 1866, and the firm remained as Eagan & Harper until 1877, when it was changed to Harper, Chambers & company. Eagan settled in Salt Lake City and Samuel H. Harper died December 11, 1911, while mayor of Ottumwa. The present firm name was adopted in 1890 and the management of this wholesale house is largely in the hands of Frank McIntire and Clarence S. Harper. The territory covered is chiefly Southern Iowa and Northern Missouri. Its headquarters are in a splendid modern four story brick structure on Commercial Street, which extends back to the railroad tracks. Employment is given to a large force of men, about a dozen of whom are its outside representatives. The Harper & McIntire company has a retail branch on East Main Street, which is one of the largest retail hardware stores in this part of the state.

J. W. Edgerly & company established a wholesale drug house in Ottumwa many years ago. It grew out of the drug store, opened by Dr. J. L. Taylor in 1858. In the early '60s Dr. Taylor admitted Charles F. Blake as a partner, also W. T. Harper, and the style name of the firm became Taylor, Blake & company. A change took place when W. T. Harper and Charles F. Blake retired from the business, at which time Dr. Taylor assumed sole ownership. For many years this drug house was quartered in a building on East Main Street adjoining the First National Bank. In 188o the business went into the hands of the firm of Blake, Bruce & Company, just subsequent to the destruction by fire of the building and stock. For a time the business was conducted on South Market Street, and in 1881 moved to the corner of Third and Market. In 1888 the firm name was changed to J. W. Edgerly & company and for many years continued in the large, three story, brick building on Third and Market, so often referred to in this work as the site of Wapello County's first courthouse. J. W. Edgerly died in Paris, in August, 1894. Dr. Edward T. Edgerly was in active management from 1895 until 1908, when he retired and was succeeded by W. T. Harper, who has been a member of the firm since 1894. In the fall of 1912 all the stock was removed to a splendid new building on West Main Street, where the company is installed in one of the finest and most modernly equipped structures of its character to be found anywhere. In the employ of this large concern are about fifty people. Eight traveling men represent J. W. Edgerly & company on the road, who cover a large territory and keep the house busy filling their orders.

The Haw Hardware company, until recently the Haw & Simmons Company, wholesale hardware, is the outgrowth of a firm comprising G. W. Henry and George Haw, organized in 1864. In 1868 the stock of goods was destroyed by fire and the business was suspended until in 1870, when George Haw, with his brother, Chris Haw, and B. F. Henry, conducted the business for a number of years under the firm name of George Haw & company. In 1878 B. F. Henry retired and Frank W. Simmons entered the firm, which operated a wholesale hardware business on East Main Street. The building occupied, although a three story structure, soon became inadequate and was abandoned for a larger one at the corner of Market and Second streets, erected by T. J. Potter, a prominent railroad man. This building, now business headquarters of the Ottumwa Railway & Light company, also became too small as the years passed by, so, during the year 1895, a large four story brick building on West Main Street. was erected and in January, 1896, occupied: The building and stock were destroyed by fire, October 19, 19i3. The business is being carried on temporarily, in the old J. W. Edgerly Building, corner of Market and Third. The firm contemplate building on the corner of College and Samantha, where they have a warehouse 90x150 feet. Southern Iowa and Northern Missouri are covered for this house by a number of salesmen.

The wholesale grocery house of J. G. Hutchison & company was organized in April, 1890, by J. G. Hutchison, E. M. Majors and O. D. Tisdale. Hon. J. G. Hutchison, head of the concern, was one of Iowa's prominent men, who died some time since, leaving his interests in the capable hands of his widow. The growth of the business of this concern has been most gratifying to its members and it is now firmly entrenched in the trade. It has handsome quarters in a brick structure on West Main Street, in the wholesale district, built in 1902. The house gives employment to a large force of men, including a number of traveling salesmen, who cover large parts of Iowa and Missouri. Since the death of Mr. Hutchison in 1909, Mrs. Hutchison has taken an active part in the management. The officials are as follows: Mrs. J. G. Hutchison, president and treasurer; W. C. Overman, vice president; and A. J. McBurney, secretary.

Ottumwa has a number of large fruit houses, among which is that of E H Emery & company, which began operations in 1896, on Main Street, just east of Jefferson. Two years later a move was made to the Baker Building, on South Green Street, which was occupied seven years, when the floors collapsed and Mr. Emery bought the present site, on Commercial Street. The Emery Company not only does a large wholesale and jobbing trade, but also has an ice cream plant in connection, having a capacity of 1,500 gallons per day.

There are a number of jobbing houses, department and other retail establishments worthy of note in Ottumwa, among which may be mentioned the Claude Myers confectionery and ice cream house on East Second Street; Celania Brothers' establishment on East Main Street; the creamery, poultry and egg concern of S. P. Pond & company; the John B. Dennis butter and egg firm, on Tisdale Street; W. E. Jones & company, wholesale and retail hay, grain, feed and seed house, on West Main, established in 1871, which has a large warehouse and elevator on Tisdale and Main streets; the Ottumwa Queensware company, jobbers, South Market Street; Baker Brothers, butter and egg company, at the foot of College Street; the Penn Oil & Supply company, at the foot of Cass Street; the LagomarcinoGrupe Company, wholesale fruits, Commercial Street; the Buxton Creamery, on Green, between Second and Fourth; the Ottumwa Seed Company, on South Court, wholesale and retail grain, feed and seed.

Return to [ Wapello County ] [ IA History ] [ History at Rays Place ] [ Rays Place ]

All pages copyright 2009. All items on this site are copyrighted by their author(s). These pages may be linked to but not used on another web site. Anyone may copy and use the information provided here freely for personal use only. Privacy Policy