Thriving through the times
Downtown Kendallville adapts
to a century of changes
By DENNIS NARTKER
KENDALLVILLE - About 50 street-level
businesses lined Kendall-ville's Main Street business district
Early that year Kendallville's 3,354 citizens traveled the
unpaved dirt road in horse and buggy to attend a stage show at
the Spencer Opera House, 221 S. Main St. (later called the Boyer
Opera House and then the Strand Theatre).
In August that year C.F. Moellering & Co., of Fort Wayne,
paved the 50-foot-wide Main Street business district with bricks
Shoppers in 1900 stopped at Paul Klinkenberg's store, 201
S. Main St., to buy wallpaper for four cents a roll. They took
their horses to John Q. Whitford's livery stable, south of the
Kelly House (Kendallville Auto Parts, 101 S. Main St.).
The Kelly House light tower, with its powerful electric light,
served as a beacon to traveling salesmen.
Shoppers bought baby shoes for 10 cents a pair at the Boston
Shoe Co. at the corner of Main and Mitchell streets.
Travelers checked the train schedule at the Union Station
in Depot Park off Lincoln Street west of the North Main Street
railway crossing. The east-west Lake Shore and Michigan Southern
Railroad and the north-south Grand Rapids and Indiana Line served
In 1916 the three-block district between Rush Street and the
railway crossing had 87 street-level businesses with professional
offices and apartments on the second floors of most buildings.
Nine grocery stores, six restaurants, six taverns, eight clothing
stores, three hotels and three theaters were among the businesses.
Automobiles joined horse and buggies on the main thoroughfare.
In 1949-50 the downtown business district boomed with 118
retail shops, businesses and service agencies including A&P
and Kroger groceries, six restaurants including the V&A,
the Kendall Hotel and the Princess and Strand theaters.
J.C. Penney's had new men's topcoats for $12, the Villa Shoe
Store offered "X-ray fitting" and Rimmell's Hat Shop
at 133 S. Main St. offered soft Faille handbags for $2.95.
Paul Douglas and Linda Darnell starred in the movie "Everybody
Does It" at the Strand Theatre, or downtown visitors could
see "Penitentiary" at the Princess Theatre.
As of June 1999 the district had 77 businesses, including
a restaurant, a shoe store, two bars, two clothing stores (sports
apparel and second-hand clothing) and no grocery or department
Law offices, craft and hobby shops, insurance agencies, a
church and even an alternative school now exist where department
stores, restaurants, banks, grocery and clothing stores once
attracted thousands of shoppers each week.
Family Video has replaced the V&A Restaurant.
A parking lot now exists where the Kendall Hotel once stood
with its Kendall Lounge and barber shop.
The Northeastern Center's administrative offices are housed
in a former furniture store building.
Trains no longer stop here. The depot is gone. The Lake Shore
and Michigan Southern Railroad line is now Northfolk Southern
and the GR&I, except for about a mile of track leading to
the Favorite Brands International (Kraft) plant, was torn up
Ind. 3 and U.S. 6 traffic bypasses the area. Forty years ago
Main Street was part of Ind. 3.
Shoppers no longer bump elbows on the sidewalk or circle the
district looking for a convenient parking space.
Kendallville's downtown business district has undergone many
changes over the years, some good and some bad.
The downtown business district's history is evident in the
restored building fronts in the 100 block of North Main Street,
the decorative cloth awnings in the 200 block of South Main Street,
the red brick pavement peeking through the asphalt street surface
and City Hall's refurbished exterior.
The future looks bright for one of downtown's oldest buildings,
the Mitchell building, or Mitchell House as it was called more
than 130 years ago.
The two-story building at the corner of Main and William streets,
132-136 South Main Street, now houses TLC Health Foods, Mr. B's
Sports and Designs and Ebey Appliance & TV.
Its fancy canopy and restored storefronts reveal its early
The corner was a focal point of Kendallville's lively business
district through most of this century.
Here crowds passed on Friday nights, pausing to purchase popcorn
from the little booth on the corner, pausing again to inspect
the windows of the Sellick's and Kirkwood's stores in the 1950s
A parking lot was created in 1961 behind the building and
the merchants in the building added night lights and rear entrances.
The Business Service Company of America building at 107-109
N. Main St. is among a block of buildings on North Main Street
on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Iddings/Gilbert/Leader/Anderson block (note the names
at the top of the storefront facades) from 105 to 113 N. Main
St. was added to the historical register in 1987. The adjoining
buildings feature a Queen Ann design.
The block has housed different types of small enterprises
this century including Franklin's Cafe, Nartker's Restaurant,
Throp Restaurant, Stemen's Cafe, Demerest & Wherley Milliners,
Elmer's Bar, Bonnie Lou's Country Inn, Mission Church, Helmer's
Creamery & Produce, American State Bank, City Cigar Store,
J.E. Hovarter Radio Shop, the M.L. Horner Grocery and the Clark
& Carunchia Market.
The Anderson building at 113 N. Main St. is on the historical
register for African-American businesses.
Alonzo Anderson, a black barber, erected the building in the
1890s for his barber shop.
Downtown's rejuvenated history is also evident in City Hall
at the corner of Main and Rush streets, currently undergoing
a $1.3 million interior renovation.
Two years ago city officials, with support from a majority
of citizens, decided to keep city government and the police station
in the 86-year-old structure downtown, refurbish and restore
its exterior while modernizing the interior and the adjoining
The City Hall fire station was moved into a new structure
on Drake Road in 1998, opening up space for an expanded police
The City Hall project will be completed in October.
At its peak in the 1950s, shopping on Friday and Saturday
nights in downtown Kendallville was more of a social occasion.
People arrived early to get a parking space, then sat on their
cars or the sidewalk benches and chatted. They shopped for groceries
at the A&P or Kroger's while teens hung out at the Palace
of Sweets or the Central Drug Store's soda fountain and booths.
Traffic changes affected shopping patterns.
In the late 1950s trains no longer stopped in Kendallville.
The state ordered Kendallville to change from angle parking
to parallel parking in the downtown district in 1958 for better
traffic flow. Main Street was part of Ind. 3.
In 1974, the Ind. 3 bypass west of Kendallville was completed,
and in 1991 the $41 million project to four-lane Ind. 3 from
Kendallville to Fort Wayne was finished.
In the late 1950s the Publix and Foodtown shopping centers
at the Ind. 3 North and U.S. 6 junction began pulling patrons
away from the downtown business district.
In 1959 the U.S. 6 bypass was completed and traffic no longer
had to travel Dowling Street and Riley Street.
In the late 1980s construction began on the Fairview shopping
center on the city's northeast side off of U.S. 6, the biggest
commercial development in the city's history.
Anchored by Wal-Mart, Scott's Foods and the Best Western Kendallville
Inn, the 100-acre shopping complex is now the focal point of
most retail business in Kendallville.
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, places along U.S. 6 like
the Dairy Queen, the Redwood Drive-In, the Publix Cafe and Restaurant,
the A&W Root Beer Stand and Kelsey's Drive-In attracted teens
and their parents.
Downtown retail shops like The Toggery, The Cinderella Shop,
Gamble's and the Firestone Store closed.
The U.S. Postal Service, since the turn of the century a downtown
drawcard, abandoned its building in the 100 block of West Mitchell
Street for a new building at the intersection of U.S. 6 and Fair
Street in 1977.
The Elks Temple, also in the 100 block of West Mitchell Street,
and home to numerous gatherings in its fancy banquet hall in
the 1950s and 1960s, was demolished to make way for a bank and
Despite these losses the downtown business district can remain
vibrant if everyone works together, according to Nancy Riesdorph,
of Mr. B's Sports & Designs, 134 S. Main St., and president
of the Downtown Business Association.
"We are getting new people coming here all the time,
and they comment on how nice the downtown is and the friendliness
of everyone," she said. "With everyone working together
we can keep improving the downtown."
A group including Chamber of Commerce representatives is working
through the state's Main Street revitalization program to improve
"The future of our downtown will remain very important
to our commercial growth as we rarely have an empty building
for any length of time," said Barb Mulholland, Kendallville
Area Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer.
"As long as there is pride in the business owner in the
downtown, it will thrive," she said.