James Alderman, Sr., a lifelong Brainerd resident, and owner of Alderman's Hardware Store, 616 Laurel, has 78 years of insight into the city's past.
He's watched Brainerd grow from a wide-open town with sand streets lined with saloons, and when ladies in long dresses and men in tall silk hats waved to passers-by from atop a horse-drawn carriages, to Brainerd, 1971.
For 51 years, 616 Laurel has housed a hardware store under the Alderman banner. First owned by the White Brothers, it was purchased by Alderman and Amos Maghan in 1920 when bother were working for the old D. M. Clark Co. in the Iron Exchange Building.
The White Bros. Hardware supplied hardware fittings in 1910 for construction of a famous Brainerd landmark-the concrete water tower. Another early hardware store at the time was the Gruehagen Store located where the S & L Store is today, in the Gruenhagen Block.
when Alderman and Maghan bought the store, the only heat was from a wood burning stove in the center. Hardware merchandising was entirely different then, said Alderman.
LAST TURN SALOON----This was the Last Turn Saloon where two half-breed brothers were hanged without trial from the branch extending over the roof from the old tree. The Saloon stood on Front street and was the last of a long string of drinking houses in Brainerd's business district. It's most famous attraction was the hangman's tree.
Merchandise was displayed from behind glass doors. Potbellied stoves, wooden coal stoves and horse harnesses were big sellers. Later cam the hard coal stoves. A new era of brought the portable oil burners in about 1925. Little portable kerosene heaters were very popular-and smelly-said Alderman.
The first washing machines Alderman sold were cranked by hand. Patrons did their shopping via horse and buggy or wagon over Brainerd's sand streets. boardwalks served as sidewalks. The Alderman-Maghan store had two horses and a wagon for home deliveries.
In the old days, stores delivered produce direct to door-steps, said Alderman. A call to the local friendly grocer, hardware dealer or other store brought a delivery wagon pulled by horse, and there was no extra charge for the service.
Ice was big business before refrigerators, especially in the summer. The Brainerd Ice Company hauled ice from a plant at Lum Park to special ice houses and on to home ice boxes.
THE CHANGING BUSINESS SCENE The Biggest change in the business flavor was the transition from credit to cash, said Alderman. Eighty-five percent of alderman's business was carried out on credit and this was true all over, he said. Now it's the other way around.
"It didn't take much to live," said Alderman. Department stores were practically non-existent. Small stores were all over and each specialized in its own particular item of merchandise. "You just didn't sell anything but pure hardware, anything except groceries in grocery stores, clothes in clothing store."
If more than one kind of merchandise was sold, it was through the general store.
There wasn't much competition. People simply did business at their favorite store and paid on credit. "We'd trust the local grocer to pick out what we ordered," he said.
"People didn't go all over town looking for the best deal. They weren't price-minded. We knew what we needed and depended on the local stores to supply our needs. A glass of beer was a nickel; a pound of steak was 45 cents a pound," said Alderman.
EARLY STORES Some of the largest businesses of the 1920's included John M. Bye's clothing store, on Laurel in the Elks Building, H. W. Linneman men's clothing store between 6th and 7th on Front St. and O'Brien's Mercantile Co.; founded in 1883. Other shops in cluded Louie Hohman's ice cream and candy store first owned by Charles Hazen, where Cave's Flower Shop is now. The Hohman store was originally located in the Iron Exchange building where King Sports Shop was located.
John Carlson also had a men's clothing store on 6th and 7th. Grandelmeyer's Millinery Shop was at 612 Front, Bertha Theviot Clothes was where the First National Bank is now. H. E. Michael Co., clothiers, was where the S & L store is now, and the M. J. Reis store was at 211 S. 7th.
The Burton Co. came in a few years after the Alderman-Maghan store was established and was next to Lundberg's Jewelry, 708 Laurel.
"Meat markets were all over." said Alderman. Smith and McGinn had a small store in the Brainerd Daily Dispatch building. Ted Schaefer had the largest meat market, at 6th and Maple, where Burton's is now at 323 6th. Ted Schaefer is the father of Ted, Jr, and John, present owners of Schaefer's stores in Brainerd and Nisswa.
THE BIGGEST BUSINESS The biggest business of all was the saloon business.
Before 1914, there were about 35 saloons in downtown Brainerd. Every block had at least four or five, said Alderman.
Saloons were for men only. Wives waited at home with warmed-over supper while men jollied downtown. One of the best-known was the "Last Turn Saloon" on the corner of 4th and Front, the "last turn" because it was the last chance to stop along a long line of liquor houses.
A big oak tree once stood in front of the Last Turn ---- the tree where two half-breeds were hanged for murder. They were never convicted, or so the story goes. The tree and the saloon are now gone.
Other famous imbibing establishments were Jim Brady's at 7ith and Laurel where Sandy's C afe is now; Larrabee's Ideal Saloon, at Front and 5th, Deerholden at 608 Front, and the Antlers Hotel Saloon at 412-414 Front and Pat McCabe's where the Armory is now.
But the saloon business had a severe setback.
Saloon keepers were forced to sell their merchandise when the county was ruled to be under Indian land liquor restrictions.
A lot of saloon merchandise was subsequently sold to residents in hush, hush "auctions" in back rooms and basements.
Two other Brainerd businesses to leave town were the Brainerd Brewery and the Brainerd Bottling Co. The transition from a wet to a dry Brainerd left empty buildings. Candy stores, ice cream parlors, soda fountains, small meat markets, independent grocery stores and other small businesses filled the gaps.
On the heels of the saloon ouster, moonshine was ushered in and sold to anyone who had a strong stomach. Charred kegs for aging moonshine were going items at the Alderman-Maghan store.
The char soaked up some of the "poison" from the moonshine and made it "more pure," said Alderman. Since Crow Wing County was off-limits to any form of alcohol, Morrison County was the main source of "happy water." Crow Wing county was declared Indian land since some of it was adjacent to the Mille Lacs Indian Reservation, and no liquor was allowed here.
Pierz and Hollingdale were especially prolific moonshine centers. Self-appointed moonshine distributors brought the potent liquid fire to sell in Brainerd. Indian agents patrolled incoming highways and road, but there were always ways of getting around them.
"There was a small police force, but people did pretty much as they pleased," said Alderman.
BUSINESS AND THE NORTHERN PACIFIC In the early 1900's the Northern Pacific shops employed a majority of Brainerd's eligible workers. Bi-monthly payday at the shops meant money in the cash registers of local businesses.
When the whistle blew, railroad workers headed for the saloons and to local businesses to charge their necessities. "People didn't have ready cash until payday," said Alderman.
On bi-monthly paydays at the railroad shops, the Alderman store put on extra help and stayed open all night.
The effects of the nationwide strike in 1922 weighed heavily on the downtown businesses. "It was a tense time for Brainerd," said Alderman.
Business depended nearly entirely on the railroad. It was, however, a two-way street as the shops depended upon local businesses as well. Merchants were generous during the strike months and carried the strikers along. "Most accounts were eventually paid," said Alderman.
Store employees were afraid to cross picket lines to deliver orders to the railroad shops. So, disguised trucks form the shops were sent to pick up the orders.
Alderman said that during the strike there was a general friendly feeling toward most local merchants because accounts were handled on credit.
FLU EPIDEMIC A severs flu epidemic swept through Brainerd in the spring of 1918 and the hospital was filled to over-flowing. Beds were set up in the old Gardner's Hall, at laurel and 5th where the bus depot is now to handle the over-flow.
Several leading Brainerd citizens died as a result of the epidemic. R. B. Withington, a cashier at the First National Bank and the Secretary of the Chamber of commerce was among them.
"Everyone who worked in the hardware store had to wear masks when waiting on customers," said Alderman. The flu epidemic lasted about six weeks and occurred at the same time as the Moose Lake fire that burned its way from Aitkin to Duluth. Smoke was smelled all the way into Brainerd during the famous blaze.
That coupled with the flu epidemic, made Brainerd a glum place to live.
BRAINERD'S STREETCAR Alderman remembers the old Brainerd Streetcar line in about 1900. The line ran from S. 6th St. to the Northwest Paper Company site, through east Brainerd. It ended when heavy winds blew down the trestle across "the fill" on Washington Avenue where the streetcar crossed on its way to the paper mill.
The heavy winds also wiped out a stand of Norway and jack pines in Gregory Park. Before the tornado, the trees were so thick, you could hardly walk through them, said Alderman.
THE ALDERMAN HORSE Alderman's father, Sam, one of Brainerd's early attorneys, had an office in the First national Bank Building. He owned a race horse that delighted John Bishop who ran a stop-over sleeping and eating place between Round and Gull lakes on what is now Hwy. 371.
Bishop liked Alderman's horse so well that he offered Sam his mile of shoreline between Bishop Creek and Mud Lake Creek in exchange for Alderman's horse.
But at that time, Sam didn't know what he's do with all that property. Besides, it took four hours to get out there by horse or early Ford. So, Alderman kept his horse and Bishop kept his land.
The Aldermans once owned "country club" in the area in partnership with several other Brainerd businessmen. "Sometimes we'd have to pick the wheels up out of the sand and haul the old cars through," said Alderman.
On of Brainerd's early cafes was once owned by the Archer sisters next to the Brainerd Daily Dispatch. The sisters figures business would be goon on the stretch between Round and Gull Lakes, so they sold out in Brainerd and went into the dining-lodging business and built Interlachen.
AN IRON MINE IN BRAINERD Alderman's first business venture was in an iron mine in Brainerd, at the end of S. 6th St., about where Thompson's Concrete Co. is now.
The president of the First National Bank approached young Alderman saying that by investing just $100 in iron ore stock, "you'll really make money." The old mine was called the Brainerd Mining Co. and started in about 1910. "Everyone who could scrap up $100 did so," said Alderman. "I still have the certificate in my lock box."
The mine lasted two years then folded.
EARLY HOTELS During the heyday of Brainerd's early days, there were many hotels, said Alderman. A couple of the most well-known were the Arlington, across from the water tower, the Antlers on Front and 5th Streets where lumberjacks and traveling men stayed, the lobe across form the Antlers and the National near the Alderman store.
The old City Hotel, between 5th and 6th on Laurel, was where the baseball players stayed.
Most of the early hotels have been destroyed by fire. Alderman recalled on fire in particular, the blaze that leveled the old Arlington Hotel. Firemen were running around with ice clinging from their clothing and hats and stopping for quick nips in the Arlington bar.
James Alderman, one of Brainerd's leading citizens and one of few who remembers the story of early life as a Brainerd businessman, is now retired. The store celebrated its 50th year of continuous operation under the Alderman name in 1970.
His father came to Brainerd from Hartford, Conn, in 1885. He was intrigued by the adventure of the times "to go west young man," said Alderman. And to a young Connecticut lawyer, Brainerd, Minn., was truly way out west.
Alderman's son, Robert R., is a well-known Brainerd attorney. The store is now run by another son, James, Jr. His daughter, Mrs. Betty Lockwood, resides in Oregon.