201-203 N. Second St.
This beautifully preserved two-story Federal style building has been home to Buhrmester Paint and Wallpaper for as long as many people can remember. Henry A. Buhrmester, after managing Main Street paint stores for over 20 years, purchased the Second Street location in 1948. The Grand Opening on September 24, 1949, was a cause of celebration as he and his wife now owned the building and had tripled the size of their store in comparison to their Main Street location. The paint business was continued by their son Lester and his wife Kathleen who purchased the building in 1960. It continues today under the ownership of a former associate of the firm, Ray Eberhart.
Buhrmester is one of Edwardsville’s oldest independently owned businesses, dating to Henry’s beginnings as a partner in McNitt’s Wallpaper and Paint Company at 224 N. Main Street on March 14, 1929. Henry became the sole proprietor in 1934 and changed the name to Buhrmester Paper and Paint Company.
However, this Second Street building was already over 60 years old and rich in history when Henry and Emma Buhrmester purchased it in 1948. What was originally known as the McCorkle Building was built as an investment by Samuel S. McCorkle and his wife Mary in 1887. It was one of the few Edwardsville buildings to feature an iron and glass front manufactured by the Pullis Brothers of St. Louis.
A native of Alton, McCorkle began his career as a “printer’s devil,” that is, an apprentice in the printing trade. Through hard work and shrewd investments he was able to accumulate considerable wealth during his lifetime. In 1886 he married Mary “Mollie” Littleton, the daughter of a prominent local family. The couple had four sons, including three that survived to adulthood.
By the time he arrived in Edwardsville in 1881, he was experienced at his craft and was hired as foreman of the Intelligencer’s printing room. It should be noted that the Intelligencer offices were not then located next door to the McCorkle building as they are today. In 1881 the Intelligencer building was on St. Louis Street, on the south side of the Court House square.
In 1891 McCorkle suffered a severe bout of “grip,” a flu-like illness sometimes accompanied by pneumonia. Although he continued to work as foreman at the Intelligencer until 1895, he never again enjoyed good health. On the advice of his doctor, he took several trips to Texas for his health, but had only short-lived relief. McCorkle died in Edwardsville on January 31, 1898. Newspapers in Edwardsville and Alton were profuse in their praise for McCorkle. The Alton Republican said, “Mr. McCorkle was a man of generous impulses, and led one of the most thoroughly unselfish lives we have ever known. He lived for others rather than himself, and his self-sacrificing devotion to those to whom he was bound by ties of kinship or affection, was a beautiful commentary on the possibilities of human endeavor. He was ever at peace with all the world.” Samuel McCorkle was 52 years old.
Mary McCorkle kept the Second Street property as an investment until 1904 when she sold it to William Stahlhut, whose heirs sold it to George Hardbeck in 1932. It was owned briefly by Martin Vadalabene before being sold to Henry and Emma Buhrmester on October 30, 1948.
There was a wide variety of tenants in the building beginning in 1887 with a popular area grocer, Charles Hack, in the south store front and Heisel Harness and Saddle on the north side. After Charles Hack, owners Stahlhut and Hardbeck had groceries in the same store front so that the south side was occupied by a grocery from 1887 until the mid-1930s. Between then and the Buhrmesters’ purchase in 1948, there were a sheet metal business, rug cleaning and a few other enterprises including a taxi service.
The second floor of the building initially held a variety of offices, but within a few years many of the tenants of the first-floor businesses on the north side of the building moved into apartments above their stores. Today, as with many downtown buildings, the second floor is vacant.
On the north side of the building, then known as 203 N. Second Street, an unusual procession of businesses occupied the storefront. As stated, it began as a harness shop, but in the early years also functioned as a tavern under various owners. By 1918 it was an undertaking establishment belonging to Roy Lowe who was also the Madison County coroner. Lowe died in his apartment above his business in October 1918 after he contracted the deadly strain of influenza sweeping the country. Newspapers at the time speculated that he caught the disease when embalming the bodies of area soldiers who died in the epidemic. His wife ran the business for a short time, but then sold it to Fred Leadley, who eventually took in a partner, William Straube, a name familiar to most long-time Edwardsville residents. The funeral business left the Second Street address in 1922 and was followed by a soft drink company. By 1928 the Maytag and Steele Piano Company was occupying the space offering a strange combination of wringer washers, Zenith radios, grand pianos and everything to go with them including piano tuning services, sheet music and piano rolls.
In 1936, Louis Vanzo leased 203 Second Street as well as the building north of it at 205 Second Street as the Vanzo Café and Tavern with a beer garden at the back. The Vanzo family lived above the tavern at the 203 address. Vanzo had a number of slot machines in the tavern which made the establishment a target of Mrs. Irene Kite of Alton, a crusader against gambling. Mrs. Kite, a self-styled Carrie Nation used an ax to destroy slot machines all over Madison County. She visited Vanzo’s on February 1, 1938, but was restrained after causing only slight damage to the machines. The Vanzo Café and Tavern was on Second Street until the early 1940s when it moved to St. Louis Street.
A few other businesses occupied the space in the 1940s until the Buhrmesters cut a hole in the wall that separated the two store fronts, turning them into one large retail space. Today, 66 years later, area residents can still purchase wallpaper, paint and more at Buhrmester’s on Second Street. Their purchases are accompanied by personal service, sage advice and a smile.
Information for this article was obtained from resources at the Madison County Archival Library, Madison County Court House, Edwardsville Public Library and from current and previous owners. If you have questions about this article, contact Cindy Reinhardt at 618-656-1294 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Cindy Reinhardt
First published in the Edwardsville Intelligencer, May 9, 2015.
Note: Buhrmester Paint and Wallpaper Store is scheduled to close its doors at the end of February 2022.