If These Walls Could Talk: Randy Beck Building

Anderson, Grenz & Straub. "If These Walls Could Talk: Randy Beck Building." Northwest Blade, 5 April 2012, 5.

In looking at the brick building that exists today, one would never suspect all the stories its walls could tell, from whiskey to harnesses to candy to flowers!

McPherson County Director of Equalization recorded this building as being built in 1890; original abstracts show that lot 10, block 1, original plat was dedicated on August 16, 1888.  The first owner listed is Jacob Kusler who, with C. Wentz, is shown on an early Eureka map as owners of a saloon on this lot.  The Charles Mix family history recorded in the 1937 Eureka Jubilee Book tells that Mix and Peter Wentz ran a harness shop in 1892 in this building.  Mix worked there for only a few years, eventually becoming McPherson County sheriff.

Through a long line of mortgages and sales to various Eureka bankers and prominent Eureka businessmen, including bankers Charles Pfeffer; John Reagan and Frank Hooper; and Eureka Bazaar co-partners Christoph Hezel and Julius Schamber, it ended up being owned by Peter Wentz and Jacob Huhn on November 13, 1899.  Two years later, on April 12, 1901, Christoph Becker and Joseph Schatz purchased the building from Wentz and Huhn, for less than $800, according to the warranty deed.  Christoph Becker purchased Schatz’s portion of the business in 1903, running it as a harness shop until 1945.

Born on December 4, 1871, during the height of a war, Christoph and his family left Russia in the late 1880s.  Becker’s granddaughter, Sharon Becker Beck, told this author that her grandfather and great-grandparents lived in Indianapolis before coming to Eureka, where Christoph, barely 17, worked in a quarry.  An accident caused the amputation of his leg below the knee.  Upon arriving in Eureka in 1890, Christoph was able to fulfill his childhood dream of being a teacher.  Perhaps dreams did not live up to reality, because he quit teaching after one year to begin an apprenticeship with an oxen harness maker named J.A. Melicher.

Serving an apprenticeship for three years gave Christoph the confidence to start his own business on south Market Street (with Schatz and Melicher), later moving to the building on lot 10, block 1, original plat of Eureka.  In 1937, Christoph was still repairing and making horse harnesses, although demand for that line of work was fast declining due to the rapid increase of motorized farm equipment and automobiles used for transportation.  As the demand for harness repair declined, Becker included shoe repair in his store.  Margaret Straub Wolf, born in 1937, vividly remembers going to the Becker harness shop with her grandfather, usually when a new leather strap had to be put on her roller skates.  “One would enter the store and there was a big pot-bellied wood-burning stove, numerous spittoons and chairs circling the stove.  Men would sit in there for hours and talk in German, discussing the old country and Eureka.  The aromas in the store were of fresh leather and smoke.”

According to original abstracts, Becker sold his building to Thomas and Olive Lohner in 1945.  Thomas Lohner had started a candy company in Eureka in 1935.  Needing to expand his business, Lohner purchased the Becker Harness Shop.  Leonard Neiger, as principal stockholder and President of Tom’s Candy Co., became recorded title holder of the lot and building in September 1955.

Tom’s Candy Company had five large routes that supplied candy to areas as far north as Strasburg, ND.  Arnold Flemmer and Harvey Schock both worked for Tom’s Candy Co. for several decades.  A fire in the early 1950s destroyed the south end of the structure.  Henry Straub, a young high school student at the time of the fire, remembers seeing many half burned candy boxes lying in the ruins, some shaped like hearts.  The rear of the building, built of cement blocks, did not burn.  Henry Jundt, Ed Serr, John Funk, and Art Opp reconstructed the burned front of the building with brick.

The building was bought by Candy Service of Aberdeen, Duane Riedel acting president, from Leonard Neiger in April 1973.  The name Tom’s Candy Co. was retained, but the candy was supplied by Candy Service of Aberdeen.  A Mobridge trucker, who supplied a West River candy route, would come to the north door to park his truck; but because the truck was empty, it was too high to get into the building.  The driver would let out a tiny bit of air from every tire so that he could enter safely.  When loaded, backing out of the building posed no problem.  The trucker would then go to Kary’s, put more air in the tires, and continue on his way.

Tom’s Candy Co. operated in Eureka until 1983.  Beatty Hanson stated that she and her husband, Richard Hanson, DVM, rented the building in 1984.  They opened a feed store named Westside Feeds, with Larry Schnabel as manager.  This business closed in 1986.

The Eureka Floral and Gift Shop, run by Delores Rohrbach, moved here in 1986 when Delores’s husband, Marvin, bought the building.  (It had previously been housed in the old telephone building at 705 H Ave., and prior to that, on the east edge of town.)  A door was cut between Rohrbach’s Barber Shop next door for easy access to either building.  The floral shop was a successful business, with the Mother’s Day holiday necessitating hiring seven temporary employees.  DeQuetta Kurle, Rohrbach’s daughter, was a regular helper at the shop.  After Delores died in 1995, the floral shop closed.

Following Deloris’s death, Marvin Rohrbach rented the building to Bob Pfitzer of Mobridge, who stocked the building with dented canned goods, calling it Pfitzer’s Shop N Save.  Managers Gerner and Alice Volzke took over the inventory in 1998, changing the name to Eureka Bargain Box.  This business closed 18 months later.  In October 1999, Marvin Rohrbach sold the building to Dakota Woodworking, who used it for staining and varnishing their cabinets.  The area in the back of the building was used to store the Dakota Woodworking van and company trailer.

Dakota Woodworking sold the building to Randy Beck in July 2001.  Now memorabilia and antiques line the walls.  Virtually a museum, one wonders if perhaps some of Becker’s harness equipment, Kusler’s saloon memorabilia, or perhaps an ornately decorated Valentine box that used to hold sweets can be found in Beck’s vast collection.

Rohrbach Barber Shop, in this location since 1961.
The two-story block building constructed in 1900 by D.B. Strait. Photo taken in 1912 when Straubs was built next door. From Margaret Straub Wolf.

Story courtesy of the Northwest Blade, Eureka, SD.
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