Friday, August 15, 2014

Looking Back: Our Main Street, 85 Years Ago

The Times has been sent a photo providing one of the best pictures yet -- at least that we have seen -- of Dorchester's bustling main street (Washington Avenue) as it appeared in the 1920s. According to the reader who sent the photo, the picture is featured on a 1929 postcard, mailed from a young man who was working on a snow fence project near Friend.

The photo shows the South Side Garage, located on the west side of the block between 6th and 7th Streets. Henry Sehnert owned and operated the garage from 1925 to 1930, before moving to the other side of the street, where he would operate his Ford garage for half a century. The South Side Garage was located near the present-day car wash. 

Today's City Hall can clearly be seen in the photo, looking north. At the time of the picture, the building housed Citizen's State Bank -- Dorchester oldest continuous business, despite the name change.  Also picture are the post office, and the Masonic and Good Fellows Hall (the second floor of today's City Hall and Donna's Hair Creations.)

Other photos published by the Times clearly show Dorchester's former water tower in the background of the South Side Garage. Prior to the 1920s, this area of main street was home to Skinkle Cafe and the H. Oetkin Machine Shop, according to a 1914-1920 map of Dorchester. Just north of the machine shop were Ireland's Dry Goods and Grocery and Randell's Shoe Shop. Continuing north up Main Street -- separated by the narrow alley and present-day bank drive-through -- were the Bank of Dorchester and Dr. Waller's Drug Store.  On the east side of the street on the same block sat the Commercial Hotel; Opera House; Cookus Blacksmith; Parker's Cream and Poultry; the Chamber of Commerce; City Hall; Dillon's Blue Front Cafe; and Malek's Butcher Shop.

Dorchester was a hub of business activity and free enterprise. We are certain that Times' readers would enjoy hearing any residents, past or present, who have heard stories from friends or family about Dorchester in the 1910s, '20s and '30s.  

(This article was originally published by the Dorchester Times in January 2010.)


  1. There are a lot of historic pictures from the Museum that have been digitized an blown up at Ben's Iron Grill. Some have captions and others still need to be explained. Sue asks you to stop by and help her out with the history of Dorchester. If you have any old photos let her borrow them to get reproduced than you can have them back. This is an easy way to keep Dorchester's history alive

  2. We think we live in a time a "change." Ha! To show you just how much change was taking place then, I was told by my great grandfather that the town stable was located where the gas station is now. He told me that it was around until about 1920, so it went away only a few years before the south side garage was working on cars. We probably had a better president then too.

  3. Funny we were just standing across the street , last fall & we made out the South Side Garage on the building still. Lived here for 30 plus years & never saw it intill then.

  4. I believe that is Dad (Heinie Sehnert) standing by the gas pump in the lower picture.
    Read the Times every nite to keep up on Dorchester. Wrightwood, Ca.

  5. whatever happened to the entrepreurial spirit that once flourished in our small towns across america?

  6. The Dorchester Centennial History book, p. 71, shows that same photo and an earlier view of the same buildings, labeled "John Freeouf's Garage and Livery." Some references also credit Freeouf as managing a "Farmers Union" grocery store in the same area, maybe about the same time? The south corner of that block, now Coop Service Station, was Steele Bros. Construction Co. They used the remains of a livery stable that had been there to house the construction equipment, and had a small white building for their office. I think they "constructed" roads and etc. Cal Steele lived on the southeast corner of 9th & Washington. Don't know where Chuck Steele lived. They later moved the business to Crete? A Steele daughter at one time had a fashion shop in downtown Crete.
    "History Buff"

  7. Cal's wife Barbara ran "Barbara's Style Shop" in Crete until 1980. Barbara was originally from Seward, and I believe Cal may have been from the Fairbury area. They moved from Dorchester to Crete in the 1940's. The Steele's were pillars of Trinity Memorial Episcopal Church in Crete for many years. In fact, Cal built the basement for the church. Cal died in 1976 at the age of 71 while Barbara died in 2005 at the age of 95. Trinity Memorial is the oldest standing church in Saline County.


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