Peabody Singing Tower

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Source: NMHS Newsletter Feb 1994

Frantz and Loucks, General Contractors

by Jean Loucks Grubb-King

I'm interested in sharing a record of my grandfather's and father's building construction activities in this area.
Walter Loucks was my father and Noah Frantz was my maternal grandfather. Noah was a brother of Ezra Frantz, who established the Frantz Lumber Co. in North Manchester. Their father was Jacob Frantz. Jacob was the designer and builder of the North German Baptist Church on Meridian or Packerton Road. The story is told that the siding on that church was from one virgin poplar tree. He also had a sawmill at his home on the farm on State Road 14 across from Bob and Alice Frantz's home called "Wildwood." Noah later built a home for his parents, Esther and Jacob, one half mile east of Silver Lake and also built a home for himself and family, a mile east of Silver Lake. Jacob was known as a "...veteran barn builder of Wabash and Kosciusko Counties, and his barns stand on many and many a farm and they stand the storms too, for they were built to stand. He is credited with being the inventor of what is known as the balloon type barn that took the place of the old heavy timber barns, and that while using much less timber has in use been found to be even more sturdy." The quote is from a December 5, 1935 News Journal written about his 91st birthday. His obituary in a July 22, 1937 News Journal states, "Mr. Frantz had been a preacher in the Dunkard Church for sixty years."
Mary Deaton and her husband hauled gravel for the contracting firm and she lives in Jacob's former home. Mary told me some tales about Jacob's new home east of Silver Lake. Noah built the house and had a large picture-type window that was not used in a school house so it was installed in the front living room wall. This may have been one of the first picture windows! The Old Order Church (German Baptist) ruled that the window was too worldly so it was replaced by two "regular" sized windows. Jacob also installed a "dumb waiter" in the kitchen which carried food from the basement. Water, both well water and cistern rain water, was piped into the kitchen. This replaced the outside pumps that were in use at that time. There was also an inside toilet which utilized water from a tank upstairs and was flushed by pulling a chain attached to a wooden receptacle on the wall above the toilet. We helped with spring cleaning and used a rug beater to clean the carpet. I remember visiting my great grandparents when the families butchered. I was awakened early (not yet daylight) and then put down on a straw-tick mattress in the bedroom. I didn't think it was very comfortable! When we butchered at their house, I liked mince meat and canned pork loin. I wasn't too sure I liked things like souse, head cheese, tongue, and the sausage in "casings." The casings were the intestines and were washed and scraped clean!-- I guess. I always begged the men, "Don't kill the mama pigs!"
Stories say Jacob could size up a window or door opening and without measuring, could fit it with sash and doors.
Noah built a fine home a mile east of Silver Lake in the early 1900's. He used a plan similar to the Jacque home in Silver Lake. (the Jacque home later became the home of Jean's in-laws, the Grubbs.)
Jacob's son, Noah, moved from Silver Lake to North Manchester about 1921 after serving as Lake Township, Kosciusko County, trustee and becoming involved in the contracting business. He built Seward Central, Maple Grove and Fairview schools in Wabash and Kosciusko counties. An April 13, 1992 Warsaw Times-Union in its "75 Years Ago" column states, "N. M. Frantz of Silver Lake, signed contracts for two fine school buildings to be erected this summer," (1917). One was at Roll, North of Hartford City and the other one was at Royerton, just north of Muncie. He also built a cottage at Eagle Lake, Michigan for daughter Clara and a summer cottage at Yellow Creek Lake (which eventually became granddaughter Jean's home for 36 years). He also built one next door for his friend, Cash Lawrence, a plumbing supplier from Wabash, Indiana. He built an ice house so people could have free ice.
Noah's first home in North Manchester was the first house east of Weimer's canning factory. In the early 30's, Orpha and Harry Weimer lived in an apartment in that house after Harry finished his Ph.D. at Ohio State. Teaching jobs were hard to come by due to mid-year timing and the depression, so Noah gave him a job on the onion and potato farm he owned west of Silver Lake in exchange for rent. Orpha enjoyed Grandma's garden and flowers. Harry later got a teaching position in Bridgewater College, Virginia.
The canning factory next door hired local women during the busy times when corn, peas, beans, tomatoes, etc. were harvested and canned. According to the News Journal, 250,000 cans were processed in 1929. I remember Grandma Frantz, Martha Metzger, Mrs. Fred Flook and my mother working at the canning factory. Martha lived three doors east and had a rug loom in her home. I watched her "make rugs" many times. She was a member of the "Old Order" church and drove a "Model T" Ford. Speaking of Fred Flook-- he had a smoke house (right across the street) and cured our pork hams and shoulders. Flooks also had a summer kitchen and good things were cooked, canned, and baked there. I watched and smelled the good food from a porch swing in the shade of a grape arbor. Families were pretty self sufficient. Grandpa Noah always planted cherry, peach and apple trees wherever he lived. He fell out of a cherry tree when he lived east of Silver Lake. I was two or three years old and I asked him to "do it again" because I didn't get to see him fall! Even though I always lived in town, I experienced the rural life style when I was with relatives.
Grandpa and Grandma Frantz took care of his father Jacob after he had a stroke in 1936. He died in January, 1937, at the age of 94. Great Grandma Esther had died in 1930.
Noah got the $42,000 bid for the Sidney School in July, 1922. School commenced at the usual time! Clyde Rusher, who lived in the Sidney area, was hired as the carpenter foreman. I remember Clyde very well. He was employed by the contractors until ten major buildings (nine schools and one retirement home), two houses and two potato storages were built. Clyde always ran-- he didn't walk. The Sidney addition provided for rooms for commercial classes, a gym and auditorium that would seat 500 people. A crew of 18 laborers from Silver Lake worked on most of the buildings. Wages were a lot less in those days. I have read that carpenters earned $2 to $2.50 a day for ten-hour days, and brick layers earned 60 cents an hour. Grover Trick, Fred Trick, Sr.'s father, walked from North Manchester to Sidney and back each day. He was the brick layer. The school was completed by fall.
About 1923 Noah convinced Walter to leave his job with the New York Central Railroad and join Noah in the contracting business. Walter was born in 1888 and was reared in the Wakarusa, Indiana area. Vernon Schwalm and John Searer were two of his boyhood playmates. Vernon later became president of Manchester College and John was a teacher in the Chester School. He was the father of Fern Searer Storer. Walter attended Baugo School and Church at Wakarusa. His parents were Church of the Brethren people. His education consisted of eight grades (as was true of Noah). It is pretty amazing to me that these two combined talents and were quite successful in business and farming the rest of their lives. Walter was one of nineteen children. There were two mothers. He left home to find work as soon as he was old enough. He was promoted from fireman to engineer and had a very difficult decision to make regarding a career change. He always had very fond memories of railroad work. He wasn't drafted during World War I because his job was essential.
I was born in Elkhart in 1919 and in 1923 when I was four years old, we moved to Pierceton and lived in a house a block north of the new school site. Grandpa and Dad had been awarded the bid for the new high and grade school. I have a picture of the work crew. I'm the four year old in the middle. I could name them all at one time including Harry Rowe and "Harry Rowe's dog." I received some spankings for running away and going to the building site. Van Kissinger, the grandfather of Tom Sittler, a coach and teacher in the Manchester School, was the plasterer. His son, Tom Kissinger, worked with his dad. It was Tom's job to take me home so I wouldn't get hurt and sometimes he would give me candy, but one time he may have become disgusted with that chore and he gave me X-lax! (Chocolate coated.) I remember my first Halloween as a four-year-old. Daddy had a roll top desk and when I saw the masked characters, I hid in the desk.
Mother was the "gofer" for the firm. She often made trips to Fort Wayne or Wabash for supplies and made arrangements at the bank for money to pay the suppliers. It seemed that the cars in the early 20's often had flat tires-- every trip, it seemed to me-- and Mother had an old house dress in the car that she slipped on over her clothes and she could patch a tire as well as any man!
The Pierceton School has had some additions and is now an elementary school and appears attractive and in good condition.
In the next year, 1924, we moved to Fort Wayne where Frantz and Loucks were low bidders for the James Swart Elementary School. This was east of downtown Fort Wayne. We lived in a nice house on Plaza Drive. It had two stairways (fun for a five-year-old), and Grandma made very fine (cut fine) noodles and these were placed on the back stairway on clean cloths to dry. I attended kindergarten at the old school and remember being caught in a snow storm after school (I walked to school), and a nice lady took me in until my parents found me. I also fell out of the car because a door became unlatched when Mother and I made a trip to town one day (no seat belts in those days.) The old City Market on Barr Street was a fun place to visit. Plaza Drive was such a nice area but now I hear weekly reports of drug raids, stabbings, murders, etc. in that neighborhood. The James Swart School is no longer standing.
The bid for a proposed high school and elementary school in New Paris was $110,000. This was in the spring of 1927. We moved there until it was completed in December, 1927. We lived in Glen Whitehead's home which was the first house south of the building site. The Whiteheads were on summer vacation. My grandparents lived in a house at the east edge of the small business district. Grandma "boarded" (cooked for) the men who lived in Silver Lake. Clyde Rusher, foreman, and family rented a house at Waterford for six months. I attended third grade at the old elementary school and one of my classmates was La Veta Miller who later married Woodrow Immel, the pastor of the North Manchester First Brethren Church. La Veta's grandfather started the Smoker Lumber Company in New Paris, and her father and mother were employed there. The new school building gave impetus to that firm and it still operates as the Smoker Craft Company which builds boats and motor homes. When the Whiteheads returned to New Paris in the fall, we had to move to another home on Main Street. It had an outside toilet and my dad had an encounter with a skunk one night while visiting that facility and mother had a difficult time cleaning him and his clothes! I had pneumonia twice and this was prior to antibiotics so Mother's tender loving care and old fashioned remedies pulled me through. At one time the family did not expect me to survive. I had the flu as a baby in the big flu epidemic in 1919 and I always developed a "chest cold" when I caught cold. I remember Mother made a chamois skin vest for me to wear and rubbed some awful smelling mustard plaster on my chest.
Schools in Avilla in Noble County and Coesse in Whitley County were built sometime in this period of the late twenties. Coesse was built in late 1926 and 1927 for $75,000. It was replaced in 1988. Avilla was built in 1928 and is now being replaced by a 9.3 million dollar facility.
One worker at Coesse, known for his carelessness, dropped a square from a scaffolding onto workers below and he was fired "on the spot." I don't have much information on these schools. We stayed at our home at 308 N. Mill Street, North Manchester during the building of these schools and Dad and Grandpa drove back and forth.
Grandpa always had a nice car and he was a "fast driver" at 60 plus miles an hour. I'm surprised my mother let me travel with him so often! I was the only grandchild until my baby brother arrived in 1934, so I received a lot of attention from my grandparents and was often treated to an ice cream cone on trips with my granddad.
The State Board of Education, in 1927-28, granted the Chester building one more year of commission so on February 15, 1929, fourteen general contractors submitted bids for a new Chester School building. Frantz and Loucks were awarded the contract at $83,881.00 and Huntington Heating and Plumbing received a contract at $29,000.00 and C. E. Ruppel of North Manchester got the wiring bid for $1,700.00. There was one bid lower than Frantz and Loucks, but according to the North Manchester News Journal, they "were experienced builders who have built good buildings. They are home people, and for that reason will in all probability employ more home labor on the building than would an outside contractor. That of itself will mean considerable to the community. Then, too, they have a reputation of moving work along rapidly, and that reputation helps in the assurance that it will be ready for use by the time school will need to start next fall." Everett I. Browne, Fort Wayne, was the architect and Bevington-Williams, Inc., Indianapolis, were consulting engineers. Bidding was complicated because there were eight to ten alternates on each bid and the contractor had to submit a bid for the old building ($2,633). Bids were presented in the office of township trustee, Charles Wright, and after lunch at the United Brethren Church were then taken to the auditorium of Central School building where they were opened and listed. A June article in the News-Journal states that, "The building will cost complete with desks and equipment between $120,000 and $125,000 but should answer the needs of the township for many years." The building was 154 X 104 feet and three stories high. The new school was located north of the old school. Seven months later on September 23, 1929, school opened and the News Journal stated that the builders "had made remarkable progress."
I was ten years old and my family did not discuss business in my presence, but I can remember the flurry of activity before the day of a "letting" as it was called. There were often two sets of plans so alternate bids had to be submitted. The strength required for walls, arrangement of steel supports, the plan for heating and ventilating and numerous other mechanical details were figured. The prospective builders could tell just how many bricks would be used, size and kind of windows, the length of every piece of pipe and every electrical connection. Costs were added up on an old adding machine that had levers that were pushed up to each figure and then a pull lever was pulled to print the big roll of paper tape. It is amazing to me now that two men of eighth grade education could manage so successfully a contracting business.
Dale Rusher remembers his dad telling about the need to dismantle part of the Second Street bridge to get some equipment across the river (I suppose from the freight yards to the building site). One man was killed on the job and I remember going to Huntington to the funeral home. He had some little children. He probably worked for the Huntington Heating and Plumbing firm. I couldn't find any mention of it in the News Journal. I wonder if laborers were insured!
The period from 1922 to 1930 was a very busy time. Ten buildings were completed in that period and seven of those were built between 1927 and 1930. The bid for Chester was awarded in February, 1929, Laketon in March, 1929, Silver Lake in April, 1930, and Peabody Retirement Home in May, 1930.
The 1898 Laketon School needed an addition and Frantz and Loucks bid $55,643. On March 20, 1929, Karl Gast got the heating bid for $25,767. The plumbing bid was $5,431 by John Flack. There were nine bids. This would be the last building activity at Laketon until 1958. The school was demolished in June, 1989, and a new elementary school was built. The addition was ready to open in September of 1929 and a dedication program was held November 18, 1929. A gymnasium and classrooms were located in the new addition and the original building was remodeled. The building was needed so the school would not lose its commission. The State School Board must have been very influential in forcing new facilities during this period. Bids on bond issue had to be received too so that funds were available for the schools. The News Journal on March 21, 1929 states, "Frantz and Loucks have the contract for the Chester School building, and already have some work in progress on that house. They are experienced builders, well equipped for good and fast work, and can work the two buildings (Laketon and Chester) together to good advantage." The addition was larger than the original building. The first basketball games were played in the new gym on November 4, 1929. Linlawn beat Laketon 29 to 12 and Laketon's second team won 12 to 11. Games before the gym was built were played at Manchester College.
By November, 1929, the state officials said they would not renew Silver Lake's commission so in April, 1930, Frantz and Loucks bid on the school. They were awarded the bid of $27,105 for the school and $32,019 for the gym and civic offices. Each bidder had to present two bids because that was the only way the town and township could be bonded sufficiently. Frantz and Loucks also received the plumbing and heating bid for $19,930. Bidding must have been complicated because there were alternative bids for various types of materials. The architect, Browne, was the same for Laketon, Chester and Silver Lake so the general plan was similar. The cornerstone was laid July 24, 1930. Ceremonies were conducted by the Masonic order. One thousand persons attended. Noah Frantz's picture is in the cornerstone. School started September 15, 1930.
One month after the bidding for the Silver Lake School, the letting took place for the Peabody Retirement Home (May 19, 1930). What is known as the South House now was completed November 30, 1930. The News Journal stated that bids were considered on May 19, 1930 by members of the building committee, Architect Weatherhogg, and Tom Peabody. Bids had been filed the week before in the Fort Wayne architect's office. No information was made public regarding the bids. The general impression was that the total amount was somewhat above the amount first set aside for the building. Three local contractors bid on various parts of the work: Frantz and Loucks on the general contract, C. E. Ruppel and Son on the wiring and Manchester Heating and Plumbing on the heating and plumbing. Local workmen were employed. Clyde Rusher was given primary responsibility at the site because of activity at other sites. Work and material had to be of the best quality. Later information put an estimate of $120,000 for the building and grounds. An employee of H.H.R. Heineke, chimney builder of Indianapolis, fell to his death on October 23, 1930. He was on the job for his first day and was to put the iron top on the stack and remove the scaffolding. He was a 32-year-old black man. The stack was eighty feet high. Walter Loucks and Clyde Rusher found him on the floor inside the chimney. There were eighty rooms in the building, fifty of those for individual use. Clyde noticed some mortar on a brick and flicked it off with a trowel and some union brick layers walked off the job.
I wasn't very knowledgeable about business matters as a youngster and one day Fred Trick who was in my class at school asked me if I knew Frantz and Loucks was listed in Dunn and Bradstreet. I didn't know what he was talking about!
During their years in the contracting business, Grandpa and Daddy acquired farms in Wabash, Marshall and Kosciusko Counties. They raised potatoes in the muck soil in Marshall and Kosciusko farms and built two potato storages. Management and actual work occupied their time after the contracting business subsided. They still worked ten-hour days! They were always very physically active in business ventures.
We moved to the J. J. Wolfe home at the corner of Wayne and Third Streets in 1935. Mr. Wolfe had been an executive at Peabody Seating Company and wanted to move permanently to Florida where he had invested in orange groves at Howey-in-the-Hills.
My grandparents moved three houses east of their first home on West Main Street in 1937.
Many people have asked me if they were contractors for Thomas Marshall School which was built in 1929. They did bid on it but Charles Urschel of Bippus had the low bid on January 31, 1929. There were fifteen bidders! Two bids had to be submitted by each contractor with twelve alternatives on each. It is my guess the family was relieved to lose the job! It would have been a tremendous task to have four or five building crews at the same time.
College students were hired in summer months. Dr. Gene Cook told me a story about his experiences as a summer worker. Dad needed some surveying instruments and asked Gene if he could procure them. It is my assumption that he "borrowed" them at the College. When they were returned, Dad gave him $25.00 and Gene said that was the most money he ever had at one time! It was depression years.
Walter Loucks developed the Oak Park addition in his "spare" time. Lots were laid out and sold as need developed. The Wood-Craft business was established on a lot bordering Elm and Fourth Streets.
Walter also helped with the construction of the parsonage for the local First Brethren Church in 1946. He was a trustee of the Church when the first addition was added to the church.
The Brake Band factory on West Main Street was purchased by the family in 1936.
Grandfather, Noah Frantz, died in 1946 at age 76, and father, Walter Loucks, died in 1955 at age 66. They led active lives up to that time.