By Kim Jones
Many in the area, like me, have wondered about the history of the three story building at Lincoln Street and Hwy 79 in Elsberry.
Depending on who you talk to there have been many names for that building over the years, but since 1991 it has been known as the Gladney Building when Robert and Linda Gladney purchased the building from the city of Elsberry and renovated it into apartments.
Recently, the building was purchased from the Gladneys by area businessman and developer, Jim Heitman who jumped through the hoops to get the permits to have the old building torn down after over 91 years in existence.
Let’s back up though and look at when and how the building was even constructed. I am sure the names you will read are ones that you have heard around Elsberry, especially names of streets.
In the early 1920s the Mayor of Elsberry, J.B. Ellis, was doing many great things for the town. One of his visions though was bringing an industry to the town that would help the economy. He had contacts with a shoe company in Washington, MO and he thought if he could get a site and monetary backing the company would come to Elsberry.
A committee was formed with the following people: W.B. Ellis, C. L. Bushman, J.C. Welch, W.S. Reid, and J.R. Palmer. Eight different sites were looked at, but the final site at Dubois and Hwy. 79 was purchased from G.A. Black for $1,800.
Many of the wealthier people gave to try and make this a reality. When more money for this adventure was still needed the committee members went to the community and asked them to pledge some money. Families went down to the local bank and filled out a pledge paper giving what they could, five or ten dollars.
Lastly, with money in hand, a building being constructed and the land purchased, three of the men, Welch, Palmer and Ellis were elected by secret ballot to put their name on the papers as the trustees.
Everything had come together and the community was very excited as the W.H. Lampe Shoe Co Factory #2 opened its doors on Jan. 15, 1925. The factory would remain open only three years before shutting the doors.
In late 1928 the Wells-Lamont Glove factory began production in the building. It is said that at the height of production over 300 people were employed at the factory.
This company was a mainstay in the community for over 30 years and brought much growth to the area, not only employment, but financial benefits to all the businesses in Elsberry. The employees were devastated on Feb. 9, 1960, 32 years after opening, when they all received a letter telling them the company would be closing. At this time there were approximately 140 people working.
The letter stated how the people of Elsberry had been great workers and were praised for producing a quality product.
Over the next six months workers were slowly let go as the plant closed its doors for good. There are several people that still live in Elsberry who worked at the factory.
I spent some time with soon to be 90 years old, Ernest Calvin. Some may know Calvin better as the first town mail carrier for Elsberry. He spent 32 years walking the streets of Elsberry.
Calvin gave me a firsthand description of how the factory ran, and I am sure if the walls could talk there would be lots of stories as so many men and women worked next to each other day in and day out.
The first floor was known as the “cutters”. This is where the men took the goods, such as leather, and cut out the product. On the second floor the women were known as the “sewers”. Also on this floor the gloves were pressed in the “hot hands room”.
Finally, up on the third floor was one man who got the gloves boxed up and ready for shipment. A shoot was located here and the man would send the boxes down to the first floor to be loaded on the trucks for delivery. Calvin made a whopping $20 a week for working five (8 hours) days a week and four hours on Saturday morning. He stayed at the factory for approximately two years.
I thought it interesting about racial divide at this time. Only white people were employed at the company, while local black people worked at the quarry south of town.
I received the same sentiment from someone, many would call a local historian, Louise Harding Dameron. During her school years she would work at the glove factory on Saturdays. After graduation, Dameron traveled north to Hannibal to work for the phone company for a while, but soon returned back to Elsberry for a job at the glove factory. Her four hour job on Saturday mornings netted her a paycheck of $1.49! Dameron also mentioned that when the glove factory was in production Elsberry had it greatest growth.
The walls weren’t silent for long when the glove factory finally closed in July of 1960. Six months later on Jan. 3, 1961 the building was leased by Automotive Group from Missouri Research and they opened a business called Parts Exchange.
Here employees rebuilt auto parts, especially voltage regulators, starter solenoids and truck clutch disks. Harold Butts was the first factory manager and when the plant closed in May of 1976 Gene Lonsberry was listed as the foreman.
According to plant employee, Dean Tapley, the women worked in the office and the men worked in the plant.
After being out of commission again for a short while the building(and its walls) was the once again inhabited. Waters Furniture Store out of Vandalia opened another location in Elsberry employing several and housing floors of traditional furniture to be purchased by local residents. When the furniture store went out of business in the 80’s the building sat vacant, but was still owned by the city of Elsberry after all those years.
After purchase, the lower level was utilized as a mechanic’s shop and storage.
In 1996, Gladney saw the building as an investment in the community to give people a place to live, with short-stay and long-stay options.
The building was transformed into 12 units for people to reside. The building remained apartments from 1996-2016.
After storm damage in 2016, Gladney began researching options for demolition.
Earlier this year, Gladney was approached by Jim Heitman, with an offer to purchase the building.
The Gladney building is the third site that Heitman felt needed attention within the city and he was able to contribute by taking care of them.
“I’m proud to be able to help clean up Elsberry. I feel I am doing what’s best for the city and hope it’s appreciated,” said Heitman.
Heitman is not sure yet what the next step is for six city lots that hold so much of Elsberry’s history.