My Life at the Jones Grocery, by Gerald Van Pool

Above, the Jones Grocery Store at 7-9 N. Main Street as seen in an Oct. 1, 1955 photograph from the Janesville Gazette, thirty years --and at a different location on the same street--after Gerald Pool worked there. The grocery store is behind the light pole and the car.

Above, Gerald Van Pool's Senior Class Picture from the 1923 Janesville High School Yearbook

Below is an excerpt from Gerald M. Van Pool’s wonderful memoir, I Remember Janesville, published in 1977. Born and bred in Janesville, Van Pool became a teacher and ultimately, a member of the Washington, D.C. staff of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.

This excerpt tells of Van Pool's experience working at a local grocery store during his senior year in high school (1922-1923). It is illustrated with photos of Janesville grocery stores roughly from the period of time he describes.

My Life at the Jones Grocery, by Gerald M. Van Pool

I never said that John H. Jones (The Grocer) should have been named Ebenezer Scrooge, although…these two gentlemen had much in common. John H. Jones…was a hard man with a dollar as I found out when I worked in his grocery at 36 S. Main Street, Janesville, Wisconsin.

Pay and Hours: I worked at this store while I was in high school (in the early 1920s), getting there at 7:00 to open up and wait on early morning customers. They were usually men on their way to work and who wanted smokes, chewing tobacco, or something for their noon lunch. I worked for about an hour, then went to school, returned at the end of the school day, and worked until about 6:30 p.m. I also worked on Saturday from 7:00 a.m. until almost 11:00 p.m. and for some 30 hours of work, I received the princely sum of $5.00, which meant that I earned about 18 cents an hour, well below the minimum wage of 30 cents an hour required by the Wisconsin Child Labor Law. During the summer, I worked anywhere from 50 to 60 hours a week, a violation of the number of hours which a minor could work in one week. Yet, I was considered one of the lucky boys in school. I had a job that gave me spending money, bought some of my school materials, and even some clothes…

Physical Set-Up of the Store: The John H. Jones Grocery was located at 36 S. Main St.; it was rather narrow but quite deep, with two front windows, one at each side of the front door with a long aisle leading from the front door to the back of the store and storeroom. Up front on the right was a counter filled with glass jars and back of them the wall shelves were loaded with even more jars. Some of these goods were ordinary, but a few puzzled me: pickled walnuts, smoked oysters, capers, and other exotic items. Further back, still on the right, was another counter which held two or three wheels of cheese, the ice box, a screened room for sacks of flour, and lastly the back room.

Above, early 1900s photo of unidentified Janesville grocery store interior

On the left of the entrance were the glass-covered candy and tobacco counters; two counters for waiting on trade and for putting up orders; the bakery goods case; coffee mill; shelves of soaps and cleansers; walk-in safe; desk; toilet, and cold water sink. Along the front counters were boxes of lemons, oranges, grapefruit, and apples all tilted so that customers could see what was for sale. A stalk of bananas always hung in the window with a curved banana knife imbedded in the stalk.

The Back Room: The back room was a cheerless place; it was dark and cold, loaded with stock and canned goods, a big tank of kerosene, a bin of potatoes, barrel of soap chips, barrel of vinegar, bales of wrapping paper and bags—anything for which room could not be found elsewhere. It opened out into an alley about 8-10 feet below the back door and sometimes when we had too much junk, we just opened the back door and dumped the excess out into the alley. I don’t know what happened to it but it always seemed to disappear.

Stock: For the most part we carried only first class goods at high prices. As a result, we had what might be called “The Carriage Trade.” Many customers lived on The Hill and were willing to pay higher prices to get outstanding quality and service. Delivering one yeast cake to a Hill customer was the kind of service our customers expected, received, and paid for.

Housekeeping - Clean up: Cleaning up was a never-ending job; this meant taking jars or cans off the shelves and dusting them with a feather duster, which simply rearranged the dust. As all parts of the store were in constant use, things were bound to get upset and in need of constant straightening and rearranging. We were all warned to watch carefully to make sure than any cans or jars with a suspicious bulge were removed and discarded; a bulge meant that the contents had started to spoil and were unfit to sell.

Potatoes were usually bought from local farmers and stored in large bins in the back room and cellar. They kept well for a long time as both places were cool but toward spring it was necessary for someone (who else but me?) to climb into a bin and hand-sort the remaining potatoes looking for rotten ones. And there were plenty! I hated this job, partly because of the smell, but also because in sorting, my hand sometimes went deep into a rotten mess and so I had to stop and wash my hands and get rid of the foul matter.

Bulk Goods: Much of our merchandise was sold in bulk as there were not nearly as many packaged goods as are available now. When filling an order, the clerk (who might have just filled a can of kerosene) reached into the box with his bare hands and put the cookies in a bag. Usual result – kerosene flavored cookies. Some peanut butter came in a wooden tub and was scooped out with a wooden spoon and put in a little wooden (or cardboard) container. Lard was handled the same way. Dill pickles were fished out of a huge barrel with wooden tongs; oysters were kept in a metal container in the ice box or, in winter, on a rack outside the store. Packaged coffee was common even then but our best selling brand was simply bulk coffee at 35 cents a pound. Coffee beans came in a huge burlap sack and at regular intervals we had to grind up several pounds of these beans and put the ground coffee in 1-lb. bags.

Christmas Candy; Tobacco: At Christmas, we always ordered several wooden pails of Christmas candy –mostly hard candies with a small design in the center. The open pails were displayed prominently in front of the counters along with oranges and apples so that a customer had to pass it and we hoped would be tempted to buy. All kinds of tobacco were kept in stock: cigars, cigarettes (15 cents and two for a quarter), chewing tobacco, cigar clippings, pipe tobacco, snuff—everything. I did not smoke but was often asked to recommend a good cigar. Mr. Jones told me to recommend the Cremo, a good 5 cent cigar. It may have seemed odd for a teenage non-smoker to tell a confirmed smoker what cigar he ought to smoke but it appeared that the recommendation was a good one as many came back for more, sometimes buying a box.

Farm Trade: We had a large farm trade. Farmers usually came to town on a Saturday afternoon or early evening, and left a case of eggs and the week’s orders for us to fill while they went out on the town. In those days, Saturday night was the big night of the week with all stores open and hundreds of people in town; many of my own friends made it a point to visit me for a few minutes and perhaps buy a bag of candy. Farmers always had many errands to take care of and often did not return to the store until 10 or 11 o’clock. Every one of us had to stay until every customer had left and all orders were picked up.

Duties of a Grocery Clerk: In the winter, a fire had to be built in the large stove at the back of the store, the only source of heat in the whole place. Certain merchandise could be displayed outside: a barrel of brooms or snow shovels, a cask of oysters, a bundle of dried fish, and at Christmas, a few trees and wreaths.

L.C. Brownell's Grocery Store at 40 S. Main St.

Clerks were expected to wait on customers; prepare orders for delivery; keep shelves filled; grind coffee; sack up sugar, potatoes, and coffee; clean and dust; pick out spoiled fruit and vegetables; candle eggs [to make sure they weren’t rotten]; maintain inventory; deliver goods to nearby restaurants, cars, or homes; call homes to see if anything was needed; help to tap a barrel of vinegar; clean the windows; occasionally arrange a display; and bring in merchandise from the front walk.

Waiting on Customers: The practice of providing a customer with a movable basket and letting her wander all over the store as is common in today’s supermarkets was still a long way off. In our stores, the customer came up to the counter and was greeted by a clerk who asked her what she needed. She told him and he went to get it, put it on the counter, and asked what was next on the list. Many times, we wished that a customer would just give us the list and let us collect the items by ourselves. Finally all the goods were on the counter and then the clerk had to total up the purchases to see how much was owed. The order was then placed in a bag or box, depending on its size; some customers carried the entire order home; others left it for later delivery; a few asked that it be carried out to the car. Many times I have walked a whole block carrying a large box of groceries and with a sack of flour on my shoulder. No tip was ever offered and none was expected.

After I have written so much, complaining about long hours and low pay, it may seem odd for me to report that I actually enjoyed the work -- in fact, I liked it so much that I even discussed with John Jones's son, Harold, the possibility of my staying in Janesville so that, eventually, he and I might go into the grocery busines together. But in 1923, my good sense and better judgment prevailed and in September, as scheduled, I left Janesville to enter the University of Wisconsin.

--LG, who re-arranged some of the material in this excerpt.

Frank Lloyd Wright and George S. Parker - The Janesville Connection

March 10, 2009

This month, Hedberg Public Library is featuring a display of architectural models of three Frank Lloyd Wright designs, created by Ron Olsen of Janesville.

Did you know that Mr. Wright and George S. Parker, founder of the Parker Pen Company in Janesville, were friends?

A fascinating chapter about their relationship can be read in the book Parker Duofold, by David Shepherd and Dan Zazove, available at Hedberg Public Library.

"On April 11, 1930, George Parker
wrote to Wright about the color of barns in Wisconsin. This seemingly bizarre topic was the start of a close friendship between the two men..."

"Dear Mr. Wright,

I noticed in the Associated Press dispatches yesterday that you are in favor of red barns versus my somewhat antagonism to them.

As I know that you have a good deal of fame as an artistic person, I would be exceedingly interested in knowing why you favor red barns. Do you not think that a barn painted white or straw color with proper trimmings is much more artistic than red?"

See Parker Duofold for the entire letter....

Other evidence of their friendship includes this notation from a Taliesan Preservation, Inc., Visitors Guide:

"Notable Visitors:George Parker and his wife. Founder of the Parker Pen Company, of Janesville, Wisconsin. The Parkers were friends of Frank Lloyd Wright's and visited Taliesin frequently during the 1930s"

We found a delightful account of a visit to the Parkers' summer home in Janesville, from July 25, 1935. Wright's apprentices were known as The Fellowship, and they were invited to visit Mr. and Mrs. Parker.

"Upon arriving in Janesville, Mr. Parker had a grand dinner spread over the lawn of his country home - Stonehenge, and we divided our time between eating and feeding the Parker's pet monkey, Benito. We made our home at a new camp of Mr. Parker's, about a half mile from Stonehenge. It was a new type of vacation.....bunched together in "Camp Cheerio," with our activities reduced to reading magazines seated in soft lounge chairs, the Fellowship grumbled and quarreled. This being together, indulging in several hours of non-activity was a new one on us....The next morning after breakfast we were shown through the Parker Pen Company's factory. We followed the operations of the manufacture of the pen through its five thousand stages. The Ford assembly line idea is used in assembling the pen. They start the barrel moving along the assembly line, and each worker adds a part, fitting and polishing all the while, until the pen reaches its final glory labeled, recorded, tested, packed: it's all done but the selling.....even the selling is accounted for in the recording office, where each retailer has a card, duly punched and kept on file, telling of the quantity and types of pens in his stock. If one found a pen and wanted to trace its owner, it could easily be done by sending the pen number to the factory. Within a half hour the dealer who sold the pen could be sifted from any one of the many dealers, there being thousands spread through sixty-eight countries. The peculiar part of the merchandising of the Parker pen is that half of them are exported. We then went back to dinner....."

As noted in Parker Duofold, their friendship "...was warm and genuine, even though they existed in different worlds and the contact was infrequent and sporadic. The letters, meals and other meetings continued until George's death in 1937 when Wright wrote a glowing tribute to his friend...."

Parker Duofold includes the text of Wright's tribute to Parker, written four days after Parker's death on July 19, 1937.

On April 21, 1951, Kenneth Parker, who had succeeeded his father at Parker Pen, announced that a new plant, Arrow Park, was going to be built on 28 acres of land at the northern end of Janesville. Kenneth Parker had remained friendly with Wright after George's death, and had considered seeking his services for the design...."a battle of egos was sure to ensue", after much consideration, Parker chose architects Flad & Associates of Madison, Wisconsin.

The new Arrow Park plant was dedicated on October 15, 1952.

Wright died fifty years ago on April 9, 1959, at the age of 91.

Imagine, what might have been!


Rock County was the only Wisconsin county with two courthouses....Not anymore.

The first Rock County Courthouse was built in Janesville in 1842 when Janesville had a population of 215. Described as of “wood construction, and…graced by great white pillars on the west entrance,” the building was destroyed by fire in 1858.
(Image above from Fiftieth Anniversary of the First Congregational Church, Janesvillle, Wisconsin, 1895, p. 39)

Between 1858 and 1871, county business was conducted from several small offices around Janesville’s Courthouse Square, with the courtroom located in the Myers Block.

By 1871 Janesville had toppled from its former position as the second largest city in Wisconsin. So when the second courthouse opened its elegant doors in February 1871, “the new…courthouse was a long-awaited declaration of Rock County’s intention to resume its proper place in the scheme of state politics and government.” Constructed of cream brick and cut stone, its west entrance and portico reminded some of the entrances to early southern mansions.

Courthouse terrain:

The second courthouse was constructed directly below a high embankment halfway up Courthouse Hill. Before the dedication, the Janesville Gazette told a story about a stranger who came to Janesville just to see the new building. “A stranger in the city spent nearly an hour yesterday in endeavors to find the new courthouse….He was finally assisted in his efforts by one who knew the exact spot where it was sunk; and he expressed the surprise which many others have felt, that so fine a structure should be partially hidden by surrounding hills."

Following the dedication of the 1871 courthouse, work began on grading the terrain and smoothing the "hills" around the building. The Janesville Gazette took the opportunity to reminisce about the first courthouse: "The remnant of the original ‘courthouse hill’ is fast disappearing under the plows and shovels of the workmen employed to grade the park. It seems but a short…time since its site was occupied by a grassy green knoll, steep and high and slightly bald on its crest, surmounted by an unpretentious white frame building….Our early settlers can say that when first they planted their cabin stakes in the garden of the west, that hole in the ground was a high hill.’”

Ground breaking for Janesville’s third courthouse began March 5, 1955. The second (1871) courthouse was demolished during March 1957, so the two courthouses must have been located in slightly different locations on Courthouse Hill.

By 1996, more room was needed, and ground-breaking for a new addition to the third courthouse began in March 1996 (see below). The addition opened in February 1999, and was followed by remodeling of the older parts of the building.

Beloit Courthouse (below):

The origins of the 1964 Beloit Courthouse, known officially as the “Rock County Administration Building,” lay in state legislation passed three years earlier.

In 1961, the state legislature voted to convert all municipal courts in Wisconsin into county courts effective July 2, 1962. At the time, Beloit had one municipal court, so—to comply with the legislation and to provide county offices that were scattered around Beloit in rented space, a new building—the Rock County Administration Building--was built.

Informally known as the “Beloit courthouse,” this building opened in the summer of 1964 and was home to County Court Branch 3 (formerly the Beloit municipal court), and to the newly created County Court Branch 4. (Janesville was the home of County Court Branches 1 and 2.)

By 2000, only one full-time judge worked in the building. So, in a cost-cutting move, the Rock County Board voted in September 2000 to shutter the building and move the courts to the Rock County Courthouse in Janesville. Rented by several other organizations for a time, the building was sold at auction in 2006.