Tourist information center was service station in ‘30s

By : 
MARY JO DATHE
GLIMPSES OF YESTERYEAR

According to the story, the site was once part of the property owned by my great-great uncle, Ephraim Steffens.  He started building in 1874, the fancy High-Victorian mansion on North Broadway, which included the house, stable and carriage house, smoke house and outhouse on 3.5 acres.  It was surrounded by a five-foot wrought iron fence; he had a team of high-spirited horses with elegant silver-trimmed harnesses, befitting a successful businessman and politician. When Essigs lived here more recently, they discovered the locally made bricks were of double construction, 18 inches thick with a four-inch space between for insulation. A spring fed cistern was located in the basement operated by a pump in the kitchen.  Steffens went off to Canada to marry a lovely lady from there; they lived a quiet life here; he died in 1904.

Ed and Cornelia Kavanagh purchased the house and property.  In the “hard times” of the early '30s, to augment his income, Kavanagh built the service station on the east end of his lot along the “new highway” that went through.  (Two houses were removed on the east side, and the highway continued on east to Wykoff.)   Ed Kavanagh died in 1940; and Clifton Gammell operated the station for over 20 years.

Gammell was there from 1940 to about 1965.  He began with a bicycle; went on to tinker with bikes; then to operate the station.  You see the two gas pumps sporting Texaco gasoline in the accompanying photograph; on the north side was an open grease pit where one could work on the underside of automobiles.  You see the “Ladies" sign; wonder if the men used the inside one?!  Gammell had many inventions -- the one owned by the historical society is a Rube Goldberg device that had a steam engine. 

The station changed hands many times -- Howard Ronken, Kuehn brothers, Wayne Fenske, and even became a “haunted house.”  Then Denny and Mary Essig fell in love with it and re-did it in 1975; at that time it was appointed to the National Register of Historic Places.

The Indian:  he was made in 1940 by Halmar Landswerk, a Fillmore County artist, compounded of Portland cement mixed with iron oxide paint .  The feathers and fringes are made of galvanized metal windmill fans; the Indian was painted in various colors but was repainted at one point.   He stood guard at Mystery Cave from 1950 to 1989, and moved to the present location.  We will have to see what happens next! 

 

Category: