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Jim McKee: From Tremont House to today in Lincoln Haymarket
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MEMORIES & MOMENTS

Jim McKee: From Tremont House to today in Lincoln Haymarket

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The Tremont Hotel building is shown here after it became the first Grainger Brothers Wholesale Grocery headquarters on the southwest corner of Eighth and P streets in Lincoln’s historic Haymarket.

Before the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad actually arrived in Lincoln, the original map of the city showed the railroad’s grounds occupied only eight square blocks bounded by Fifth, Seventh, O and S streets.

The tracks entered at the northeast corner of the rectangle and simply ended at the southwest corner with the depot, like the tracks, sitting on a diagonal. The areas to the north, south and east of the grounds were to be occupied primarily by small businesses and houses.

Things didn’t quite work the way the map makers projected, and much of today’s Historic Haymarket quickly displaced the houses and the original Bancroft Elementary School, which was constructed at Ninth and T streets. In the summer of 1867, an observer noted that the city of Lancaster, which preceded Lincoln, did not “contain more than six or seven buildings, shacks, log-houses, store buildings and all,” and maybe 30 inhabitants with 50 in the entire county.

With the railroad’s arrival in 1869, everything changed. Every business, hotels in particular, wanted to be as close as possible to the depot. In July of 1870 there was a house on the northwest corner of Eighth and P, what had been Fourth and High streets in Lancaster.

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Only two years later, on lots which J.M. Young received in exchange for two lots in Lancaster’s Block 8, Jacob Snyder and Harvey Bailey built the Powers House Hotel at #31 P Street on the northeast corner of Eighth and P of Block 45 or the southwest corner of the intersection. That year there were 14 hotels listed in the Lincoln City Directory.

In 1880 P.H. Robbins arrived from Quincy, Illinois, and bought the hotel, which was in turn acquired by George Smith in 1884, who built the Tremont House Hotel on the site, perhaps named for the Tremont in Omaha.

The Lincoln Tremont, confusingly listed as the Illinois House on the Sanborn’s Fire Map, consisted of three buildings, the primary one described as a three-story, brick, 100-by-60 foot building of 62 rooms with “offices, wash and toilet rooms, kitchen, bath-room, reading and writing rooms, cigar store and dining room” on the main floor.

Philander Cooper arrived in Lincoln after being manager of the Union Pacific’s hotels in Duchess County, New York; Evanston, Wyoming; and Sydney (sic.), Nebraska and assumed management of the Tremont. The Tremont was advertised that year as having 20 employees, with a specialty in accommodating theatrical companies on the American Plan and “heated by steam/electric bells/incandescent lights/the popular $1.50 per day House of the City” at 741-49 P Street. There were than 22 hotels listed in Lincoln.

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Harry Grainger and brother Joseph immigrated from England in 1881 with Harry initially working for Hargreaves Wholesale Grocers. After operating a retail fruit market at 917 Q St., the brothers formed Grainger Brothers Commission Agents at 1016 P St. and also operated a retail grocery at 235 N. 10th St.

By 1892 they had 20 employees. Around 1902 the brothers acquired the Tremont Hotel building and completely renovated it for their wholesale grocery’s offices and warehouse with electricity, elevators and connected to the Burlington’s siding tracks on 8th Street. Within a few years, with 40 to 50 employees and 11 road salesmen, they advertised themselves as “one of the leading grocers in the state.”

The lots adjacent to the original Tremont Hotel to the west were then acquired and a five-story, $40,000, masonry building erected. Shortly after that the Tremont’s two-story stable to the south were purchased and, in 1912, the Metropolitan Hotel on the northwest corner of Eighth and O was likewise acquired, razed and an additional, extant, masonry warehouse completed.

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In 1923, with 42 salesmen on the road, Grainger Brothers supplied wholesale groceries to Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Colorado featuring their Nebia brands and Kiro Coffee, “simply supreme with sugar and cream.”

The Tremont’s old stables, which then housed a banana ripening room, exploded in 1939 killing four men. The extant two-story, masonry building was then constructed in its place.

During the depression, Harry Grainger was the “inventor” of a food distribution program wherein specially printed stamps could be traded for groceries at any retail store.

About 1965 Grainger Brothers relocated to the then new Lincoln Industrial Tract, the original Tremont Hotel building was acquired by the Salvation Army and replaced by a new masonry building designed by Lincoln architect Bill Schlaebitz, and which now hosts a number or retail shops on the ground floor and offices on its upper floors.

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Historian Jim McKee, who still writes with a fountain pen, invites comments or questions. Write to him in care of the Journal Star or at jim@leebooksellers.com

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