LIMA — Elmview and her parents’ “little country store” was all the world a kid could want and Breata Laman Snider in a reminiscence written late in her long life recalled it all fondly.
Snider was 12 years old in 1920 when her parents, William J. and Zelma Laman, bought the store on the northeast corner of Shawnee and Breese roads. “My dad, the carpenter, was always remodeling or building,” wrote Snider, who died in 2003. “He made the grocery larger. He built benches for people to sit on and visit while they waited for the interurban trolley that ran beside the grocery north to Lima or south to Cridersville. In the evenings, there were always some customers lingering, usually a few men telling yarns. One Saturday night, one of the practical jokers in the group pulled a prank that sent everyone in the store bounding into the street. We never knew who put Limburger cheese on the hot potbelly stove.”
Helen Jean Spyker, whose brother bought another old country store at the intersection in 1945, remembers it, too, had a warm potbelly stove and “loafer’s bench” where “you really got the latest news.” Helen Jean Spyker would operate a store in Elmview for years and still lives there. Today, two chain drug stores, a drive-through carry-out, pet store, pub, a church and numerous professional offices cluster around the busy intersection.
In the early 1800s, when the area was part of the Shawnee reservation, the corner likely was a frog pond. In June 1922 workmen excavating a cellar on Laman’s property “found the petrified body of an ox or buffalo” six to eight feet underground. “It is probable that the animal mired down many years ago when the swamp existed there,” The Lima News wrote. “The formation is perfect even to the tail and legs.”
In 1894, Amos and Elizabeth Snider moved to a 120-acre farm near the corner. In a reminiscence written in September 1933 for a family reunion, the Sniders’ daughter, Ella Clark, noted that “when the electric line was put in out there, Pa donated the land along the west side of his farm (along the east side of Shawnee Road) provided they would stop at the corner. From then on it was known as Snider’s stop or crossing.” The interurban line, formally the Western Ohio Railway, was extended through Elmview in 1900 and crossed from the east side to the west side of Shawnee Road at the intersection.
Lima was an interurban hub in the first three decades of the 20th century with lines radiating in all directions. Those benches Snider’s father built in the front of the family’s Elmview store now could be the starting point for a trip to Toledo or Dayton or Cincinnati or, like Breata Laman Snider, a commute to Lima to attend Central High School.
The interurban may have given the corner a name but the large elm trees that made it an oasis of shade on a summer day gave it the name that would stick. Snider’s Crossing was soon listed as Elmview on interurban schedules.
An article in the Aug. 2, 1901, Lima Times-Democrat about the extension of an interurban line from Lima to Bellefontaine illustrated their importance. “Already citizens of Lima and other towns along the Western Ohio railroad are securing options on property along the road for country residence purposes and the same result will probably follow the construction of the Lima-Lewiston-Bellefontaine line.”
By the 1920s, however, the interurbans were being supplanted by the automobile. On Nov. 11, 1931, the Western Ohio filed a petition with the state public utilities commission to abandon its entire line.
The 1920s also saw the end of the “little red school houses” of Shawnee Township. “Rendered almost useless by the ravages of time, the doors of the quaint old schools were closed for the last time by school ‘marms’ when they bid adieu to more than 400 (pupils) June 1,” the News wrote June 22, 1926. “Located in the wealthiest township in the county, many of these frame and brick structures have been in service for longer than 50 years.”
When Shawnee pupils returned in the fall of 1926 it was to a centralized school. Among the buildings sold was the Elmview School, which stood on the east side of Shawnee Road north of the Laman’s store. The red brick Elmview school had replaced an earlier wood frame school known as the Raymond school for a family which owned land nearby.
The decade also saw the construction of another store at the corner. In the mid-1920s, Henry K. Nungester built a store on the west side of Shawnee Road just south of the intersection. Nungester and his son, Roy, operated the store until February 1945 when they sold it to Joel Spyker. The Lamans, meanwhile, had sold their store in 1926. It passed through several owners before closing in the early 1930s.
Joel Spyker was a member of the Army Air Corps during World War II who, according to his sister Helen Jean Spyker, was thrifty with his money and dreamed of opening a grocery after the war. So, when he learned two vacant lots were available on the northwest corner of Shawnee and Breese road, he bought them.
“After this purchase, it dawned on us that there already was a store close to the northwest corner (the Nungester store on the southwest corner) and I would be coming home to immediate competition, so we approached the owners and they agreed to sell it for a fair price,” Joel Spyker told Marilyn Stark in 1995 for an article in the Beacon. “So, all in a week’s time, we bought two lots and bought out the competition. The store was sitting idle and Helen Jean decided to run the store until Dec. 1, 1945 — the time I was to be mustered out of service.” Joel Spyker died in 2005.
On Dec. 19, 1945, just 18 days after Joel Spyker was mustered out of the service and after, Helen Jean Spyker noted, they had “already chalked some areas on the floor” for the store’s layout, it was destroyed in a fire.
“Within a few weeks,” Stark wrote, “the Spyker family had erected a 20-by-20 prefab chicken-coop style Quonset building in front of the site of the old building.” This would serve as Joel Spyker’s store while he constructed a more permanent structure on the vacant lots he had purchased on the northwest corner.
Her brother, Helen Jean Spyker said, “had never built anything in his life.” Yet, with the oversight of Charlie Lathrop, a 90-year-old carpenter, Spyker built a store so sound that when a car was accidentally driven into the front door, the building was “unfazed.”
A grand opening for the new store, which had two stories and a basement, was held on May 5, 1949. Another Spyker brother, Lawrence, who died in 2006, opened a hardware store in the basement. Over the years, the original building was expanded several times. The grocery area grew larger, the hardware store moved and Helen Jean Spyker opened a housewares store in the center of the building. In later years she would own a card and gift shop on the corner.
The store Joel Spyker built, eventually became a branch of Reaman Pharmacy and, still later, was razed to make room for the CVS Pharmacy. Much of the commercial and residential development on the corner is the result of the efforts of the Spyker brothers who, in 1960, formed a residential and commercial construction business.
Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected]