On February 19, 1891, M. C. Quigley ran an ad in the Hancock Democrat for his “New Model Drug Store” in Lee C. Thayer’s New Block. The ad stated that Quigley could be found “with a new and elegant line of drugs, paints, oils, school books, fancy stationery and everything found in a first-class Drug Store.” March 14, 1891 brought the grand opening of L. C. Thayer’s New Dry Goods Store. A new era of Greenfield business had begun!
Today, L. C. Thayer’s building at the corner of East and Main in downtown Greenfield, Indiana is located within the Courthouse Square National Register Historic District. Throughout its 121-year history, it has been home to a wide variety of businesses, including Harry Strickland’s Grocery, H. H. Zike Drug Co., Columbia Barber Shop, and Danner Brothers 5 & 10 Cent Store. It has also provided office space for attorneys, insurance salesmen, a homoeopathist, and the County Trustee.
In 1921, Chiropractor Chas. J. Wagner advertised cheap adjustments producing “a condition of health.” He stated that his Thayer Bldg. office was “equipped to give real health service.” In the late 1920’s, John S. Hill, a Naturopathic Physician, offered electric treatments in Room 17 of the Thayer Bldg. More recently, Morris Inc. occupied the building. The modernized first floor now houses 2nd Seasons, a consignment clothing shop.
The Italianate styling of Thayer’s block is common in buildings constructed between 1850 and 1880 in towns and cities throughout the Midwest. The style is seen less often in the South, where little new construction took place during those years due to the Civil War, Reconstruction, and an economic depression.
This style utilized newly developed cast iron and pressed metal technology, which allowed, for the first time, economical mass production of decorative building features. You can see the use of such features crowning the windows and decorating the roofline of the Thayer building. Before this technology was available, few merchants could afford to decorate their buildings with such elaborate detail in carved stone.
Italianate buildings are usually characterized by wide, projecting cornices and decorative brackets. The Thayer building is atypical of the style because it does not have brackets – but you will see these on many other historic buildings in Greenfield, including Thayer’s own Italianate style home (photo below). The tall, narrow windows of the Thayer building are also a common Italianate feature.
Who was L.C. Thayer?
Lee C. Thayer was born in Massachusetts in the mid-1800’s. He moved to Indiana, where he worked as a railroad engineer. After serving with the 11th Indiana Regiment during the Civil War, he returned to Indiana and began working in the dry goods business. He married Mary Oakes on June 25, 1869, but she passed away a short time later. In 1890, he built the Lee C. Thayer block to house his dry goods store, and on April 10, 1893, he married Iona Williams. Lee and Iona had four children: Lee Carlton Jr., Louise, Nellie, and Florence.
In 1901, Thayer sold his dry goods store to his brother, Hollis, who owned the Spot Cash Department Store located on the same block at 6 E. Main. Hollis combined the two stores under the name Spot Cash, but he died shortly afterwards in 1906, and Lee bought the store back. He operated it until 1911, when he retired and invested in farmland. He died in Greenfield on June 26, 1923, and was buried with a military marker in Park Cemetery.
Lee’s son, Lee Carlton Jr., attended Princeton University. In 1906, he returned to Greenfield, where he went into the dry goods business as well. He married Ora Holmes on November 20, 1911, and they had one daughter, Jane, before he died suddenly of acute gastritis and spinal meningitis on February 10, 1927. He was just 43 years old.
In addition to the commercial building that has housed so many Greenfield businesses in its long history, L. C. Thayer also left downtown Greenfield with a beautiful residential gem. Soon, I hope to explore his stunning Main Street home.