This is the former Wells building, on the southwest corner of Fifth and Broadway in downtown Quincy, Ill. In this building from 1905 to circa 1920 was the Brown Jewelry Co., owned and operated by Thomas A. Brown, formerly of Hannibal. Walter Sturhahn, a young jeweler, worked for Mr. Brown until he opened his own store in 1911. Photo courtesy of Steve Sturhahn, who believes that his grandfather Walter is the man pictured at the front entrance to the store. Note the clock at the intersection; that clock has represented Sturhahn Jewelers in Quincy since 1926. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
MARY LOU MONTGOMERY
This is the story of a clock. A Quincy clock. It is a Quincy clock story that began with a family from Hannibal. A family of jewelers.
The clock, manufactured in Boston by the E. Howard Clock Company during the 1870s, and now more than 140 years old, stands at the intersection of North 28th and Broadway in Quincy, Ill., proudly ticking away the minutes and hours in front of Sturhahn Jewelers. Though the clock bears the name of Sturhahn on its faceplate, Steve Sturhahn readily concedes that the clock isn’t really the Sturhahn’s clock. Instead, it belongs to Quincy, as a part of its legacy, he said.
And that legacy runs deep. The clock arrived in Quincy in 1905, at a crossroads in time when two jewelers – one from Hannibal and one from Quincy – were working side-by-side in an establishment that was new to downtown Quincy: The Brown Jewelry Store.
Thomas A. Brown, whose family’s Hannibal jewelry legacy at the time was already three and a half decades deep, opened a store on the southwest corner of Fifth and Main in downtown Quincy. In his employ was a young German apprentice – barely more than a boy - named Walter Sturhahn.
When he opened his new jewelry store in the former Wells building, Thomas Brown acquired this used street clock, and had it installed in front of his new business. It would bring attention to his establishment, Brown realized, and the subsequent attention would result in sales. And that, every jeweler knows, is the core of the business model.
Brown’s jewelry establishment was grand, judged by standards of the day. It had a mosaic tile floor, mahogany display cases, high ceilings, show windows and beveled glass mirrors, which enhanced the appearance of the store’s interior.
The Brown family
When Thomas Brown, at age 33, moved to Quincy in 1905 to open his own jewelry store, he was a third-generation Hannibal businessman.
His grandfather, George Brown, had been a successful Hannibal businessman since arriving in the fledgling river community in 1850. George Brown’s first business venture had been that of a wagon manufacturer, under the name of Ball & Brown. By 1859 he was involved in the painting business, under the name of Brown and White, and had a store on the second floor of the Market House at Fifth and Broadway.
He and his wife, Charlotte, had three sons and one daughter, Joshua Van Brown, John J. Brown, William G. Brown and Mary B. White, and the family home was on the west side at the top of the Fifth Street hill, between North and Rock.
Two of George Brown’s sons, John J. Brown and Joshua Van Brown, were employed in 1866 as clerks in the general ticket office of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. In 1870, they partnered together, opening a jewelry store under their father’s tutelage at Main and Center. That early jewelry business initially failed, but the family remained in the business, under various names and ownership, for the next 35 years. The most well known shop was located at 307 Broadway.
After his grandfather’s death in 1897, and seeking an opportunity to venture out on his own, John J. Brown’s son, Thomas A., Brown, moved his wife, the former Alice Elliott, and children to Quincy in 1905, where he immediately became a popular and enterprising addition to the town’s business climate.
And the clock he had installed on the southwest corner of Fifth and Maine in Quincy served as a symbol of his intent at permanency in the Gem City.
So much so that when he forgot to wind the clock during the Christmas rush of 1905, it made the news:
Quincy Daily Herald, Dec. 27, 1905
“During the Christmas rush Thomas A. Brown, the jeweler, forgot to wind his pedestal clock in front of his store, and it stopped last night. Winding the big four-dialed time piece is quite a task and Mr. Brown is puffing good and plenty when he gets through. The key is crank-shaped and about the size of a cistern handle.”
Notes of interest, culled from the archives of the Quincy Daily Whig and Daily Herald, exhibit Tom Brown’s involvement in his new, adopted community.
In April 1908, Thomas A. Brown was appointed official watch inspector for the Burlington road, for the Wabash and the Quincy routes.
In January 1909, Thomas A. Brown donated a trophy cup, which was presented in association with the Poultry Association show.
In 1911, Thomas Brown was chosen to provide cut glass and silver service for the new Hotel Quincy. The contract was for $3,500.
In 1916, Thomas Brown’s wife, Alice, was elected treasurer of the Women’s auxiliary of the St. John’s Cathedral church. The Browns were living at 429 South Eighth in Quincy.
Fire chief badge
In 1911, Quincy’s firefighters commissioned a badge for their chief, George Marriotte.
The Quincy Daily Herald of June 10, 1911, described the badge, which demonstrates the partnership between Thomas Brown and Walter Sturhahn:
“The badge is 14 carat gold of a design made by (23-year-old) Walter H. Sturhahn, a clever young manufacturing jeweler at Thomas A. Brown’s. It is of Maltese cross shape with the emblems of the fireman skillfully wrought into the design. The center is a representation of the new auto chemical engine, the ‘Phil O’Brien,’ and around it in embossed lettering are the words, ‘Chief of Fire Dept., Quincy, Ill.’ On the reverse side is the inscription ‘Given by the Firemen of Quincy and Presented by Mayor Garner, June 9, 1911.’”
Steve Sturhahn, grandson of Walter Sturhahn, tells the story of the establishment of the family’s now legendary jewelry company.
Soon after Walter Sturhahn made the noted fire chief badge, he was approached by Gene Frommeyer, a representative of the wholesale jewelry house of Klein Bros., Co., of Cincinnati, Ohio. He suggested Walter open his own jewelry store.
In a short amount of time, the two men struck a deal. Walter Sturhahn located a vacant storeroom at 410 South Eighth, and he opened his store for business on Oct. 15, 1911. Eight years later, the store moved to the southeast corner of Eighth and State.
Family legend tells that Walter Sturhahn was a 17-year-old working for Thomas Brown when Brown bought the clock back in 1905.
Shortly after the announcement of an extensive remodeling of the store, circa 1920, Thomas Brown closed his business and moved his family to Chicago. The clock, anchored to the sidewalk, remained at Fifth and Broadway for the next six years, unattended. In 1926, the city fathers had determined that the clock was an eyesore, and were looking at a means of disposing of it.
Walter Sturhahn, who retained a sentimental attachment to the clock from his earliest days as a jeweler, accepted responsibility for the clock. He moved the clock, made necessary repairs, painted his own name on the faceplate, and had the clock installed in front of his business operation at State and Eighth. There it would remain until 12 years ago, when Sturhahn’s grandson relocated the business to its current site, at 2801 Broadway in Quincy.
True to tradition
Steve Sturhahn said that many repairs and changes have been made to the clock throughout the years. Conventional light bulbs were changed to fluorescent, the wooden head was replaced with fiberglass, and the silver ball that topped the clock was replaced with an eagle figurine. But one thing hasn’t changed: The clock still has its original mechanism. While many clocks of this era have been converted to electric, Steve Sturhahn still continues the family legacy of winding the clock every Monday morning.
At the same time Walter Sturhahn opened his first store, he was considering asking a young woman he had been dating for her hand in marriage.
The youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. August Sturhahn of 636 Washington St., married Miss Adelaide Lachtenberg, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Henry Lechtenberg, of 415 North Fourteenth street, at 5 p.m. Oct. 15, 1912, at St. Mary’s Church in Quincy.