A historical marker now stands on the site of one of downtown Knox’s first commercial structures. The Koffel Building at the corner of Main and Lake Streets was completed in 1891, a year before the city’s streets were paved with brick, four years before municipal electrical service was offered and 17 years before city water was available. Starke County Economic Development Foundation Executive Director Charlie Weaver says drug stores were a vital part of a booming business district.
“Always in the drugstore the fountain was a big thing. From the very beginning there were tables where it was appropriate for the ladies to come in to have coffee, tea or a soft drink or whatever from the fountain. That became quite a social center in the day.”
The building was a drug store under various owners for many years before being turned into the Knox Eagles Lodge. During that time, a fire damaged the structure, and it was never fully restored. After that the building was briefly opened as a movie theater.
“The cost to shore up the outside wall of that building known as 2 North Main Street was over $100,000 by itself. And after you did that you had no use of that unit. Even if you fixed up both sides of the unit you still had a structure worth less than $50,000. Unfortunately economics came into play and it’s gone.”
The city got a grant from the state to pay for 80 percent of the demolition costs, thank to the assistance of the Starke County Historical Society. A copy of their extensively researched report on the building’s history is available for viewing at the Starke County Public Library.
A group of Knox High School students is developing the land on which the building sat into a pocket park with benches and a gazebo. Officials from the Starke County Economic Development Foundation, Starke County Historical Society and City of Knox unveiled the memorial plaque during a brief Thursday morning ceremony. Mayor Rick Chambers shared his memories – fond and otherwise – of the drug store.
“I started my youth in this corner at the drug store, stopping to and from here on my way to the park for baseball practice buying penny candy and pop and sitting at that bar in the back. And then I remember I would come up with my mom and grandma to get band-aids and Merthiolate to fix my cuts, and I still remember that stuff burning.”
Chambers also remembers an early encounter at the Eagles Lodge as a rookie with the Knox Police Department.
“For the first couple weeks on duty on foot patrol I remember walking into the back room and walking into a card game that was going on, and I found out real quick not to mess with those people. Of course it was a bar. I spent a lot of time there on numerous calls over my career as a police officer. Then it changed to the theater and I brought my children to that theater and had some good times there.”
Chambers and Bill Sonnermaker, who was chair of the Starke County Economic Development Foundation during the demolition project, unveiled the plaque.