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  • Dale C. Maley

Remembering a popular store

The Zimmerman hardware store was a popular Fairbury business from 1941 until 1992.

The story of the Zimmerman family began with the birth of John Zimmerman Sr. in Baden, Germany, in 1825. The parents of John Zimmerman Sr. were Andreas F. Zimmerman (1793-1841) and Anna Maria Muller (1797-1850).

In 1839, the Andreas and Anna Zimmerman family emigrated from Germany to Butler County, Ohio. This county is 35 miles north of Cincinnati. Son John Zimmerman Sr. was 14 when the family moved to Ohio.

In 1859, John Zimmerman Sr. married Miss Sarah Capp in Butler County. John was 25, and Sarah was 22 when they married. John and Sarah Zimmerman had 12 children.

John and Sarah Zimmerman moved to a farm in Woodford County, Illinois, shortly after marriage. One of the sons of John and Sarah Zimmerman, born in Woodford County, was John A. Zimmerman.

In 1867, John Zimmerman Sr. bought 320 acres of farmland south of Fairbury. He paid $12.50 per acre for this land. This price would be equivalent to $269 in today's dollars. When they moved south of Fairbury, John Sr. was 33, and Sarah was 30. Their son, John A. Zimmerman, was eight years old when they moved to Fairbury.

In 1973, Ben Nussbaum wrote and published a booklet titled "74 Years of South Side Apostolic Christian Church History." Mr. Nussbaum noted that in the late 1860s and early 1870s, an increasing number of families moved into this now-called "South Side" community. Regularly, one began to hear names such as Bittner, Farney, Gerber, Hari, Hartman, Hosterwitz, Nussbaum, Roth, Slagle, Sohn, Sommer, Steffen, Wenger, Yoder, Ziegenhorn, Zimmerman, and others. Services were held in various members' homes. Nearby Indian Creek served as their baptismal fountain until the church building was erected in 1875

In 1885, John A. Zimmerman married Miss Sarah Hartman. John was 26, and Sarah was 19 when they married. They had ten children and lived on a farm southeast of Fairbury.

In 1886, John and Sarah Zimmerman had a son named Joseph Benjamin Franklin "Joe" Zimmerman. In 1888, John Zimmerman Sr. retired and moved to Fairbury to live with his daughter, Mrs. Samuel Ziegenhorn. Later he lived with his son, John A. Zimmerman.

Joe Zimmerman married Hermina Mueller in Pontiac in 1908. Joe was 21, and Hermina was 19 when they married. Hermina was born in Baden, Germany. They had ten children.

In 1909, Sarah Zimmerman, wife of John Zimmerman Sr., died in Fairbury at age 80. The following year, John Zimmerman Sr. died at the age of 84.

Joe Zimmerman worked at the J. N. Bach Lumber Co. for a few years. In 1910, he took a position in the hardware department of the Walton Department Store. After working 31 years at the Walton Department Store, Joe Zimmerman opened his own hardware store in March 1941. His first store was on the south side of Locust Street, about halfway between Second and Third Streets. Joe sold hardware, including washing machines, refrigerators, stoves, and paint. His store was also a distributor of Shellane Bottle Gas which was propane tanks.

Twelve-year-old son John James Zimmerman worked at his father's hardware store. John J. Zimmerman delivered 100-pound propane tanks to customers, but he was not old enough to drive, so sister Ruth Leona Zimmerman drove the truck. When the hardware store first opened, twenty-two-year-old son Lloyd Zimmerman also worked at the hardware store. In October of 1941, Lloyd enlisted in the Army Air Force. Lloyd served in Italy and received the Meritorious Award. He was discharged in 1945 as a staff sergeant.

In 1944, when John Zimmerman was a sophomore in high school, his father told him he needed full-time help, or he would have to close the store. John dropped out of high school and went to work full-time at the store.

During the war years, many farmers still needed electricity. These farmers bought stoves, refrigerators, and water heaters powered by propane instead of electricity. John installed these appliances and then periodically delivered replacement propane tanks. One year John delivered 3,900 tanks to customers.

Also, in 1944, Lloyd Zimmerman married Margaret Okey. He was 24, and she was 17 when they married. Lloyd and Margaret Zimmerman had five children. After the war ended, Lloyd returned to work at the store.

In 1950, John J. Zimmerman was getting paid 35 cents an hour. He asked his father for a raise, but he refused to give him a raise. John quit working at the store and went to work for his brother Eugene Zimmerman as a mason for $1.00 per hour. At the end of that summer, Joe offered the same $1 per hour pay, and John returned to the store working for his father.

In 1951, the store moved to the north side of Locust Street, where the former Mapel Brothers harness shop was located at 118 West Locust. This building is now the Once N Again store. In 1952, John married Lois Smith from El Paso. John asked his father for a raise from $40 to $45 weekly, and Joe agreed. Lois worked part-time in the store.

In 1954, Joe Zimmerman died and left the store to his ten children. John and Lloyd continued to run the store. Robert Zimmerman worked at the store after he got out of the Navy.

In the early 1960s, natural gas came to Fairbury, eliminating the need for propane appliances and tanks.

Lloyd Zimmerman retired, and John and Lois Zimmerman continued to operate the store. In 1992, John Zimmerman was 64 years old and ready to retire. After being in business for 51 years, Zimmerman's True Value Hardware Store at 118 West Locust was sold to Robert and Phyllis Hammer.

Lloyd Zimmerman died in 1999 at the age of 79. John Zimmerman passed away in 2012 at the age of 83. Lois Zimmerman died in 2015 at the age of 81.

For over 51 years, Zimmerman's hardware store was one of the most popular businesses in Fairbury. For many years, the only two hardware stores in Fairbury were Zimmerman's store and the hardware department at Walton's Department Store.

(Dale Maley's weekly history column on Fairbury News is sponsored by Antiques & Uniques of Fairbury and Dr. Charlene and Doug Aaron)

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