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History comes to life in Marble Rock on July 4

  • Clayton Black prepares root beer floats behind the counter of the antique soda fountain in the former drug store building in Marble Rock on July 4. Also pictured is Tom Brunner, a Charles City resident who grew up on a farm just outside Marble Rock. Press photo by Mary Pieper

  • One of the displays inside the former drug store building in Marble Rock is this recreation of the millinery shop from the early 1900s. Press photo by Mary Pieper

By Mary Pieper, Special to the Charles City Press

The past came to life on July 4 in Marble Rock as visitors passed through the town’s five museum buildings.

One of the most popular places to be was the former drug store building, where visitors were served free root beer floats – prepared the old-fashioned way with whipped cream and a maraschino cherry on top – from behind the counter of an antique soda fountain that just returned to the spot where it had stood for more than half a century before being removed in 1977.

Clayton Black, treasurer of the Marble Rock Historical Society, dressed as a soda jerk to serve the root beer floats from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

By mid-afternoon, 85 people had signed the guest book for the drug store building. Some of them shared memories of the store.

“It’s been helpful for us to talk to people who grew up here,” Black said.

One of them, J.R. Ackley, said he remembers the store was “just full of stuff,” including candy.

When Ackley was a boy, his father would bring him to the store and buy him a soda from the fountain.

“It was beautiful,” he said.

Ackley said it was fun to visit the drug store building again.

“I’d forgotten all about that thing there,” he said, pointing to a display in the window that included a miniature horse-drawn covered wagon.

Clinton L. Bopp, who owned the drug store from 1935 until his death in 1962, created the display in 1956 as a piece of folk art to symbolize American expansion into the West.

The soda fountain came to Marble Rock around 1897. It was placed in Ernie Speeding’s Drug Store on East Bradford Street. When the store was sold, the fountain went to Hyle’s Drug Store on South Main Street. When Hyle sold out, the fountain was moved to the W.C. Smith Corner Drug store, which was later purchased by Bopp.

Genevieve Schrader, a long-time employee of Bopp’s who operated it after he went to a nursing home, inherited the business after his death. She ran the store under the name Genevieve’s Sundries until her own death in 1977.

The soda fountain was then sold at auction for $2,100 and moved to Rocky’s Pizza in Iowa Falls. When Rocky’s closed, the fountain moved to Missouri, Texas, Connecticut, Kentucky and back to Connecticut.

In 2009, Tom and Deb Lavalle donated the fountain to the Mable Rock Historical Society. It remained in the town’s main Museum Hall until its move to the old drug store building.

Danny Kingery owns the building, but for the past several years he has allowed the historical society to have displays there.

Black’s wife, Diane, the president of the historical society, marveled at the beautiful condition of the more than 120-year-old fountain.

“It has moved to so many places, and the glass hasn’t broken in all these years,” she said.

In addition to the soda fountain, visitors to the drug store building also saw three new displays.

One of the displays contained items from the bank and post office.

Another was a recreation of the millinery shop that was operated under several different owners during the early 1900s. Many ladies’ hats from the era were displayed in cases and on the wall.

The third display contained maps and photos of Aureola, a town once located near Marble Rock which no longer exists.

Pioneers began settling in Aureola in 1853, soon after Jacob Beelar settled in what is now Marble Rock. Aureola once had several saw mills, a flour mill and a couple of stores.

Diane Black said she was pleased with the turnout for the event.

With so many Fourth of July celebrations called off or greatly altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “I think people are looking for something to do right now,” she said.

Visitors also went into the other museum buildings in town, which include the Beelar Cabin and the former bank building, and left cash in the donation jars.

The donations are appreciated because “It takes money to maintain all these buildings,” Black said.