Answer Man: Of bygone businesses in Belleville

News-DemocratMarch 24, 2014 

My parents, now 90 and living in Vermont, always talk about the Bismarck Restaurant in Belleville. My mother used to get a steak sandwich there for 15 cents. They briefly lived in Belleville while serving at Scott Air Force Base in the 1940s. Can you give me an address and information on this restaurant? -- Ray Bonney, of Edwardsville

After more than 70 years, it took a wrecking ball to finally sink the Bismarck at 20 W. Main St. in Belleville

The first local newspaper mention of the once-popular eatery came on Aug. 3, 1900, when William Bender sold it to two employees, Terry Rockford and Ed Moser.

"Messrs. Rockford and Moser are both thoroughly experienced in their respective occupations and there can be no question but that the place will be conducted upon the former first-class conditions," the Belleville Advocate gushed.

By 1920, however, the Bismarck was gone, replaced over the next 15 years by a string of businesses, including the Kash and Karry Grocery, Raetz and Moehrl Meats and Joseph Saenger's Dry Goods.

I've always wondered whether the name "Bismarck" had anything to do with its temporary disappearance, considering how anti-German the U.S. was during World War I. But by 1937, Christ Lachtrup had resurrected the diner, and it remained a fixture at 20 W. Main until the entire south side of the block came tumbling down in 1972 to make way for the St. Clair County Building.

Do you have any information on A.W. Herr & Co., a maker of whiskeys, wines and brandies that was located on the southeast corner of the Belleville Public Square? I have one of the company's stoneware jugs that belonged to my father. -- Mike Bovier, of Belleville

Your family's little brown jug is probably at least a century old and a lasting tribute to a man of many talents.

Born in Belleville in 1853, Arthur W. Herr teamed up with Ernst Hilgard in 1880 to open a dry goods store, only to dissolve the partnership six years later. In 1887, Herr formed a chess club before successfully running for St. Clair County treasurer in 1890.

But the accomplishment you can drink to is when he and Herman Weber took over Fred Dunck's Wines and Liquors at 26 Public Square in December 1895. That's where he ran the A.W. Herr Liquor Co. until he died in July 1913.

Two months later, his brother Frank bought all rights and interests to the business and the family kept it until his widow, the former Margaret Weidman, sold the lot in 1920 for $9,000.

Didn't Belleville's first radio station WIBV start out at Fischer's Restaurant on West Main Street? When did they move to their location on South Illinois Street? -- John W., of Belleville

It was July 13, 1947, when five World War II buddies from Quincy fired up the WIBV transmitter for the first time at 2100 W. Main. Broadcasting then at AM-1060, it was so new they used a converted oil derrick for their tower.

But the restaurant at that time wasn't Fischer's. It was the Dutch Girl, which Ardell Fischer had opened in 1941 after running a successful wholesale ice cream route and a downtown dairy shop.

"His customers used to call him the 'Okaw Boy,'" his son Ken Fischer told me once. "When he opened out here, he wanted something similar, so he called it the Dutch Girl."

The place proved a popular hangout for students from the nearby Belleville Township High School. Only a window and curtains separated the studio from the restaurant, so teens could sip their malteds as they watched the DJs spin their stacks of wax.

But in 1960, WIBV, having moved down the dial to 1260, left the Dutch Girl for its new digs amidst the farmland on Illinois 159, a couple miles south of town. About a year later, the Fischers, looking to give residents a finer dining experience, scrapped the landmark windmill, remodeled the restaurant and opened Fischer's.

Today's trivia

Name the three men who both played on and coached an NCAA championship basketball team. Who is the only one to do it at the same school?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: After George Harrison wrote "My Sweet Lord" while touring with Delaney and Bonnie in December 1969, he gave it to Billy Preston and even produced it on Preston's "Encouraging Words" album. But just as Apple was going to release Preston's version as a single in September 1970, it was withdrawn. Three months later, Harrison himself zoomed to the top of the Billboard charts with the song before soon becoming mired in the "He's So Fine" soundalike controversy. At about the same time, Preston switched labels from the Beatles' Apple to Herb Alpert's A&M.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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