Brannon Corner was Home to Many Automobile Businesses

Brannon Corner was Home to 
Many Automobile Businesses
James Brannon operated livery and automobile businesses for many years, but after a fire destroyed his building, he became a landlord rather than running a business himself. 
The location at the corner of Railway Avenue and Third Street continued to be a prime location for automobile traffic. After the fire, Brannon erected a new building and rented the facilities to other automobile businesses. 
Brannon owned lots one, two and three in block five. Lot one fronted Railway Avenue, but lots two and three fronted Third Street. He also owned lot 12 in block one on the east side of Third Street, fronting Railway Avenue. Years later, that lot served as a parking lot for Bill’s Super Valu. 
Brannon built on lot one, block five, in 1925 and acquired another building permit in 1926 to expand the footprint of the original building. At some point, he erected a separate structure on the west half of lot one that fronted Railway Avenue but when is unknown. It is also unknown if lots two and three of block five and lot 12 of block one had structures. However, several businesses advertised their location as the Brannon Corner in the ensuing years. It cannot be determined if there were buildings on the three lots or if they all shared the same building.
The first tenants in Brannon's newly erected building were the Larsen brothers, the Milbank Tire & Electric Shop operators. They opened in March of 1925 and offered battery repairing and recharging, tire repairing, radiator repairing and recoring. They advertised as a Prest-O-Lite service center and carried Pennsylvania Tires and Tubes.
Peter Essner opened an Oldsmobile Sales & Service store on the Brannon corner in June of 1925. When Essner came to Milbank in September of 1924, he was in the house decorating business and offered painting and paper hanging services. His wife ran a millinery store. The Essners closed up shop and left Milbank in September of 1926.
Men by the name of Murray and Tessin began offering car washing services in connection with Essner on the Brannon corner in August of 1926.
  Thompson-Hutton Motor Company, an agency for Dodge Brothers cars and Graham Brothers trucks, called the Brannon corner home in July of 1927. A.L. Edwards was the manager, and the company planned to add a new front to the building and remodel for a modern salesroom. However, they only stayed in the location for a few months, moving in November of that year.
The Milbank Tire & Electric Shop received approval from the city council in October 1927 to install a gasoline pump and an underground storage tank in front of their place of business on the north side of lot one, block five.
What makes it difficult to determine where each business was located is that when the Milbank Tire & Electric Shop was operating from the corner, Ferd Maly of Wilmot also received permission from the Milbank city council to erect and maintain a gasoline filling station on the Brannon corner. The permit described the location as lot one, block five – the same location for the Milbank Tire and Electric Shop. In all likelihood, the two businesses shared the building.
Maly had secured a five-year lease on the property and also leased railroad property across the street for storage tanks. He piped the gas underground from the tanks to his station. 
“Mr. Maly is the man who has been selling gasoline in Wilmot for some years past at a price lower than that prevailing in the surrounding towns, and consequently many anticipate that his coming will mean lower gasoline prices here,” reported the Grant County Review in June of 1928. “We do not know as to that, but time will tell. Recently Ortonville dealers, who had been selling at 4 or 5 cents below Milbank, advanced their price to 4-tenths of a cent over Milbank price. This means that the Ortonville dealers are now getting 2.4 cents per gallon more for gas than the Milbank dealers, as the Minnesota road tax is only two cents and ours is four cents. This would seem to indicate the local price is already lower than the average.”
Maly’s business was known as the Progressive Oil Company. In 1928, he offered gasoline for 19 cents a gallon, and motor oil, 70 cents per gallon with five gallons or more for 65 cents a gallon. Maly hired Ed Lynch as manager of the station in May of 1929.
The Review listed Richard Larsen as the Milbank Tire and Electric Shop proprietor when he sold the business to Virgil Gloege of Minneapolis in August of 1928. “The new owner is installing a complete new Firestone method tire repair equipment and other equipment and supplies, and as soon as he gets organized expects to have a strictly up to the minute plant. He will give the business his personal supervision. Mr. Larsen’s plans for the future are not entirely definite at this time,” the reporter wrote. Gloege moved his business to the building known as the Hotel St. Hubert garage in January of 1930.
Bernard Redemacher opened B.R. Auto Market on the Brannon corner in July of 1929, and Joseph Neuman listed the corner as his location in November of 1931. He advertised in the local newspapers, “I have secured quarters in the Brannon building just back of the Progressive Oil Co. where I have opened an auto repair shop of my own.” Bert Phelan advertised he was conducting a tire repair business on the Brannon corner in November 1933,
Lynch bought Progressive Oil Station from Maly in November of 1934 and changed the name to White Eagle Service. He handled White Eagle products and carried a complete line of gas, oil and grease. Poor health caused Lynch to give up the business in 1935. He died in 1936. 
The Farmers Union Oil Cooperative succeeded Lynch in June of 1935, and they remained at the location until June of 1938 when they made plans to build new headquarters elsewhere in the city.
The Big Stone Creamery Company opened up a cream station in the Brannon building in February of 1935. It is unknown how long they remained in the building.
Mechanics Fred Boheman and Ernie Jibben leased separate portions of the building in July of 1939. “While Fred does strictly mechanical work on cars and trucks, Ernie devotes his efforts chiefly to body repairing and rebuilding, and paint jobs,” reported the Review.
The newly-formed Whetstone Valley Rural Electric Association leased office space sometime in 1941 or 1942 but moved to a new location in September of 1942.
The next tenant was Glen Thorkelson, who opened a produce, feed and seed business in the building in December of 1942 and remained there until October of 1944 when he moved to a location on Second Avenue.
The last renters of the Brannon building were the Ekern brothers, who opened up a body shop on the corner in 1945, but their tenancy did not last long. Art Gesswein purchased the lot and tore down the building in October of 1945 with plans to build a new structure.
Gesswein acquired a building permit to erect a public garage building at the cost of $10,000 in June of 1945. However, World War II had caused a shortage of building materials, and actual construction did not begin until April of 1946. Peter Hermans was the contractor for the project.
The building was 60 x 100 feet with a basement, 20 x 60 feet, on the south end of the structure. Gesswein used concrete blocks for the facility and had large glass windows on the north and east.
The steel beams for the roof arrived at the beginning of July, but the windows did not come until mid-September. Crews installed the furnace and the interior partitions for the parts room and office near the end of October.
Before moving in, Gesswein hosted a free community dance in the new building. He hired Schnickel-Fritz “Fezz” Fritsche and his orchestra to entertain the crowd. Gesswein opened for business in his new location in November of 1946, and carried new models of Oldsmobile, G.M.C. trucks and farm implements.
Gesswein operated in the building until November of 1950 when he swapped buildings with the Milbank Implement Store owners – Tom Hicks and Jack Davenport. The implement store operated in a building on Railway Avenue west of Main Street. Gesswein planned to discontinue the farm implement portion of his business, and the implement store owners needed more space.
The building remained home to the Milbank Implement Store for nearly a decade. The company moved to new quarters in September of 1959. 
Bill Hartman moved his grocery store business into the building, opening in the new location in January of 1960. Hartman and later his sons operated the grocery store from that location for the next six decades. Remodeling and expansion projects inside and out changed the footprint of the building during that time. Bob and Linda Hartman ceased operation of the family business on January 15, 2022, and sold the building to  BJTJ, LLC, the owners of Berens Market in Milbank. The building is currently unoccupied.
– Debbie Hemmer



Grant County Review

Grant County Review
P.O. Box 390
Milbank, SD 57252
(605) 432-4516

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