Comstock’s, bus stop, Green Rivers or huge milk shakes.
For many local “old timers,” any one of these terms can bring the same memory. The corner of Cherry Avenue and Main Street has for 160 years been a monument to local commerce. Today the first floor sits as a silent reminder of a past that may never again be repeated. A beautiful soda shop reminiscent of days gone by.
The first structure at 400 Cherry Ave. was a wooden building erected in the 1850’s. When Ransford Comstock bought the property in 1860, he immediately removed the existing structure and replaced it with a new building and opened his billiards hall.
In the early days of Rochelle, Cherry Avenue was the primary location of the business district. Ransford’s billiards hall thrived, and in 1870 the addition of a tavern was added. Newspaper articles in 1873 tell of the razing of the Comstock building to accommodate the addition of a basement.
Ransford’s health began to fail in 1875 and he sold his business to his son, Delbert. Delbert and his wife, Cora, ran the business as a billiards hall and tavern until local ordinances made the sale of alcohol illegal.
In 1914, Delbert and Cora made a brave decision and sold the building to Morris Kennedy. Not the property, just the building. Morris moved the building and Delbert and Cora built a new structure on the vacant lot in 1915.
The new structure is the one that sits there today. The wooden building was gone and a new brick structure anchored the corner of Cherry and Main. Delbert rented the new building’s first floor to Barney Kuelgen.
Barney was a confectioner. As such he wanted to open a confectionery and soda fountain. Marble tables, counter tops and a dance floor were installed and for the most part remain to this day.
Kuelgen also owned a confectionery on the corner of 4th Avenue and Lincoln Highway. With two stores, Barney had the market cornered. Unfortunately, World War I drained the worker pool.
Barney was a little old fashioned and he could not find the right man to manage his store at 400 Cherry Ave. and refused to consider a woman in the position. Given the dilemma, Barney sold the Cherry Avenue business back to Delbert and Cora.
With the business back in the family, Delbert added a three-lane bowling alley in 1917. The Comstocks ran the store until 1936. Delbert passed in 1936 and the business was passed on to his son, Ralph.
Ralph Comstock kept the business going and added bus service in 1939. Greyhound Bus Company and later Peoria-Rockford Line utilized Comstock’s as a bus stop, with 12 buses a day rotating passengers at the location.
From 1860 until 1977, 117 years, a Comstock owned the building at 400 Cherry Ave. Oscar and Hazel Larson bought the business and building in 1977. The Larsons set the standard for the building. They refused to remodel the first-floor confectionery and soda shop.
Instead, they chose to refurbish, clean and preserve the history of the Comstock Building. For 15 years the Larson’s saved a portion of Rochelle’s history. In 1992, the Larsons auctioned off the property.
Steve and Deana Bingham became the owners and caretakers. More through luck than intent, the building once again fell into the ownership of people who fell in love with the history of the business. The Bingham’s attempted to re-open as American Dreams Confectionery and Soda Fountain.
After surviving prohibition, two world wars, and more than 160 years the business now sits closed. Not from lack of effort on the part of the owners but from the lack of community support.
No business fails because too many people shop there. If you have a chance, take a walk to the corner of Cherry Avenue and Main Street and peek in the window. The marble counter, booths and décor are still straight from 1916. You can almost taste the “Green River.”
Tom McDermott is a Flagg Township Museum historian and a Rochelle city councilman.