By Ruth Ann Montgomery
The village barber was a combination, artist, counselor and, in at least one shop in Evansville, a bootlegger. The earliest barbers arrived in 1866 and were two gentlemen from Beloit who opened a barber shop under J. B. Bemis' boot and shoe shop.
A Mr. Sharp is operated a barber shop in 1867 and little is recorded about his work, except a news item in the Evansville Citizen that he sold his "shaving and hair cutting business" in August 1867 to Uriah Slauson.
Because Slauson and other barbers who opened shops had longer careers in Evansville, there is more documentation about the barbering business in the late 1800s.
Uriah Slauson and his wife purchased a lot on West Main Street where he lived and operated his shop. The Slauson's also kept a few boarders to supplement his income from barbering. Slauson's wife, Sabria, a very religious woman, was a faith healer.
Slauson was a native of Chautauqua County, New York. He had settled in Walworth County in 1844 and then farmed in Harmony township in Rock County. In 1850 he married Sabria McCoy and moved to Magnolia, where he farmed for thirteen more years.
In 1863, he came to Evansville and four years later opened his barber shop. He was a jovial, pleasant and cheerful man, traits you would expect to find in a barber who kept a satisfied clientele. His first advertisements appear in 1870. Slauson's shop was "one door west of the Review office", then located on the south side of West Main Street.
Uriah Slauson acted as a beautician as well as a barber. He offered cutting, shampooing and coloring of hair. For the ladies who wanted to add hair pieces, he also sold curls, frizettes (a curled fringe of hair worn on the forehead), and switches. Slauson also paid cash for hair, if a woman wanted to sell her tresses.
Before there was a jewelry store in Evansville, Slauson sold earrings, bracelets, broaches and men's jewelry and watch guards. Within a few years, Slauson had a number of competitors in the barbering business.
A new barber, A. Courtney came to Evansville in 1874. Courtney's shop was just a few doors east of the Slauson shop. Courtney had shaving mugs made with the name of each customer painted on the mug. He arranged them neatly on a shelf which was visible to people who passed by. He also openly advertised the price of a shave at a cost of 10 cents.
The following year, Courtney took in a partner, C. W. Wisch. The new barbering firm rented rooms above Dr. Evans' drug store at the southeast corner of Main and Madison Streets. Six months later Courtney moved on and Wisch went into partnership with Lucian S. Palmer.
Palmer had many careers during his life time. He was born in New Hampshire and had moved to Evansville in 1855. His first job teaching school in the village. The following year, he married Emma J. Rowley and together they taught school for a number of years.
In 1864, Palmer enlisted in the 16th Wisconsin Regiment and served in the Civil War, and with his troop took part in Sherman's march to the sea. After the war he farmed in Magnolia township and then moved to Evansville where he became a barber. He opened his shop in 1875 and by 1881 he was retired from the business.
Although he was in the barbering business for only a short time, Lucian Palmer was the first to advertise that he had bathing facilities in his barber shop. "A large and commodious bath room is soon to be put in operation", the Review announced. Many men preferred to bathe at the barber shop rather than at home.
Palmer moved his shop several times. In 1879, he opened a barber shop under the post office located then at 11 East Main. However, he found the conditions in the basement to be too damp and moved out a few months later.
By 1877, Evansville had three barber shops, one operated by Uriah Slauson, one by Lucian Palmer and another by a new barber. That year, Anthony Richardson came to Evansville to open a barber shop and over the next 30 years was often the center of controversy, not for his barbering practices, but for the boot-legging business he ran in addition to his barber shop.
Richardson was born in Bourbon County Kentucky. He served as a private in Wisconsin's 42nd Infantry during the Civil War, one of the many former slaves who joined the Northern forces.
After the war, he moved to Monroe, Wisconsin. In 1877, the Evansville Review announced the opening his barbershop in Evansville. The following year, he married Aldine Dixon and they became permanent residents of the village.
Richardson liked fast horses and his trotter, Nimble Boy, was a favorite on the Evansville horse race tracks. Sometimes the race track managers would run several horses races, empty the stands and then charge another admission to the fans who wanted to watch Richardson's horse race against "Joe Wonder", another favorite of the Evansville crowd.
He became even more notorious for his boot legging business which he operated from his barber shop. In a town that prided itself on being a "dry" community and having no liquor for sale, Richardson had to keep his sales a secret. However, there are few secrets in a small town and Richardson found his shop vandalized one morning when he arrived for work. Barrels and jugs had been piled on his doorstep as a warning that his secret business was not so secret.
In 1909, Anthony Richardson was arrested for selling liquor without a license. He posted a bond of $200 and was to appear in court to defend himself against the charges. However, he decided to pay a fine of $75, plus the court costs associated with the case and bow to the evidence presented against him. Later the Internal Revenue Service also charged him with selling liquor without a revenue stamp. They too fined him after the case was heard in federal court.
Richardson thereafter purchased the federal revenue stamps and continued to operate his bootlegging business. In March 1914, Anthony Richardson was once again charged with illegal sale of liquor. Though he had purchased the Internal Revenue liquor license, it was still illegal to sell liquor in Evansville.
Ray Hyne and Frank Mayland had been sitting in front of Hyne's garage when they witnessed the sale of liquor by Richardson. Tom Nolan, a Janesville attorney, defended Richardson, but when he was brought to trial, the jury took just five minutes to reach a verdict and find him guilty. This time Richardson had to pay a fee of $100.
Despite his run-ins with the prohibitionists, Richardson had a regular clientele both for his barbering and his liquor business. He successfully operated his barber shop for over forty years, and made an income that allowed him to send two of his three children to college at Fisk University. When he died in 1916, the Evansville Review reporter overlooked the past transgressions in the illegal sale of liquor and Richardson was eulogized as a respected citizen
Barbers seemed to be able to operate their businesses well into what would normally have been retirement years. Richardson and Slauson continued in their business until their deaths. At the age of 72, Slauson still kept his weekly routine, working daily and keeping his shop open on Saturday evening when the local farmers and businessmen came for their shave and haircut. He died on a Sunday morning in December 1899, after completing his usual barbering activities the previous evening.
Over the years, Evansville's growing population attracted others of the barbering profession and in 1882, Jay L. Williams, from Albany, opened his "City Barber Shop" in a store on East Main Street. He advertised that its was "the only first-class tonsorial rooms in town where you can get a good, clean, easy, shave and hair dressed in the latest styles of the art." Although Williams encourage local men to visit his shop, he invited "traveling men in particular" to give him business.
Williams was only in business for two years, selling out to Frank Singer in 1884. Singer had apprenticed in Uriah Slauson's shop. When Williams made it known that his shop was for sale, Singer decided to go into business for himself.
It was not long before Williams had an apprentice. This was the typical way for a young man to learn the barbering trade in the late 1800s. Many of the apprentices were teenagers when they went to work for an established barber, sometimes working as a shoe shine boy or clerk before they learned the trade from an established shop owner.
Although the Evansville barbers were competing for the same pool of customers, they often worked together to establish hours and prices. The first notice of this came in 1885 when Fred Singer, Uriah Slauson and Anthony Richardson made an announcement that they were raising the price of shampooing women's hair from 25 cents to 50 cents each. "It is work that requires a good deal of care and considerable time and they unanimously declare against the former inadequate price.", the Evansville Enterprise noted in the local news column.
There were times when women were not welcome in the shops. Bathing rooms for "men only" were added to some of the shops. The barber shop became the "all purpose" cleaning up facilities for gentlemen.
Fred Singer was one of the first to add bathing facilities to his barber shop. In 1887, he advertised an "elegant bathroom" in the Enterprise reporter. The news item noted that many were enjoying their weekly clean up.
Singer had also taken in an apprentice, John Johnson, in 1886. Apprentices often did so well that they purchased their own shops and this was the case with Johnson. Singer sold his shop to Johnson in 1888.
A few months later, Johnson hired Edward H. Fiedler to work in his shop. Fiedler had recently moved to Evansville from Illinois. Within a few years, he also had his own shop.
In the 1890s there were five barber shops in Evansville. Johnson, Richardson and Slauson were listed in the Evansville Review business directory, as well as Fiedler. Edward H. Fiedler opened his new barbershop in the basement of the post office building in 1891. These were the same rooms that had been too damp for Lucian Palmer's shop.
Edgar Cole also opened a barber shop. He was a young man whose father owned a restaurant and Edgar used part of the same building for his barber shop. Cole and Fiedler eventually joined in a partnership known as Fiedler & Cole and moved their barber shop into the basement rooms of the Snashall & Mygatt block in 1897, shortly after the building was reconstructed.
Their partnership lasted only two years. Fiedler worked in his own shop again for a short time, then went to work in the clothing department of the Grange Store. Cole remained in the rooms in the Snashall & Mygatt block.
It was Cole's shop that was first pictured in the local newspapers in an
advertisement that ran in the 1902 Evansville Review. The shop had three
hydraulic barber chairs, a large mirror, a cabinet for storing mugs, and a glass
case to display the fancy cigars that men could buy in the shop. Cole
called his shop the "City Barber Shop & Bath Room". He employed two
other barbers to assist those in need of "a first class shave, hair cut or
One of those employed as an apprentice in Cole's shop was Henry Dixon. Dixon was just twenty years old and had a yearning for adventure. He and some companions from Albany road a freight train to South Dakota to make their way in the West, but he soon returned.
In July 1905, Henry Dixon opened his own barber shop in the store of William Wood at 22 West Main Street. It was a favorite location for barbershops over the next 90 years.
At least one barber, Edgar Cole, kept daily records of the customers who came to his barber shop and the amount each one paid him for his services. The 1901-1905 Cole records were found by Jane and Ron Pierce when they purchased the house Cole had lived in at 129 West Liberty Street.
ADVERTISEMENT FROM April 17, 1902 Evansville Review
The barber's books begin on January 1, 1901. Cole earned 90 cents that day by giving hair cuts and shaves to four men, beginning with E. H. Fiedler, his former partner and fellow barber.
Hair cuts were 10 cents each and shaves were a quarter. Cole's regulars included Cal Broughton, the police chief and former national baseball star; E. J. Ballard, the jeweler; H. H. Potter, the undertaker; Fred Gillman, policeman and clothing store owner; Dr. F. E. Colony, physician; and many others.
Competing with Cole was Johnny H. Johnson, a barber and talented musician. Johnson called his shop "The Palace Barber Shop and Bath Rooms" and he called himself a "Fashionable Barber".
Johnson's customers included women and children and he advertised "Ladies and Children's Hair cuttings, dressing, curling, etc. a specialty". In 1897, his barbershop was located in the west part of the Cummings and Clark store on the southwest corner of Main and Madison Streets.
The combination of a music shop and barber shop seemed perfect for Johnny Johnson. He displayed sheet music from the St. Johns Music Co. of Chicago as well as hair dressings and other beauty items in his shop.
As a hobby, Johnson wrote music and during the Spanish American War in 1898, he wrote a march called, "The Wisconsin Battleship”. It was published the following year by Flanner Music Company and they wrote to Johnson, telling him there were many requests for the march.
Johnson was the director of the high school band and orchestra in 1901 and in 1903 formed the Baker Military Band. His musical talents and abilities as a director made him a popular local figure. The Evansville Enterprise declared that Johnson "has but few equals as a director of musical culture".
The Baker Military Band was a brass band with 40 musicians and they performed for parades and concerts on the city bandstand. The name for the band came from the fact that so many of the musicians worked at the Baker Manufacturing Company.
The band members were featured prominently in a front page article of the Evansville Review. A picture of Johnson and his band standing in front of City Hall shows them dressed in military style uniforms that were typical of the dress for bands of the day.
The 1898 Evansville City Directory listed five barbers and the location of their shops. Anthony Richardson operated as a barber on the south side of the second block of East Main Street. Fiedler and Cole Barber Shop was located in the basement of the Snashall Block on the north side of East Main Street. Mark Moore's shop was in the second story of a store on the south side of East Main.
Charles Weaver was a barber in the 1898 directory, but had no shop listed. John H. Johnson's shop was on the south side of West Main Street. Two years later, in 1900, seven barbers were listed in the city directory; William Cleveland, Edgar Cole, Mark Moore, Herbert Van Patten, Anthony Richardson, George E. Slauson, and Frank Wright.
By 1905, several changes occurred in the locations of the shops. The Clark grocery had decided to expand their store and forced John Johnson to find other quarters.
Johnson moved his shop further west on West Main Street into rooms vacated by the Economy Store in the Eager Block at 13 West Main and hired a new barber, Billy Phelps, to work for him. Although Phelps' career was interrupted by a few years working in Hollywood, he spent the major portion of his professional life in Evansville.
Henry Dixon, who had apprenticed in Edgar Cole's shop, opened his own business in 1905 at 22 West Main St. William Douglas purchased the Cole shop in 1905 and Dixon was associated with Douglas in the barbershop and bathrooms in the basement of the Snashall block.
Cole put a notice in the Evansville Review that he would take a long needed rest from "steady confinement and will not go into business possibly till later this season." He later went to work for the Baker Manufacturing Company and gave up barbering altogether.
Another young man, Arthur Devine, came to Evansville from Brooklyn in 1906 to work for William Douglas. In 1907 he married Blanche Rutty, and Arthur decided to open his own barbershop in Evansville.
In April 15, 1909, he opened his first shop in the building at 17 East Main Street. Another barber in Douglas’ shop, Floyd Morgan, joined Art Devine in his new business.
One morning, he saw Fred Sperry, a grade school boy, walking to school. Devine decided he would ask Fred to be a shoe-shine boy in his shop.
Sperry was not interested in the barbering business at the time and avoided the shop for a few weeks. Finally, Devine persuaded him that he should come to work and it was the beginning of Sperry's move up the career ladder to barbering.
Barbering was a constantly changing business. In 1909, Johnny Johnson decided to leave Evansville. He sold his barbershop to Billy Phelps and Henry Dixon. He moved to Beloit and became a real estate agent.
While he continued his interest in music and led bands and orchestras, Johnson, like Cole, gave up the barbering business. The Enterprise, in its June 16, 1909 issue said of Johnson: “Mr. Johnson has lived in Evansville for twenty-four years, twenty-one of which he has owned and operated a shop for himself. In that time he has made lots of friends and they are sorry to see him go away from this city.”
In 1912, Bill Phelps and Henry Dixon relocated their shop back to the west side of the Clark Store, where Johnny Johnson had once worked. This small room at 3 West Main Street served a number of barber shops over the next decades.
In what might have been called, musical barber chairs, another partnership of barbers had taken over the shop under the Snashall block. In 1913, William Cleveland sold his barber shop to Frank Ringhand and Mark Moore.
In the early 1900s, barber partnerships changed every few years. In 1915, Phelps interrupted his Evansville career and sold his interest in the barbershop with Henry Dixon to William A. Dake. Phelps had decided that he wanted to work in Janesville. However, living there only a short time he sought a more glamorus life in Hollywood, California. After four years of wandering, Phelps returned to Evansville in 1919.
Henry Dixon's new partner, William A. Dake, was born on a farm near Wonewoc and at the age of 17 apprenticed as a barber in a shop in that city. Then he opened a shop of his own in Elroy. In 1898, he sold that business and worked in other shops in La Crosse, Manitowoc, Racine, Janesville and Chicago. Then he decided to become a chiropractor and completed his studies at the National School of Chiropractic in Chicago in 1904. He was a chiropractor in Janesville until 1915. Then Dake moved to Evansville and went back into the barbering business.
The partnership between Dixon and Dake continued until Henry Dixon died in the influenza epidemic that swept the United States in 1919. Dixon, who had apprenticed under Edgar Cole and eventually opened his own shop, was dead at the age of 36. His wife was left to raise three children. Dixon's son, William, who was just seven years old when his father died, also eventually entered the barber trade in Evansville.
When Dixon died in 1919, Mark Moore decided to dissolve his partnership with Frank Ringhand. Moore sold his interest in the shop to Ringhand and joined William Dake's shop. Dake had already purchased interest of the Dixon estate from his widow, so that she would have some income to raise her children.
Dake was anxious to take in a partner and he anticipated that his business would grow. Dake also hired Homer Norton, of Brooklyn, to work in the shop. Always on the look out for more exciting advertising, Dake also had the first electric barber pole. The new device was an attractive revolving notice to his customers that the barbershop was open for business.
By 1919, only three barber shops were listed in the Rock County Directory for Evansville. William A. Dake, Arthur H. Devine and Frank Ringhand. When Bill Phelps returned from his Hollywood venture, he went to work in Art Devine's shop. They worked together for the next 16 years.
Perhaps there were fewer new barbershops because in 1915 the state of Wisconsin began to require barbers to have licenses. The state created a Committee of Examiners in Barbering and many years later created a Board of Examiners in Cosmetology.
The laws seemed to have little effect on the existing barbers in Evansville, who were granted licenses under a "grandfather" clause which allowed all those already engaged in the business to continue without having to comply with new regulations of study and education. For new barbers entering the business, it meant they had to attend barber schools, serve apprenticeships and follow more stringent rules than before.
Barbershops stabilized in the 1920s and Dake, Arthur Devine, and a newcomer, Bernie Christensen owned shops in the city. Christensen was a veteran of World War I.
In 1927, William Dake moved his barber shop into the basement of the hotel on the northwest corner of Main and Madison Streets. Dake called his business the Hotel Central Barber Shop.
Two men, Bernie Christensen and Ike Flint operated a shop under the Snashall block at 6 East Main. They were known as Chris and Ike . In July 1929, they had the shop redecorated in two shades of green and refurnished with "modern equipment." A new linoleum floor was put into the shop.
Henry Dixon's son, Bill Dixon, was married in 1929 to Hazel Gibson, an Evansville woman. Bill Dixon was a barber in Jefferson and for a few years they lived there. Eventually they returned to Evansville and Dixon worked for many years as a barber in this city.
The 1929 Christmas ads in the Evansville Review displayed holiday greetings from Dake's Hotel Central Barber Shop and Arthur H. Devine's, "Sanitary Barber Shop". Another display ad featured greetings from Bernie Christensen's "Christensen's Barber Shop", at 6 1/2 East Main Street.
Besides his barbering business which put him into daily contact with the public, Arthur Devine was also active in the boy scouts. For more than 15 years he served as a leader, eventually become the scoutmaster for the Evansville group.
Other barbers displayed civic pride and took part in community activities. Bernie Christensen, who had served in World War I, became very active in the local, county and state American Legion. He was named the local commander for the American Legion in 1932. A sports fan, he also supported baseball teams and managed the local Legion baseball team.
In 1942, Christensen ran unsuccessfully as mayor of Evansville. His campaign slogan was: An efficient administration; consideration of taxpayer's problems; elimination of needless expense.
Uptown barber Shop was located at 15 West Main Street in 1932. This shop was later the location of the Bliven I.G.A. in November 1933.
In the mid-30's there were other changes that took place in the partnerships of the barbers. Bill Phelps left the shop of Arthur Devine and for a year and a half worked with Steve O'Connor. Then he worked with Bernie Christensen and eventually opened his own shop at 22 West Main.
Five Evansville barbershops were in operation in 1938. Bill Dixon, a second-generation barber, and Fred Sperry, the young man enticed into the barbering business by Arthur Devine, operated a shop together. Bernie Christensen had his own shop as did Burton "Razz" Stewart, William Phelps and Walter Helgesen.
Some barbers found they preferred other lines of work. Walter Helgesen, who owned the Palace Barber Shop on South Madison Street in the 1930s, began barbering as a young man. Helgesen later gave up barbering and owned a television and radio repair shop.
Burton Stewart also gave up barbering and worked for a short time with the Antes Press. He later moved to Jefferson and worked for the James Manufacturing Company.
Other barbers stayed with the profession throughout their lifetime. Old-time barber, Mark Moore, died in 1943 after many years of barbering in Evansville. He was seventy years old when he retired, just three months before his death. His family asked all of the barbers who had worked with him for more than 50 years. to be his pall bearers. Six barbers who had been Moore's friends, William Dixon, Fred Sperry, Bernie Christensen, Burton Stewart, William Phelps and Arthur. H. Devine, carried their friend to his last resting place.
There seemed to be few hazards in running a barber shop, but one did occur in the 1940s. Bernie Christensen had his shop in the room at 3 West Main in 1949 and a fire nearly destroyed the building and several other businesses. Although they were unable to determine the origin of the fire, the fire seemed to have originated in the rear of Christensen's shop and spread directly east into the rear of the Kroger grocery.
The fire occurred on a Thursday afternoon, a time when many Evansville business places closed, to give shop owners a break from their usual routine. No one was in the barber shop or store and the damage could have been more extensive if a passerby had not seen smoke billowing from the building.
The fire department broke through the front door of the Kroger store, found the source of the fire and put it out before it destroyed the building. Still there was major smoke damage to the Kroger grocery, the G.A.R. Hall and Dr. O. G. Libby's office above the grocery and to the apartment of Mr. and Mrs. Forrest Crawford.
Christensen lost many of his barber's supplies, hair tonics, and shaving lotion. However, within a few days, he was back in business.
In 1950 there were still three barber shops, Bernie Barber Shop operated by Bernie Christensen, the Dixon and Sperry shop operated by Fred Sperry and Billy Dixon, and Billy Phelps' shop. In a tragic accident in 1954 Bernie Christensen's career as a barber was cut short. He was killed in a traffic accident.
In 1950, a new generation of barbers was being trained. A January 5, 1950 item in the Evansville Review noted that Donald and Gordon Hartin, William Meredith and Roger Melaas, had spent the holidays at home and returned to Chicago to resume their studies in Barber School.
The young men were all training at Molers Barber School. To practice in Wisconsin, the new graduates had to complete four years of apprenticeship before they could open a shop of their own.
Gordon Hartin worked for a Portage barber for little more than a year, then transferred to a Beloit shop for 2 years, finally coming back to Evansville to work with Fred Sperry when Billy Dixon retired and moved to Arizona.
The new barbers replaced the retiring ones. Billie Phelps barbered in
Evansville for more than 70 years, retiring in January 1957. He was 87
years old and still operating his shop at 22 West Main St. He was told by
a state health inspector that he was the oldest active barber in the state of
Wisconsin. He had seen many changes in the city and in the barbering
After Phelps retired, Fred Sperry took the reigns as the oldest businessman and barber in the city of Evansville. Fred Sperry retired in 1969 after 57 years of barbering. His final shop location was in the old hotel at 155 East Main Street where he and his wife, Martha, lived with his son, Stanley, and his family.
Jim Knapp operated a shop called "Jim's Barbershop", in the 1960s and early 70s at 17 East Main, the old location of Arthur Devine's shop. Knapp had received his barber training at the Eau Claire Adult Vocational School before opening his shop in Evansville. In 1973 Steve Krattiger had taken over the Knapp shop.
Krattiger was a native of Monroe and had been a barber for six year before moving to Evansville. He had received his education at the Madison Technical College. He named his new shop, "Steve's Barber Shop".
Bill Meredith and Gordie Hartin were the last of the old time barbers in Evansville. The young men who had attended barbering school together in Chicago, ran competing shops. Both had barbered in Evansville starting in the 1950s. Hartin was at 22 West Main, in a favorite location for barbers over the years. He retired in 1990.
The closing of Hartin's shop, more formally known as the Town and Country Barber Shop, left only one barbershop remaining in Evansville. That one was run by Bill Meredith and his daughter, Julie.
Shortly after Hartin closed his doors, the Merediths moved their shop from its long-time location on South Madison Street to Hartin's former shop at 22 West Main Street, a building that had first been used as a barbershop in 1905.
During his career as a barber Meredith had also operated Meredith's Lounge for a few years. When his daughter, Julie, joined him in the barbering business in 1989, she was the first woman barber in the city of Evansville. Today she is continuing the traditions of the barbering profession in the Barber-Salon Meredith in Evansville's commercial district.