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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: Awaiting news of the day in 1894 years ago

Tracks from the old narrow-gauge Marion Belt and Chingawasa Railroad, which traveled down 3rd St. to a resort northeast of town from 1889 until 1893, were still visible in 1894 adjacent to the crown jewel of Marion’s business district, a four-storefront, two-story stone structure built 12 years earlier by prominent businessman Stephen Jex.

At the time of the building’s construction in 1882, Marion County Record editor E.W. Hoch reported:

“Ten years ago, when the northeast corner of Main and 3rd Sts. was occupied by the old log cabin that served as the Record office and the residence for two families, if someone had had the temerity to suggest that at this time the same corner would be covered with a handsome block of two-story stone business buildings, he would have been hooted at until he might well have called for the rocks and hills to tumble around, sort of promiscuously like, until they shut him off from the communication with the hooter.

“Only three years ago, Mr. Jex offered to sell the ground for a merely nominal sum, but when he proposed to bind the would-be purchaser to erect a good, two-story stone building, the latter was frightened out of the investment and Mr. Jex’s stipulation denounced as outrageous.

“Today it is built over with a block that, when completed, would be a credit to any city in the state.”

The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which later was located in the old Rogers or creamery building at 1st and Main Sts., purchased a half interest in the western building, relocating its lodge rooms to the upper story, above what at the time was the Bank of Marion. After the bank closed, the town’s post office and book store relocated to the western storefront, heralded as an excellent location because the stone structure was considered fireproof.

To the east were a drug store, a grocer (where the post office briefly had been located previously), and a meat market. To the right, the separate Donaldson-Hosmer building was constructed, and at the time of this photo housed a different bank, the State Bank of Commerce.

The old bank building, currently unoccupied, and the third of the original Jex storefronts, now occupied by Barely Makin’ It antiques, are all that remain of the once impressive array of buildings shown here, with the four-storefront building often referred to as the Jex Block, later as the Post Office Block.

Stone for buildings such as these was quarried locally, along what now are Union Pacific Roadroad tracks northwest of town. Marion was a major exporter of construction stone statewide at the time.

Vestiges of the Chingawasa rail lines remained for 17 years after the line closed, finally being removed in 1910, when Main and 3rd Sts. were paved in brick.

Last modified Nov. 14, 2018

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