Kohlrus Foods.1512N15th40a-730x700

Kohlrus & Sons Grocery at the corner of Converse and 15th Street was opened in 1932 by the maternal grandfather of Sandy Baksys. Sandy’s mother Josephine left school and went to work in the store in 1934 when she was 15. Photo circa 1940, courtesy of the Sangamon Valley Collection, Lincoln Library, Springfield.

By William Cellini, Jr.

A trip to the corner grocery was a ritual for families in every part of the United States before WWII.  Prior to chain grocery stores, food retailing was independently owned and operated and grocery stores were primitive, with wooden barrels filled with grain and dried fruits, where mice and roaches often congregated, inconsistent pricing of goods and a lack of refrigeration meant customers were offered a limited selection.

Independents also were a place where the grocer’s family lived often behind the grocery or above it. Springfield had an abundance of independent, family-owned and operated stores prior to the 1950s, and depending on the demographic of a neighborhood, immigrants who’d been in Springfield for less than a generation owned many of them.

The corner of Sangamon Avenue and 16th street has long been the home of The Fairview Tavern. For Springfieldians, it was once the go-to spot on the north end for cabbage rolls, chicken and noodles, ham and beans and other comfort food.  While the restaurant has changed their menu and ownership over the years, few in Springfield know its history originates prior to 1914 with a Lithuanian-born immigrant named Kaston Stockus  [Lithuanian variant, Kastantus Stočkus].

Stockus was owner and operator of a grocery and butcher shop on that site when the neighborhood was unofficially called, “Little Lithuania”.  While the Palusinski  family owned and operated The Fairview for decades, their connection to the building was through Kaston Stockus’ daughter Ella, who married Alex Palusinski in 1939. Alex and Ella ran The Fairview until their retirement in the 1980s. (Springfield City Directory, Baldwin and Williamson Co., 1937)

Fairview, c. 1967

The Fairview, Sangamon Ave. and 16th Street, 1967. Sangamon County Recorder of Deeds.

Long before Kaston Stockus had a grocery and butcher shop on the site, Sangamon Avenue was the northern-most boundary of Ridgely Village, an unincorporated section of Springfield until 1907.  In the 1880s, the Ridgely family of Sangamon County developed land Northeast of Springfield and incorporated a village there with a town hall, a mill, company housing for workers, a school and several modest home sites along its dirt roads. 

Charles Ridgely helped develop the village and was an entrepreneur with interests in banking, the Springfield Gas Light Co., the Springfield City Railway Co., the Springfield Iron Co. and the Springfield Electric Light Co.  He also served as a director of the Wabash Railroad (part of the line passed through Springfield) and he was head of several coalfield operations in Sangamon County. (ILLINOIS STATE REGISTER, June 9, 1907, p. 25.); (ILLINOIS STATE REGISTER, July 12, 1883, p. 17.)  

By the early 1900s when Lithuanians moved into the area to supply manpower to the coal mines, Ridgely Village had a complement of taverns and stores. Stockus emigrated to the U.S. in 1899 from Šiauliai County, Lithuania, and he became a citizen in 1904. He lived at 16th and Sangamon in a multi-level building that ultimately became his grocery and later, The Fairview tavern.

Anton Martzen was the original owner of the multi-level building.  He was a Lithuanian-born tavern operator from Taylorville who moved to Sangamon County after his Taylorville tavern burned down, according to Illinois State Journal-Register archives.  In 1909, he opened a tavern on the first floor of the multi-story building at 16th and Sangamon.  The U.S. Census of 1910 indicates he also ran a boarding house in the building for Lithuanian miners and Kaston Stockus was listed there with the occupation of “butcher.” (Martzen saloon License. ISJ, Dec. 23, 1909 p. 11); (1910 U.S. Census for Springfield, Illinois, Ancestry.com).

In 1913, Kaston bought Martzen’s property and opened a grocery store on the first floor. Prior to Springfield’s prohibition code of 1917, the neighborhood around Sangamon Avenue had 12 taverns which brought-in roughly $5,000 per annum in revenue for the City of Springfield. Cashing in on this lucrative operation, Kaston also applied for, and was granted, a permit to sell liquor.

Kaston and Caroline Stockus, c. mid-1930s.with cow

Couple said to be Kaston and Karolina (Compardo) Stockus. Compardo family photo.

In 1915, he married Karolina Compardo, the daughter of Wincenty ‘William’ and Sofia (Balis) Compardo [Komperda], a family from Eastern Galicia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  Today, the border between Poland and Western Ukraine incorporates Eastern Galicia’s former territory.  Kaston and Karolina had a daughter, Ella (1916-2001), and a son, Raymond, born in the 1930s.  The Stockus family lived with the Compardo family at 2129 North 16th Street.   (Illinois State Journal, January 25, 1913, P.5); (Illinois State Journal, Oct. 28, 1913 p.13)   (Illinois State Journal-Register, May 30, 1979, P.28); (Free Poland: Devoted to the Presentation of the Cause of a United and Independent Poland to the American People, Volume 5. Polish National Council of America, 1918, PP. 136-137.); (WWI Sangamon Country Registrations, Ancestry.com)

The United States’ entry into WWI roused a spirit of patriotic fervor.  Many immigrants joined the military to speed-up the formalization of their petitions for citizenship.  Kaston registered with the military board of Sangamon County but was over the age to be called-up for regular conscription.  Instead of being a soldier, he became a homefront hero during the Third Liberty Loan drive when a group of non-U.S. born residents purchased $3,000 worth of government war bonds at a fundraising drive held by the “foreign speaking people’s committee on liberty loan work”.   The successes of the loans were largely due to the organization and action by local committees under the direction of the Treasury Department.

The Springfield committee gathered residents formerly of Lithuania, Austria, Germany, Croatia, Poland, Italy and Syria.  Out of all the attendees at the loan rally, the Illinois State Register proclaimed, “the Lithuanian Kaston Stockus, Seventeenth and Sangamon [had] the largest purchase taking a $500 bond.”  Such an amount was not only proof of his patriotism but testimony to his success as a grocer.  The newspaper also noted the event speakers included, “Rev. Father John Czuberkis of St. Vincent De Paul (Lithuanian) Church and Rev. Father Francis Mazir of St. Barbara’s (Slavic and Polish) Church.”  (Foreigners Buy $3,000 In Bonds. ISR, Apr.10, 1918, P. 15)

In 1921, Kaston received a letter from his father in Lithuania pleading with him to return “home” for one last visit.   After Lithuania’s declaration of independence in 1918, Lithuanian-Americans often received letters from family overseas asking them to return. Kaston’s letter from his father asked him, “If it is possible than [sic] I ask you to come home as my life is miserable.”  Kaston, his wife Karolina and their daughter Ella immediately left for Europe.

The Illinois State Journal featured an article about their voyage indicating the family had, “left town for New York City to visit friends and relatives in Antwerp, Belgium and Hamburg, Germany.”  The article mentioned no travel to Lithuania, but Kaston’s passport application on Ancestry.com indicates his itinerary included a stop in Lithuania.  The family returned in September 1922 on the S.S. Berengaria, according to the manifest located on Ellis Island’s website.  (U.S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925. Ancestry.com)

The Great Depression brought economic strife to the United States during the 1930s.  In Central Illinois, the Great Depression is also noted as a period of incredible labor unrest between the Progressive Miners of America and the United Mine Workers of America culminating in pitched battles in the streets and mines. Kaston was effectively caught in the middle of a mine battle in March of 1933 when National Guard troops surrounded miners striking at the Peerless Mine and cut off Sangamon Avenue to patrons visiting his store.

Fairview Tavern Opening Aug. 1951, ISJ, Aug. 3, 51, P. 20

Illinois State Journal, 1951.

Storeowners protested to the Assistant Attorney General against the presence of the guardsmen. They said the troops “paralyzed their business between the hours of 3 and 6 o’clock each afternoon.”  A committee of businessmen met and drafted a formal protest.  Kaston Stockus and Tony Yucus, a grocer at 1700 Sangamon Avenue, were part of the committee.  (Protest Presence of Troops Near Peerless Shaft.  ISJ, Mar. 4, 1933, P. 2)

By the end of the 1930s, the Illinois miners reached a tentative agreement to stop the violence just as economic prosperity was around the corner and the U.S. was lifted from economic despair by New Deal relief programs.  In 1939, Kaston’s daughter Ella married Alex Palusinski, a Polish-American, who clerked at the Stockus grocery.  After Kaston died in 1944, Alex opened a tavern inside the former grocery calling it “Al and Joe’s”. Kaston’s wife Karolina died in 1957 and by then, Alex had ownership of the building but leased the tavern to entrepreneurs.

During the WWII, the tavern went through several names and in December 1945, Vincent Nebuloni, an Italian immigrant along with his son-in-law, Tony Stockus (no known relationship to Kaston) opened the “Jolly End Tavern” on the site. Tony Stockus was a WWII veteran who worked the coal mines in Springfield and was looking for a better life for his family and an opportunity to get out of the mines.

Tony Stockus WWII infantry sergeant.Mary Stockus Roach

Tony Stockus, WW II infantry sergeant. Courtesy of Mary (Stockus) Roach.

Stockus and Nebuloni operated the Jolly End until 1950 when a 17th street resident named Louie Viele opened his bar in the space and christened it, “The Fairview Tavern”. Viele maintained his operation until his uncle, Ercole ‘Bouser’ Viele, acquired it in 1954. By the mid-1960s, Alex and Ella Palusinski took over and turned it into the long-celebrated Fairview restaurant. (Mrs. Alex Palusinski. ISJ, Jan 8, 1939, P. 24); (Stockus Caroline, Mrs. ISJ, Aug. 22, 1957, p. 12); (Saturday Gig: The Fairview.  ISJR, Jul. 6, 1974, P. 8a)