By Frances Benell Moulton, Udell
Moravia and Unionville
---- — The Corner Café came into existence in the late 1860s. It was built of local brick and had a full basement and was two stories high. It was 50 feet wide and 100 feet long, taking up the entire piece of land it was built on, anchoring the northwest corner of the square in Moravia. Captain Cummins was a local hero during the Civil War and built the building after he returned from the war. He was a commanding officer of a group of local men, and became postmaster in civilian life. Most of the time since its existence, the building has been a restaurant and at some periods, the basement has had three lanes of a bowling alley. It is still a building in good repair, although the roof has been a problem if it is not tarred regularly. The downstairs was used primarily for a restaurant. The plumbing has gone through lots of upgrading through the different owners. The current owners, Rick Harper and Jackie White have done a lot of remodeling and repair and have the building in the best shape its been in for a long time. They operate a bar with a pool table and a friendly atmosphere. They are very much involved in the community and community projects.
While my mom, Alice Cox, went through high school at Moravia, she worked part-time at the Corner Café after school, washing dishes, cooking on the grill and anything else that came up. She boarded with a family in town, helping with housework, child care and sometimes didn’t get home very ofter, as they lived out of town. This was of course, before school buses. I go up to the school occasionally now and always check to see her class picture of 1935. She was the only one of her brothers and sisters to go through high school and graduate. She played basketball as a center on a three-court outside for coach Tommy Irelan and by the time her daughters played, it was a two-court system. Her great-granddaughters played full court.
Dean Kaster told me he and his brothers, Donnie and Larry, had duties in the building and his was to run the bowling alley. His folks, Forest and Ora, had just closed their coal mine in 1950, and bought the Corner Café. They served hand made tenderloins, hamburgers, fries and malts from real ice cream. Dean said it was a bit different blowing then. They used duckpins instead of the ones we have now, with a soft ball twice as big and scoring was not the same either.
My dad and mom, Orel and Alice Kaster, Forest’s brother, used to go bowling there also. Forest and Ora owned the building and businesses for three years. They lived upstairs in the apartment.
Betty and Paul Cridlebaugh were the owners after Forest and Ora Kaster. The help was paid .35¢ per hour and Betty sold plate dinners at .75¢ each. She remembered she had three good helpers, Donna Rae Tubaugh, Judy Cox and Sharon O’Connor. Betty said she had a good business at at the time the new Post Office and the now middle of the building of the high school was being built. They were so busy they had to set three lunch times, 11 a.m., 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. in order to get everyone fed. She said they paid $5,000 for the building to Mettie Roland and $1,200 for the business.
Betty had some stories to tell. For instance, Dave Bishop was so tight, he would peer in the Corner Café windows to see if any of his friends were in there so he could get one of them to pay for his coffee.
Don Pettibone found a small animal, dead, not a skunk, and put it in Larry Brooks’ car and had to take it back. Larry was not pleased. Don then wrapped in all in a box with pretty paper with lots of ribbons and put it n Dave Bishop’s car. Dave took it to the Corner Café but would not open it. He took it down to Turner’s Furniture Store to show it to Bert and opened it. By this time, it was pretty ripe. And “Bert like to run himself to death trying to get away from that package.”
There was also a story about Johnny Spencer and a goat on top of the Post Office roof. My mom saw the goat up there and wasn’t sure who got it down or who put it up there. There were always people who thought Postmaster Don Pettibone or his enemies did it. believe the newspaper, the Moravia Union, did take pictures to feature on Wednesday.
On the Fourth of July someone shoe firecrackers at the Corner Café enough to take out the lights. Betty had an old police car they had purchased and took out after whoever had done it and chased kids all over town. Floyd Allen was also trying to catch them.
Betty was really mad if it was the kids and firecrackers that took out the electricity because she had allowed them to come in after the cafe was closed and practice their dancing skills for prom. She said they were very careful and paid for any candy bars or pop, leaving money on the counter. She didn’t want it to be the kids who shot off the firecrackers.
Betty and Paul lived in the apartment upstairs in the building and the dryer vent fell out on George Firkins below. She yelled out the window, “George, are you hurt?” George didm’t hear her and went right on.
She told me about being pregnant and her dress went up in the back, almost over her head, while working. Nobody told her, until someone besides her regular customers told her. The regular customers were too tickled to tell her.
There were several owners I was not able to get any information on by press time, but some of the ones I had information on definitely represented some of the life and times of a small town in rural southern Iowa.
The years went by and people would open and close the business and the Tubaugh brothers owned it. We lived in Des Moines by that time, in the 1970s. My husband, Paul, and I decided we were going to see if we could find a business or jobs and sell our house and move back to Moravia. We hated the Des Moines school system and by that time we had visited Moravia so often with the kids that Paul felt very comfortable in my hometown. We bought the Corner Café in 1976 and never looked back. We had to get other jobs and eventually sell the building, but I never lost my feelings for the wonderful brick building that we owned, for a while at least.