January 2 will mark the 50th anniversary of a well known State street business place. There has been a Shea barbershop at 205 Sate st. since January 2, 1900, when the two brothers, John and Jim Shea, opened a two chair shop there. They rented from Charles O. Greene, later from his daughter, Miss Nellie Greene and, since her death, from her niece, Mrs. Kathryn Greene Hawkins, now living in the west.
That was some two years before the interurban line was established,
connecting Beloit, Rockford, and Janesville. The tracks ran up the
middle of State street, over the bridge on Grand avenue to Fourth street
and north to present day Waverly Beach, where a wooden piled bridge gave
the cars a chance to recross the river and resume their way along the river
road to Janesville. The trip through town and up Fourth street gave Beloiters
a sort of improvised trolley line, and was made a part of the franchise
was a stipulation that the power house on Colby street, now the Company
L armory, should be built to give local employment.
The Interurban depot was for years, at the northeast corner of State street and St. Paul avenue. It was a center of activity, only a door or two removed from the barbershop where Shea Brothers kept busy with quarter haircuts and ten cent shaves that were a nickel extra if a man wanted his neck shaved. Bath tubs, in rooms at the rear furnished accommodations for customers whose living quarters afforded no such luxurious facilities.
The place was a favorite spot. Men were told to "take a number," as
they entered, and sat and gossiped about news of the town, until the pointer
on a sort of wall clock indicated the figure they held. It was sometimes
a long wait but nobody begrudged the time because of the sociability atmospheric
to the shop. When customers left they usually took with them a good prevue
of the day's news, including a lot of items that could never reach the
John and Jim Shea, founders of the establishment, are gone now but the shop is still owned and managed by a son. He is John Shea, Jr. 835 1/3 Elm st. John, Sr., died Jan. 9, 1943, in his home where he had lived for many years around the corner at 549 St. Paul ave. Jim died Jan. 24, 1946. For quite a number of years before his death he had run a shop of his own on the west side. He left the partnership Jan. 24, 1910.
A full size store comprised the shop, allowing plenty of lounging chairs
for the trade, as well as a couple of extra barber chairs, which, at rush
periods, came in handy for auxiliary help. Saturday was a long shift, beginning
before 8 a.m. with an 11 p.m. closing time, after which it took another
hour or better to "shave out the shop". Customers had a way of roaming
the town until a few minutes before eleven, then dashing in, just ahead
of the deadline. Included in the lot were a generous proportion in various
stages of inebriation, ready for the massages and hot towels that put them
in better shape for the coming Sabbath.
John Shea, Jr., is a loyal State Street fan. He mentioned the other day the number of outstanding business places which have occupied it through the years. He says there have been a negligible number of business failures there at any time. In recent years a spurt of rebuilding has given the thorofare a "boom" which still continues. Beloit's first moving picture house opened in one of the lower blocks on its west side, more than 40 years ago, and the Dixie Theater on its east side a little farther up towards Grand avenue, was an early showhouse.
Henry Tallmadge used to tell about Jimmie Funnel's "Theatre Comique"
which operated in the basement of the Broder Block, at Broad and State
streets, as we remember, or it may have been in one of the adjoining structures.
It had a bar, put on vaudeville skits and, according to Mr. Tallmadge,
was a veritable night club about 70 or 80 years ahead of its time.
Jimmie Funnel died a hero's death many years ago and is buried in Oakwood cemetery. A boy was drowning in Turtle creek, had gone for the last time and Funnel made repeated dives in the water until he located the lad. He brought him close to shore, people on the bank took over the task of reviving the victim. When they looked around for his rescuer it was found he had sunk exhausted into the water and drowned. Funnel was a Civil Was veteran.
Hotels used to be centered on State street, several of which burned during the volunteer fire department days. There are still three good sized hotelries south of East Grand Avenue. The Goodwin Block, at the corner of State street and Grand avenue, has a lengthy hotel career to its credit before it became and office building.
And now Shea's Barber Shop begins the second half of its first hundred years: John Shea, Jr., is still well this side of middle age and should be able to creditably maintain its traditions for some time to come.
(Printed in the Beloit Daily News Saturday December 31, 1949