It was the story that launched WashingtonCountyInsider as Kevin Zimmer called me September 1, 2014 to say he “found something in the wall” and would I like to do a story.
What he found was a time capsule, buried in the wall at Schwai’s in Cedar Creek. Inside a small jar with a green lid was a 6-page hand-written letter from Lu Ann Schwai. (see story below).
On Friday, Zimmer and his wife Amy will rebury the letter in the original 12-ounce glass Marie’s Blue Cheese Dressing jar.
“I’m also adding a letter from Amy and a bio we have on Lu Ann Schwai and some construction photos,” said Kevin Zimmer. “We’re putting it back because this is the right thing to do. We’re adding another chapter to the book.”
The capsule will be buried in a newly constructed wall, upstairs in the central part of the dining room near the new bathrooms. “We’re making a time capsule wooden box,” Zimmer said.
Watch for exclusive photos on Friday.
Time capsule discovered at former Schwai’s By Judy Steffes Sept. 6, 2014
It’s like a Nancy Drew / Hardy Boys mystery: The case of the message in a bottle.
Earlier this week a time capsule was discovered at the old Schwai’s restaurant on Cedar Creek Road. “It was Monday afternoon and we just started to demo the wall,” building owner Kevin Zimmer said. “We were peeling it back to the original structure and as soon as I found it I thought that’s not insulation.”
Nestled behind four various layers of wall, next to a beam, about waist high was a small package, about the size of a loaf of raisin bread. Wrapped tightly in stiff, gnarly, white wallpaper was a 12-ounce glass jar with a screw-top lid.
“When I opened the jar I figured it was something pretty cool,” Zimmer said.
The white lid was stamped in green writing; Marie’s Blue Cheese Dressing – 59 cents. Inside, six sheets of rolled up note paper dated April 24, 1972 and a message written in cursive by long-time store owner Lu Ann Schwai.
“It’s a lovely letter,” said Zimmer.
The note begins, “Hi! We are remodeling this place to make it larger for our tavern and bottle goods business. The store was no longer profitable so therefore we are using this space for bottle goods. The reason we are discontinuing the store is because the large chain stores are open on Sunday. We will keep on with our homemade sausage until the State Health Dept. would close us up.”
The note provides detail of the Schwai family business, “making baloney, summer sausage, ring blood, and head cheese.” Prices included, “pork sausage is $1.09 per pound, ham sandwiches are ¼ lb. and sell for 75cents, 16 oz. tub of beer is 35 cents.”
There’s a paragraph on the history of the building and business which dates to 1941 when “Mr. and Mrs. Joe Schwai, Sr. bought the place …and sold it to their son Joe in 1957. Joe’s dad died in 1950 and Marie the mother with sons Bob & Joe ran it until 1955. Then Joe’s Marie ran it and on July 1, 1957 Joe and Lu Ann bought it.”
Zimmer has rehabbed quite a few old buildings. He’s found personal artifacts like jewelry and birth certificates but said there’s nothing like finding something intentionally put into a wall that was meant to be discovered later.
“It was neat how she (Lu Ann Schwai) mentioned all the kids by name,” Zimmer said. “The note shows the Schwai’s have a very strong family bond. They were passionate about what they were doing, they were passionate about the building but more importantly they were a family that was making changes and decisions that they thought was right for the day.”
Tommy Schwai, owner of Schwai’s Meat & Sausage in Fredonia, sold the Cedar Creek building in 2005. “That sounds like something ma would do,” said Schwai about the note in the glass jar. “She always said when you do that you should put something in it because when they rip up the wall and find it they can read about what happened. Too bad she didn’t put any money in there.”
Schwai remembered the extensive remodeling of the store in 1972. “They tore all that out, then I really had to work,” joked Schwai who, at the time, was just a freshman in high school.
Over 64 years, three generations of Schwai’s ran the Schwai’s Country Store Tavern & Hall. There were baptisms, weddings, funerals, fish fries, St. Patrick’s Day blasts, and tiddlywinks tournaments. Lu Ann Schwai died in June 2008.
Archives at the Washington County Historical Society Research Center show the building dated to the 1800s and was normally home to a saloon, dance hall, and/or hotel. Some of the early names associated with the property include the Bibinger family (1846), A.B. Mueller Hotel and Sample Room (early 1920s), Albert Heidtke (who built a slaughterhouse) and previous owner Peter Gruehl (some spelled it Gruel) who then sold to Joe Schwai Sr.
At the end of the note Lu Ann Schwai adds a P.S. She wrote about the remodel of the store with a service elevator and walk-in cooler. How they remodeled the tavern and had “2 stools in the womens” toilet.
At the close she writes, “Now we must put in a new bar and we are finished with all we wanted to do. Then we must save for retirement. The Schwai’s from God’s Country. The center of the world where all good friends meet.”