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Prime Focus

Bostwick's, Olde Towne and Jackie

Story by Teresa Nguyen

June, 2020

To see a business grow from a small business to a bigger business is just very exciting. I believe there are a lot of good people here and it's our people who make this community great.

~ Jackie Wood

Our Downtown Queen
 
On a steamy, summer afternoon in 2020, I don my COVID-19 preventative mask and walk to the wide entrance of Olde Towne Mall, eager to snap a few photos and meet with community icon, Jackie Wood. 

Jackie manages this historic office building on Main Street in downtown Janesville. The location holds an amazingly rich history of successful retail in the heart of our community’s original business district, beginning with J.M. Bostwick’s dry goods store. I’m excited to learn some new things from Jackie.

A petite woman with a big smile, Jackie Wood is loved by many throughout this community, and not simply because she has an adorable charm, a contagiously friendly nature and a sharp mind. It’s because she inspires us with her ambition and with her deep passion for this community, a place we all call home. 
Jackie should be crowned Queen of Downtown. She'd laugh at that. One can easily spot her attending numerous downtown events throughout the year making us wonder if, like Hermione in Harry Potter, she holds a secret Time Turner, enabling her to be in two places at once! 

She works tirelessly in her position as Olde Towne Mall manager, but also in her commitment to helping our downtown remain vibrant and attractive. She actively works to help Janesville grow as a wonderful place to visit, work and live. In doing so, Jackie has contributed to helping rebuild our local economy, especially in the business corridors of Main and Milwaukee Streets.
We step into her office on the lower level of the building, where the cool air is a refreshing relief from the mid-summer heat and humidity stifling southern Wisconsin. Her desk contains piles of papers, stacks in every corner, and I’m amazed that she manages without a secretary! But it is all organized chaos, as she flits from pile to pile, desk drawer to cabinet, knowing exactly where to find the documents she gathers to share with me. 
Though Jackie has lived many decades, she is much like the Energizer Bunny, as enthusiastic and positive as a 22-year-old, who just landed her dream job. 
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Jackie Wood
Photo by Teresa Nguyen
She quickly prints off copies for me, then eagerly leads me through the Olde Towne Mall to discuss the old photos hanging in the public spaces. She tells me stories of the interesting history of this old building here in the center of town. It’s the kind of tour I absolutely love - filled with details of influential people, dates and old photos. Though she passes them every day, she describes each historic photo with the same level of excitement as someone seeing it for the first time.
Today, it is your turn, as the reader, to explore this wonderfully detailed tour, a fascinating look back in time. Let’s follow Mr. Joseph M. Bostwick through the decades, through the years, all the way up to the present day at the Olde Towne Mall. Enjoy this incredible story of a young entrepreneur who came from New York with his family, having the ambition, at just 22 years old, to start his own business. It tells of how his store continued to thrive with his like-minded sons; a story of great success, reflecting the changes in our growing community. 
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Stories matter. The many stories of our history show us who we were and how far we have come. They can inspire us to do more and to continue the legacy of those who came before us in our Janesville community.

First, we travel back in time to 186 years ago, to a very small town called Bethany in the county of Genesee in the state of New York…
Bostwicks Arrive in Janesville
1834 - Joseph Morton Bostwick, the second oldest of six children to Joseph and Fanny Bostwick, was born in Bethany, New York.

1847 - At the young age of 13, Joseph arrived in Janesville with his family, who had learned of this new and wonderful frontier woodland, surrounded by rich farm soil along a flowing, wide Rock River. The river connected its people to neighboring communities and beyond. It was the perfect area, filled with opportunities for the new settlers along the Rock River. 

He attended what was called “common school”, but it wasn’t long before Joseph Bostwick left school and began working as a retail store clerk for Baily & Dimock at age 14.
 
1855 - Joseph fell in love and married Harriet Allen, also from Genesee County, NY. They had several children.
First Business
 
Joseph first partnered with William Knowles, buying the J.W. Wheelock store. Then, as an ambitious 22-year-old, J.M. Bostwick partnered with O.K. Bennet to purchase Clark & Co. in 1856, opening their own dry goods store by the name Bennett & Bostwick.

1860’s - A large, two-story Italianate style, cream brick house was built in the Courthouse Hill area (521 E. Court) for Joseph M. Bostwick. The Bostwick carriage house still stands at the rear of the building. Eventually it was purchased by the Cole brothers and is now rented as an apartment home.
1870 - Bostwick joined with M.C.  Smith, opening a store at 4 S. Main. Smith & Bostwick store sold dry goods, clothing and carpets. They occupied a double store, which was described in Janesville’s City Directory as having “a place for everything and everything in its place.”
 
They purchased products directly from manufacturers in New York with the latest styles and patterns. Their business was very successful.

1880 - Joseph’s wife, Harriet (Allen) Bostwick died at the young age of 43. Joseph later married Emma Coryell and together they had had 3 more children.
J.M. Bostwick & Sons
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The Bostwick Home on East Court Street

In 1881, J.M. Bostwick opened his own dry goods and department store, returning to his former location at 16 S. Main.

 

By 1882, Joseph brought on his sons, renaming it J. M. Bostwick & Sons.

1890 - Joseph and sons vacated 16 S. Main and acquired 20-26 S. Main Street, as an expansion of their successful enterprise.

1909 - Joseph M. Bostwick died from a stroke at age 74. He is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery. J.M Bostwick was known as one of Janesville’s earliest success stories, establishing himself as a leader, helping build up the business community and serving on our City Council. Bostwick’s obituary read, “No man has done more for the city he loved so well.”

 
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After Joseph’s death, R.M. Bostwick took over the family business. 

1926 - The Bostwick Store celebrated 70 years with wide coverage in the local news and an “electric lighted” four-tiered anniversary cake! Joseph M. Smith took over as manager.

In 1929, major renovations took place, including the addition of a tan brick store front and Greek tile roofing. There were walls removed to open up space on both the first and second floors, shelves were lowered, aisles were made wider.
 
Several showrooms were built and the departments were expanded. They also installed a fire sprinkler system and an automatic cash machine, modernizing the business to keep up with the times.
The Fabrics and Carpets department at Bostwick's Dry Goods Store on Main Street. The tall, structural pillars on the right are still in Olde Towne Mall.
Lace Pattern
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1926

Celebrating Bostwick's 70th

Anniversary!

1931 - J.M. Bostwick & Sons celebrate their 75th Jubilee store, again with wide coverage and a wired congratulatory note from Wisconsin Governor LaFollette, “Congratulations upon the occasion of your seventy-fifth anniversary of merchandising in southern Wisconsin.” 

1942 - R.M. Bostwick passed away. 

In 1943 - The thriving Main Street department store underwent more renovations.

1945 - Longtime manager, Joseph Smith, took a position as president of Citizens State Bank of Clinton. Salkin & Linhoff purchased Bostwick & Sons and the store was no longer in the family’s control. 
 
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J.M. Bostwick & Sons' 75th Jubilee
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1950’s - Janesville joined the rest of the country in post WWII prosperity and, along with new babies, our downtown businesses were booming! There were several women’s dress shops like Golden Eagle, Elliott’s, Hagen’s and Anderson’s. They all had beautiful window displays of wonderful fashions. The towns folk would flock to the downtown, even just to go window shopping down the street. For the gentlemen, there was, of course, Bostwick’s, the Hub and Rayberg’s.

For jewelry, one could shop at J.J. Smith’s, Zale’s and Dubes Jewelry, which was run by Ken Corey until his death in 2019. Downtown Janesville also brought shoppers to Douglas Hardware, May’s Drug Store, Woolworths and Kealy’s, as well.
 
The late Ken Corey described it as a bustling downtown, where one could find everything and, "at Christmastime, it was so busy that you would have to walk in the street because the sidewalks were full, just to get out of peoples’ way!”  

1960s - In the early part of the decade the interstate I90 was built, running along the east and north sides of Janesville, connecting our community with high speed travel to other major cities in the Midwest. Developers saw the northeast side of Janesville as an ideal area for new growth, both in residential homes and for businesses.

1965 - a Bostwick’s newspaper ad read: “(Bostwick’s is) as much a part of the Bower City as the trees for which it has always been known…Here at Bostwick’s, it’s possible to fill practically any shopping needs under one roof. No trotting form store to store…no frustrating serve-yourself policy. There are always trained, experienced salespeople to help you. That’s service…and that’s quality. Together, they have built Bostwick’s into a Janesville institution.”
1967 - By the late sixties, the northeast area of the city saw its first American “big box” department store chain when K-Mart was built at the intersection of Hwy 26 and 14. 

1970 - With the expanding residential neighborhoods, developer Roger Benjamin began scouting a site to construct a strip mall. He planned to feature a Midwestern discount store chain, Welles. He chose an area of open land in, what was then, the Town of Harmony along Milton Avenue. 
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The Late Ken Corey of Dubes Jewelry
Photo by Teresa Nguyen
Montgomery Ward had already begun to build a store on the site. They joined forces to construct the Janesville Mall adding the Charles V. Weise store (later Bergner’s, then Boston Store). Welles went bankrupt and space was made for JC Penney to join as the 3rd anchor store. 

1972 - To compete with the newly built mall, the downtown Bostwick’s store underwent additional renovations.

1976 -The Bostwick for Men store was opened in the Janesville Mall.

1978 - By the end of the decade, all of the smaller, downtown retail stores struggled to compete with shopping at the new mall and the big box stores. Bostwick’s store in downtown Janesville closed, ending 122 years of a successful business in our community.
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The Olde Towne Mall 

1980 - Jackie married Bill Wood, a widow who had been looking for someone to take to social events. Jackie, loving social events, went to a political event and thought he was an interesting man.

 

1986 - Bill Wood was working as a lawyer at Nowlan & Mouat. Jim Grafft was a client of another lawyer at the firm. Bill and Jim were introduced and discussed purchasing the former Bostwick’s building on Main Street, which had been empty for a few years.

As goes the idiom, “Behind every great man is a great woman and, after the purchase, Jackie managed the Olde Towne Mall, along with some help from Heidi Grafft.

1990 - Olde Towne Mall was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a part of South Main Street's Historic District.
 
1992 - Bill Wood passed away. Jackie continued to manage the building and the rentals.

A couple of years later, Jackie met John Schoof, who owned the Wagner Store. One night, while working late, Jackie went to leave the building. Both she and John happened to go out of the back doors of Olde Towne Mall at the same time. Jackie said, “Well, I’m hungry and I’m going over to The Looking Glass for a hamburger.”

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John responded, “Well, I’ll go with you and I’ll buy you the hamburger.” Jackie noticed that he didn’t eat. On a later occasion, she asked him why that happened. He confessed he was just too nervous! That was basically their first date and they eventually married.

In the mid1990s, Jackie and John Schoof bought half of the partnership.

 

Reflecting on her husbands, Jackie recalled how they were good to her. They respected and supported her in whatever she wanted to do. Jackie had three children, Kellie, Kim, and Graham, nine all together with Bill’s children and John’s.

Hitting Rock Bottom
 
2008 - The summer flood of '08 devastated businesses all along Main and River Streets. No sooner were things cleaned up and new drywall put in when the closing of Janesville’s GM plant hit the headlines.  
 
The resulting exodus of former Janesville GM employees and economic downturn led us into the 2009 recession that gripped the nation.
In 2009, Jackie Wood recieved the Forward Janesville Woman of Excellence Award.

Over the next several years, Janesville’s downtown struggled, while city planners and business leaders worked to find ways Janesville could diversify, to welcome smaller businesses and investors...to survive those challenging times. 
John Schoof died from sudden heart failure in 2012.
 
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Flooded Main Street in front of the United Way in 2008
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On the Upswing
2015 - A group of community leaders, advocates, organizations and city management committed to revitalizing downtown. Joining the City of Janesville were groups such as Downtown Janesville, Inc., the Janesville Performing Arts Center, Forward Janesville, the BID group and ARISE Now. They worked on plans to create an enjoyable downtown filled with retail, restaurants, arts and culture, children’s activities and family fun. 

Jolynn Burden, formerly of the ARISE Now group, noted, “It brings people back to their roots, reminding people of growing up, of coming downtown when they were younger but, at the same time, we’re bringing in a new generation and creating new history.”
2016 - Jackie Wood was the recipeitnt of the RCHS History Makers Award for "a significant contribution towards the history and preservation of Rock County, Wisconsin".

2017 - To kickoff city plans, the deteriorating parking deck over the Rock River was removed.
Work followed on the west bank of the river to create the new Town Square public park with the JP Cullen Memorial Pavilion, The Bubbler interactive water feature, some public art pieces and a large, grassy lawn area.
 
In 2018, city crews completed Festival Street, which can be closed down from a vehicle street to a pedestrian street for special events. Many fun community events have been provided by the Downtown Janesville, Inc. group. 

In 2019, the Milwaukee Street Bridge was rebuilt. 

The year 2020

Some of Olde Towne Mall’s current tenants are the 1st Congressional House Representative’s office (formerly Paul Ryan, currently Brian Steil), the U.S. Post Office, Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Haley’s Sweet Treats Bakery, the Rock Aqua Jays office and much more. There are still a few offices available to rent. Considering the recent downtown improvements and amazing business rejuvenation, it is a prime location!

Near the end of our tour, Jackie pauses near the back windows of the mall, delighted to see the recently completed Blain Gilbertson Family Heritage Bridge, a pedestrian bridge connecting the west bank of the river with the east bank.
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Jackie addresses the audience at a Parker Pen anniversary event with former Excecutive Director of the Rock County Historical Society, Mike Reuter
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The bridge will have a center art sculpture, benches and panels of artwork reflecting our community and businesses. And it leads right to the back door of the mall! Later this year, a new pavilion will be added on this east bank of the Rock River.

For 33 years now, Jackie Wood has managed the Olde Towne Mall.
 
Perhaps her youthful spirit is, in part, due to her keeping active with daily walks throughout the building, walks to downtown from her beautiful, historic home on Courthouse Hill and running around to her many meetings and events in the downtown business district. She loves to stay involved and plans to continue to do so!

It has been a tough first half of the year 2020, with the onset of the global coronavirus pandemic and its economic impact. A part of me wonders what Jackie thinks of it all. As we admire the new construction along the river, I ask Jackie, "Do you have hope?"
 
She smiles and emphatically replies, “Oh yes!”
To inquire about rental space in the Olde Towne Mall, contact Jackie Wood at (608) 752-1661
Jackie Wood, Manager of Olde Towne Mall
Photo by Teresa Nguyen
Sources:
Jackie Wood - June, 2020 Janesville Area Stories Interview
Rock County, Wisconsin: A New History of Its Cities, Villages, Volume 2 By William Fiske Brown
digicoll.library.wisc.edu
findagrave.com
The Janesville Daily Gazette