Albert Bothman Ford Dealership - Edwardsville's Route 66 History #6

Here's #6 in Edwardsville's Route 66 history - this article just ran in the July issue of The Prairie Land Buzz.

Edwardsville Garage and the Ford Dealerships

Do you ever drive by a modern business and wonder what historic building used to stand on that spot? If you've asked that question when passing the The Bank of Edwardsville on W. Vandalia Street in Edwardsville, this article might help. It's the story of one of the business buildings that previously occupied that block.

The Edwardsville Garage and Auto Supply Company was established at 306 W. Vandalia Street in 1913 by Thomas Fahnestock, Walter Kriege, and Olin Giese. Giese took over the location as sole owner in September 1915 and later renamed the business Giese Motor Company. Fahnestock became a chauffeur and Kriege went on to manage the Imperial Bakery.

Giese operated his motor company for a few more years, but in 1920, he acquired the Kriege Building on Main Street. There he opened the Oh Gee (his initials, get it?) Theatre. The new theater was an immediate success. According to the local newspaper, on opening night the crowd was “so large that many were unable to see either of the two shows.” The Oh Gee provided some stiff competition for the well-established Wildey Theatre, located just three blocks away. The Wildey bought out the Oh-Gee and hired Giese – known as “Gee” to most everyone he knew - away from his own movie house.

Giese, already a popular and well-known businessman in town, was a creative and well-loved manager at the Wildey. In 1925, after a surgery which carried the expectation of a quick recovery, the 33-year-old Giese unexpectedly died. Over 2,500 people attended his funeral, held on the Wildey stage. The theater was closed for one day only, the Sunday of the funeral.

Returning to our story, Albert Bothman began a Ford dealership about 1920 on W. Vandalia Street one block east of the Edwardsville Garage building. But soon after, he acquired the former Edwardsville Garage and there established the Bothman Motor Company, advertising “Fords and Fordson Tractors.” A September 22, 1921, article in the Columbia Evening Missourian states that Bothman “will launch a plan to interest farmers in using tractors and tractor-drawn machinery in cultivating farms. He has leased a 60-acre farm at Edwardsville, where there will be daily demonstrations in the preparations of soil for planting wheat.”

During the 1920s, Bothman added Lincoln vehicles to his showroom and his twin sons, Clem and Clyde Bothman, joined the family firm. Albert Bothman and Sons was in the right place at the right time when Route 66 was designated in 1926. The “Main Street of America” passed through the heart of Edwardsville, including a stretch on W. Vandalia Street, right in front of Bothman's Ford garage.

An advertisement in 1930 stated, “You may drive any of the following cars on 5 DAYS TRIAL – 30-DAY GUARANTEE - 1928 Pontiac Coach, 1929 Pontiac Coach, 1928 Chevrolet Coach, 1929 A Tudor, 1928 A Roadster, 1929 A Coupe.” In the 1930s, Clem and Clyde Bothman opened a gas station, the Bothman Neighborhood Service Station, at 120 Hillsboro Avenue.

The Bothman family, although originally from St. Louis, had moved to Edwardsville about 1922 and had established themselves as an integral part of their adopted community. Albert was active in county politics and served variously as a director on the Edwardsville Loan Association board, head of the Edwardsville Chamber of Commerce, and President of the Madison County Country Club. Albert's wife Katherine was active with the Women's Monday Club and the Eastern Star Auxiliary.

A full-page advertisement in the Edwardsville Intelligencer in 1929 announced the addition to the company of Albert Bothman's sons, Clyde and Clem, and the change of business name from Bothman Motor Company to Albert Bothman and Sons.

But in 1934, tragedy suddenly struck. Returning home from a Halloween party, Albert and Katherine Bothman were traveling on Highway 112/Bunker Hill Road when “their automobile caromed off a bridge railing into a dry creek bed,” according to a local newspaper. The car overturned and landed in the creek bed below the bridge. The following morning, the car was spotted and the bodies were discovered. Katherine had apparently died from a broken neck and Albert had drowned while unconscious in the shallow water. Sons Clyde and Clem were 25 years old, and their sister Katherine, named for their mother, was just 19.
A row of Fords were lined up to tempt customers at Albert Bothman and Sons Ford dealership at 302 W. Vandalia Street/Route 66 in this photo. Other businesses at the time on the block included Desmond's Plumbing, to the right of Bothman Ford. (Photo courtesy of Edwardsville Historic Preservation Commission.)
Albert Bothman and Sons staff line up for a photo in front of the service garage. (Photo courtesy of Edwardsville Historic Preservation Commission.)
Life went on, and during the 1940s and 1950s, it was business as usual for the Bothman and Sons Ford dealership on W. Vandalia/Route 66. The business continued to offer Ford sales and service, with Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury automobiles and Firestone tires. Used car lots in a couple different locations were added.

In 1964, the Ford dealership was taken over by a company called Campus Ford Inc., with George Little Jr. serving as the president and manager. Campus Ford advertised “authorized Ford sales and service,” but the business was short-lived and closed in the spring of 1965.

A new Ford agency was established in May 1965 by Ernest Knowles in the building, which Knowles leased from the Bothmans. Knowles, who came to Edwardsville with his wife and three daughters, had previously operated a Ford dealership in McLeansboro, Illinois, for six years.

The Bothman twins operated a used car lot for a couple years, but soon retired. Clem Bothman died in 1970 at age 61 and his brother Clyde passed away in 1973 at age 64.

Knowles Ford, Inc. continued to operate until 1980, offering Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury automobiles, service, used cars, and auto rentals. In 1976, The Bank of Edwardsville constructed a new headquarters on the block, necessitating the removal of several older buildings. By 1981, the Edwardsville Garage/Ford dealership building no longer existed and its 70-year run as an automobile garage was over. After 60 years of Ford dealerships at 306 W. Vandalia Street, Edwardsville was left without a Ford dealer.