In 1994, Vandalia celebrated her 175th anniversary with a year-long celebration.
One of the events was a dinner held at the First Baptist Church to honor first families, cities whose charters were granted while Vandalia was the capital (1819-1839), oldest living person in the county and Vandalia’s premier businesses.
Clarence Lockart was recognized at that time, not only for being the oldest businessman in Vandalia, but also for having been in business more years than any of Vandalia’s other merchants.
When the commemorative book, "Vandalia Remembered," was published, Clarence was pictured in his shop, along with glimpses into his life story. At that time, his shop, at 101 S. Fourth St., also served as his home.
Clarence was 14 years old when his father, William, brought him into the business as an apprentice to learn the skills from his grandfather, Emil Stamm, an old-time shoemaker. William had decided to get out of the shoe repair business and take up farming.
I learned something the other evening. When Clarence was brought into his grandfather’s business in 1921, Stamm had already practiced his art for 47 years. My new source of information was Stamm’s obituary from The Vandalia Union newspaper.
Stamm was born on April 2, 1862, in Strassburg, Germany, the son of Anton and Cunigunda Clatt Stamm, and died on Feb. 22, 1934. At the time of his death, he was recognized as Vandalia’s oldest shoemaker, "having conducted the trade for 60 years."
Emil married Louise Neihaus at Vandalia on July 5, 1884. She was the daughter of Henry and Charlotte Briar Niehaus. Emil and Louise were parents of Lilly, who married William Lockart, and sons, William and George Stamm, both predeceasing their father.
He was living in Vandalia when he filed his intention to become a naturalized citizen on Sept. 25, 1884. A little over three years later, on April 2, 1888, Emil Stamm raised his right hand and took the oath of allegiance before a Fayette County judge. His sponsors were A.H. Phillips and John Roth, Vandalia’s premier cigar maker.
Stamm was among the 22 charter members of Vandalia’s first fire company, organized on Oct. 15, 1889.
Clarence recalled that his grandfather had learned the trade in Germany and practiced his skill after arriving in this country by going house to house. There were no factory-made shoes then – all were hand-made.
After his grandfather’s death, the equipment was sold to settle the estate. Clarence was able to get a Springfield friend to finance equipment for his own shop, which he opened at the same location, just north of the former city hall, now home to Vandalia’s police and fire departments.
After 34 years at that site, Charles Evans told him that he would have to move. Evans’ home place stood just north of the shoe shop, and Evans had decided to build the city a library. The land occupied by the shoe shop was needed.
Clarence obtained a five-year lease on the Louie Schutz home, across from the Liberty Theatre, but at the end of the lease could not get an extension. He then worked out a deal with Fred Ritter for the property at 101 S. Fourth St.
Many readers will remember Lockart Shoe Repair. As I go back in my mind and picture myself opening the door to his shop, it is the smell of leather that I remember most. Not only did Clarence repair shoes and saddles, he made bridles, harnesses, belts and jackets.
His shoe repair skills paid off when he was drafted into the army in 1942. He was assigned to the quartermaster in the infantry to repair shoes and to train others to do the work. However, after the invasion of Europe, Lockart’s trailer, used for shoe repair work, was blown up by the Germans.
He was then assigned to infantry duty. Clarence was with the First Infantry Division, one of the first units to land on Omaha Beach. He was within less than a year of being too old for service, under the rules at the time he was drafted. Also, he had four children.
Emil Stamm and his grandson both have an interesting history, and both made history by being honored as Vandalia’s oldest businessman. Those of us who remember Clarence Lockart’s Shoe Repair have a connection to that history.