History of Willard’s Furs presented at Morning Optimists

The Marshalltown Morning Optimist Club held its weekly meeting Tuesday at The Brew House. President Chuck Bailey opened the meeting by leading the Pledge of Allegiance. John Hall provided the invocation. Bing McHone had the correct answer to the riddle that had been posed in an earlier email message to members. Bailey reminded members of the Labor Day flag raising on Sept. 5, with storage sheds to open at 6:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Bailey introduced Jonathan Hull as the guest speaker. Hull presented a slideshow history of his family’s business, Willard’s Furs and Fashions. The title of his presentation was “The Story of a Five Generation Family Business.” The business had its beginnings when Hull’s great-great grandfather Hiram Willard moved from Maine to Galena, Ill., where he founded a tannery, and then later moved his business to Marshall, Iowa. Willard’s daughter married a man with the last name Hull, thus creating a connection between the Willard and Hull families. In Marshall, later named Marshalltown, the business involved the tanning of pelts, manufacturing the coats, and selling them in a store, as well as through catalogs. The business handled such internationally grown pelts as monkey, jaguar, polar bear and leopard. At one time the business created hats as well as coats and was known as Willard’s Fur and Millinery.

Hull’s presentation included many old photographs of Main Street Marshalltown in the area of the Willard’s business in its early days. The trolley and tracks were visible in photos taken before and for a time after the coming of automobiles. Evident across the street from the Willard’s fur business was a petroleum business owned by LeRoy Randall Willard, a relative of Hull’s family. That Willard was the original owner of the well-known Willard Mansion on West Main Street. Hull became a part of the fur business when he returned to his native Marshalltown in 1982. He said that he is still selling furs, but the store now sells mainly women’s ready to wear, and operates a tux rental in addition.

Bailey closed the meeting by leading the recitation of the Optimist Creed. The Marshalltown Morning Optimist Club meets Tuesdays at 6:30 a.m. at The Brew House. Guests are welcome. The club’s website is at www.morningoptimists.org.


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