The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

History

September 27, 2013

Old Time Barbershops

This is the front room of 92 Main Avenue, which was perhaps the oldest barbershop in Iowa, and owned by Herman Dreesen. In the picture from the left are Charlie Ashton, Herman “Pickles” Dreesen, and Charlie Overkamp, from a picture owned by Jack and Mary Soesbe.

 

Old time barbershops were for so much more than a haircut! They were social clubs and a time for conviviality among men. In really olden days, two hundred years ago, a red and white swirly barber pole signified surgical or dental services, like blood-letting, common in George Washington’s day. That soon gave way to shops of the 1850 -1950 era, when a trip to the barber shop might entail a “shave and haircut… two bits” (a quarter). It might also include meeting dozens of friends, getting a bath, having a shoeshine, playing cards, and, once shaving became popular, barbers used a razor strop to sharpen a straight-edge and have at your face.

 

The old tonsorial experts (barbers) first learned their trade by apprenticing; later, they had to go to barber school. “Little Harry” Turner hung around the Montgomery Shop in South Clinton and began honing his skills as a teenager… when he was even smaller.

 

All the barbers seemed to have nicknames: “Shaky Ed” Montgomery; “Wigs” Clausen, up on North Fourth near Bartels’ Garage, where Don Davis would go through the bar to get “Wigs” to come forward and give a cut. There was, of course, “Ripper” Collins, Johnny “Blue Nose” Hanson, and “Pickles” Dreesen. Ahhh, “Pickles” Dreesen.

 

Dreesen had, perhaps, the oldest barbershop in Iowa, on Main Ave. by Lyons High School. He was way more than a barber, starting at his location in 1901; later selling it to Charlie Overkamp, who was followed by Jack Soesbe, who ended its reign in 2005. “Pickles” was a terrific businessman… and as tight as they come! He cashed checks for ten cents and his fortune grew, until at one time he owned several Main Avenue buildings plus several farms. His home was the Polly Ball House on North 2nd Street. His given name was Herman, but everyone in town knew him as “Pickles.”

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