A Ghost in Metamora?

Submitted by John and Phyllis Dietel

A Ghost In Metamora?

Does Metamora really have a ghost? It sure does……. A Ghost Sign, that is! Facing the west side of the Courthouse on the face of the structure located at 111 East Partridge Street, visitors and residents alike can see for themselves the predecessor of today’s advertising billboards. A large ghost of a sign is barely visible today but in its hay day, it was a work of art probably created by a traveling sign painter who specialized in creating advertising pieces on the sides of buildings.

This particular sign boasts America’s Cup Coffee which was a brand of coffee made in Peoria, Illinois in the early 1900’s. On February 6, 2000, the Peoria Journal Star ran an article on ghost signs in the Peoria area and included Metamora’s early "billboard". The very next day John and Phyllis Dietel, owners of the building where the sign appears, were surprised to find Mr. Art Oakford knocking on their front door. It seems Mr. Oakford, now the Executive Director of Lakeview Museum, is the son of the man who created America’s Cup Coffee!

Mr. Oakford asked if John and Phyllis would like to know the story behind the sign – the answer was a big YES! Art’s father was Aaron Samuel Oakford who was born in 1845 in a log cabin near what is now the National Guard Center at Peoria Regional Airport. Early in life Aron worked for a retail store, however in 1868 he opened Henry, Oakford & Fahnestock Wholesalers. In 1939 this grocery supplier became Oakford Company.

Art Oakford worked at his fathers company throughout his high school years and on in to college. He has many fond memories of such things as barges delivering coffee to Peoria on the Illinois River. The coffee was picked up by wagon and taken to the company’s headquarters in the middle of the 300 block of South Washington on the river side of the street. There it was toasted and bottled in glass bottles for eventual sale on grocery store shelves. The top of the line coffee (and other canned goods) were labeled Blue Ribbon.

Art also remembers a large round table, which is still in his family, being used for "tastings". Tasters gathered around the table and moved samples of the coffee on a lazy- susan for each persons’ savoring experience. The ultimate goal was for every cup of coffee brewed for the brand to taste the same day after day, week after week. Thus the tasters job was to see to it the goal was met.!

As for the product name, "America’s Cup", it seems the entire Oakford Family had a love of sailing and where especially fond of the America’s Cup Race. There are 2 urns on the coffees’ label which are replicas of the races prized trophy. The owners of the building on Partridge Street, John and Phyllis Dietel, were given a glass America’s Cup coffee jar, complete with label, from the World War 2 era (early 1940’s) by the late Nick Williams and Phillip Fischer has given them an almost perfect America’s Cup tea box which still contains tea – mighty old tea!!!

Return to  Yesteryears