MOUNT VERNON — When it was torn down in early January, the building at 22 E. Ohio Ave., often simply referred to as The Office Bar, revealed a small mystery.
When an old sandstone foundation associated with a frame house that was once on the property was taken out, it revealed a couple tombstones.
One was for Rachel Chambers, wife of Benjamin, who died Feb. 14, 1883, at the age of “80 years, one month and 17 days.”
The stones are laying at the edge of the cleared lot. Chambers’ stone is laying face up and can be read. One of the other blocks is clearly its base, as it has the name “Chambers.” The other base stone has the name “Johnson” on it, but the columnar stone has no visible writing on the exposed surfaces. It is frozen to the ground and may have an inscription on the other face.
Local developer Mark Ramser, who owns the property, said the stones are being researched.
However, part of the mystery has already been resolved. The stone for Rachel Chambers, said Safety-Service Director Joel Daniels, came from Mound View Cemetery, where it was replaced at some time with a stone that contains her name, her husband, Benjamin, who died in 1898, and their son, William, who died in 1904. It is a newer, black granite stone.
Daniels said the cemetery does not have a record of when the Chambers stone was replaced. It appears the stones were probably stuck in a basement or used to fill in a hole and forgotten.
Before it was torn down, the building was known as the home of The Office Bar and a couple upstairs apartments. But for 40 years it was the home of John Zuccaro, Bro. & Co. Wholesale Commission Merchants, later Zuccaro Fruit Co.
It is not clear when the building was erected. In the 1896 plat book at the Recorder’s Office, a frame building was listed on the site, but by the time Zuccaro’s shows up, the familiar brick and stone building was in place.
John Zuccaro was born in Italy in 1888, according to a story in the 2006 Mount Vernon News Looking Glass publication, and learned English after coming to the U.S. He and his brothers, James and Frank, initially came to Columbus, but moved to Mount Vernon and opened the fruit and vegetable supply business in April 1913, only a month after the great flood of that year.
A couple years later, according to a story in the March 23, 1953, News, Frank and James returned to Columbus, where James eventually became the owner of the Central Ohio Fruit Co.
In the article on his retirement in 1953, John recalled that in the early days the company got most of its produce from Columbus by rail, then distributed them by horse and wagon or mule team and wagon to customers around the county. A trip to Gambier, Howard and Danville would consume all of one day, and a trip to Brandon and Bladensburg was another day.
“We had the first big truck to be put in use here,” John recalled in that story. “That must have been in 1915. The road between here and Columbus was so bad in those days that when it was muddy we never knew if the truck would get through or not.”
An old photo still in the family’s possession shows the old chain-driven REO truck, the first of its kind in Mount Vernon, as well as a horse-drawn wagon and a wagon drawn by a pair of donkeys. John’s daughter, Mary Kilkenny, recalled a couple features of the store. She said there was a large walk-in refrigerator upstairs and a pair of rooms in the basement, one warmer and one cooler. The warmer room was used for allowing bananas, which were bought still green on large stalks, to ripen. The basement room, she said, were fed by a conveyor belt, which was use to send large items, such as large crates of potatoes, downstairs.
She thought a man named Kramer Pribble once rented space for a bar and restaurant in the building, but wasn’t sure of the time period. When Zuccaro sold the business in 1953, he sold it to George Wolfe, who was described as having been in the restaurant and grocery business, but the article said nothing about ownership of the building.