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Restrooms on Square not a new idea
Bank Back in the Day
This interesting photo of the Commercial & Savings Bank, was taken in the early 1900s, shortly after it was built. This is the view from the southeast, showing the back side of the building. Other views of the bank can be seen in the pictorial histories. Keep an eye on the northeast corner of the square where work on installing some much-needed restrooms and more will begin later this year. / Photo supplied

The Monroe square has been attracting many visitors for almost two centuries, and it has been in need of public restrooms most of that time. If the Courthouse is open, there is a restroom there. But it is closed in the evenings and on the weekends when there might be even more people gathering on the square. Because of the terrain, it can also be inconvenient to access. If you patronize one of the restaurants or taverns in the area, you can use their restrooms. But many of the other businesses do not even have a restroom on the street level. 

This issue was first addressed in the January 22, 1902 issue of the Monroe Evening Times. The Womans Club had met the previous week and had a discussion about establishing a “Women’s Rest, for the benefit and convenience of those who come to Monroe to trade or meet.” They stated that the project, wherever tried, had proven to be a great boon, was heartily appreciated, and agreed that such a place was needed in Monroe. They planned to have a sitting room and ordinary toilets and closets similar to those available in other towns no larger than Monroe. With the Womans Club, WRC, and WCTU working together to furnish and keep up the place, it was believed that the business people would provide some aid. The article went on to say that this was not the first time that this matter had been mentioned in the Times. “Monroe should not pass another season without moving in the matter. It can be maintained by small contributions when once under way.”

I saw no more mention of restrooms in the newspapers until 14 years later when the headline said that the county restroom would be open on Wednesday evenings. Mayor John Etter understood the need for the comfort station and restroom on band concert night and requested to meet with county authorities.  He then met with County Chairman Fred Trukenbrod and Sheriff Matt Solbraa. It was announced on May 26, 1916 that “hereafter on Wednesday evening during the summer season, while concerts are being given by the Monroe Hussar Band on the public square, the rest room and comfort station in the basement of the court house will be open for the ladies. New electric lights will be placed in the restroom and also in the basement corridors, so there will be ample illumination.” A lattice partition was also to be erected to shut off that section of the basement frequented by the men. All males were barred.  

It was yet another seven years until a “permanent public restroom” was established. Mrs. Willis Ludlow, chairman of the committee in charge of furnishing the restroom, announced on March 22, 1923 that they hoped to open in the Fitzgibbons building (1717 11th Street — the building that formerly housed Marcos) by April 1. At this time they still needed a library table, a cot, and one more mirror. Members of the committee were busy on the day of the announcement staining, varnishing, painting, and putting up shades. The decorating had already been completed; the plumbing was complete and all of the lights had been installed.

It was shared on November 21, “The season of summer tourists has passed by, but the restroom sponsored by the Monroe Woman’s Club still serves as a public convenience much in demand.” As many as 22 young women would take their lunches from the high school to the facility to eat. There was no cafeteria in the school then, so city students would go home for lunch. Students from the rural districts would have to walk or ride many miles to school, so were not able to go home for lunch. 

“They are deprived from the steaming hot meals other students find waiting for them on snow white tablecloths, but they welcome the opportunity to enjoy their noonday lunch in the pleasant, homey atmosphere of the restroom. Each young woman eats a cold lunch from a napkin in her lap after which she carries her crumbs to a basket and thus keeps the room tidy.” Some of them would leave after eating to make room for others who wished to rest there. 

All of the rural students who had carried their lunches in previous years were assembled in Lincoln School, across the street south of the high school. [The high school at this time was located where the middle school is now located.] The boys and girls would eat in a separate room. L. R. Creutz, superintendent of schools, welcomed the restroom being available for the young women. “Being locked up in a school room during the noon hour and having to remain there during the entire day is irksome for the average school student, and the change of atmosphere just for a short time, is refreshing and inspires a desire to get down to work afterward.”

I’m not sure how long this public restroom lasted. It was listed at that address in the 1927-28 and 1930 city directories, but not in 1933. From then until now, there has not been a public restroom available when the Courthouse is closed. That is about to change as the City of Monroe now owns the 0.14-acre lot on the northeast corner of the square where the Commercial & Savings Bank used to stand. Main Street Monroe is raising funds and plans to construct a pocket park on this site with no tax dollars being used. It will include a public restroom for men, one for women, plus a family/unisex one. These will be open all day and evening — even on the weekends. In addition, the park will contain a garden area, path lighting, USB charging technology, benches and tables, bike racks, and trees. If enough money is raised, a pergola, a computer kiosk with electronic information about Monroe activities, an e-bike charging station, and a timeline containing the history of Monroe will be added. Watch for the changes to happen later this year. 

— Matt Figi is a Monroe resident and a local historian. His column will appear periodically on Saturdays in the Times. He can be reached at or at 608-325-6503.