When the Midway name was predominant

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 11, 2002

For over 50 years, the Midway name was a part of Albert Lea’s business life at four to five locations. And the people who were responsible for this were the descendants of Jorgen Jensen.

The changes in focus for Jorgen’s business career has to be one of the most unusual in the city’s history. Prior to 1898 he was a cooper, making butter tubs and wooden barrels for area creameries. Then Jorgen started the Albert Lea Woolen Mills in 1898 on the north side in a part of the city once called New Denmark. In 1905 he opened J. Jensen and Co., which later became Jensen Bros. Clothing Co. on East Clark Street.

One of the persons in this business was his son, Art. In 1922 Art Jensen decided on a career change from the clothing business to that of selling and servicing of automobiles. His father provided financial assistance and left the clothing store to join his son in the new venture.

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The name selected for this new business at the corner of South Newton Avenue and East William Street, and across from the post office, was Midway Motor Co.

Just why the name Midway was selected may now be the basis for a slight local mystery from the past. Maybe there was an intent to show that the city was about half way across the south part of the state from South Dakota to Wisconsin. Then again, there might have been a suggestion that the city was midway between the Twin Cities and Des Moines, Iowa (in reality, this isn’t too accurate). Still another basis for the midway name could have been its location in the middle of the city.

(There has been a suggestion that the name of Midway has a connection with an island out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where a famous World War II battle took place. However, the battle took place in 1942, 20 years after the Albert Lea firm started operations.)

Midway Motor Co. became a dealer for Studebaker autos, sold Texaco gasoline and motor oil at its service station, handled Goodrich tires, and serviced and repaired vehicles.

In time, the quarter-block complex of buildings consisted of the Albert Lea Transfer Co., the Yellow Cab Co., and Midway Motor Co. Shortly after noon on Aug. 16, 1929, a mechanic at the Albert Lea Transfer Co. was working on a truck when it backfired. This caused the truck’s gasoline tank to explode. The large quantify of grease, motor oil, tires and other flammable materials added fuel to the flames. Intensifying the excitement that day was a series of explosions as gasoline tanks on the vehicles exploded.

What resulted was one of the city’s major fires which destroyed the buildings of the three firms and threatened nearby buildings (including the post office). A total of 52 vehicles, according to the Tribune, were lost in the fire.Those vehicles were new, used, and customers’ cars being serviced or repaired.

The Midway firm was rebuilt with the main structure laid out at an angle to the corner to give the place more of a traditional service station look. The Studebaker dealership was replaced in 1935 with the Chrysler-Plymouth line. In 1940 an expansion project resulted in the brick building also being painted white. And in 1950 the sales of new cars was discontinued and the firm switched to service operations.

Jorgen Jensen died in January 1945; Art Jensen died in January 1967. Through the years as members of the Jensen family became more involved in the business, the Midway name was eventually used for other activities.

Across the alley, at 214 Elizabeth Ave., was the Midway Machine Shop. About three blocks away, at the corner of East Clark Street and Babcock Avenue (now East Main Street) was the Midway Sub, a combination of cafe and service station. Just to the east at the Katherine Street corner was the Midway Dairy Bar, one of the city’s first drive-ins.

In July 1972 the Midway Motor Co. site was purchased by Peoples Savings and Loan Association and soon converted to the present office building. After five decades, this part of the

Midway name faded away.

In time, the Midway Machine Shop building became the site for Geno’s Plumbing, Albert Lead Radiator and Cooling Systems, and Custom Auto Upholstery. The Midway Sub and Midway Dairy Bar locations are now part of a parking lot and McDonald’s Restaurant.

The Midway Sports Center, 1100 S. Broadway Ave., owned by Milt Pentz (a Jensen relative) sold and serviced recreation and water vehicles until 1975, according to a listing in the city directory.

The last listing in the city directory using the Midway name was in 1977 for Midway Auto Sales, 2100 E. Main St.