The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. This week, museum staff tell us about the history of the Levee Restaurant, a popular eatery that was located on Main Street. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.
In 1953, the Weaver building, which had been a grocery store in the past, saw new life as The Levee Restaurant. Located on the north side of Main Street on the levee just off showboat pier, the Levee was opened by Peg Bedell and Josephine Bryan.
By 1955, The Levee was operated by Thelma Eickhoff Roth. It quickly became a loved part of town, not just for Showboat week, but all year long. Thelma was known as “Cookie on the Bridge,” with her famous home-cooked meals and delicious pies.
Larry Wittenbach, in his memories of the Showboat, described an encounter with Thelma while he was helping Showboat star Dinah Shore; “The day before her Showboat appearance I took her and her manager to the stage to do some rehearsing with the band. Afterwards it was getting dark and I asked if they were hungry. I was thinking where on a Monday night we might go. Then I saw a light in the kitchen of the Levee Restaurant which was on the corner right near the Showboat. It was closed but when I rapped on the front windows the owner Thelma Roth who was making her famous pies in the back came up front, unlocked the door, seated us, and brought coffee and warm pie from the oven. Dinah was genuinely ecstatic about the pie, asked Thelma to sit down, and they talked for an hour or more about their mom’s pies and cooking and Dinah’s upbringing down in Tennessee.”
The “Levee Review Club” was a group of eleven retired men who ate breakfast together every day for over 6 years. One of the members wrote the following poems.
Levee Review Club
The ‘Club’ is an ‘unorganized’ group of ‘makes’
That meet each morning to tell true tales
They come each morning by car or truck
And worry about those without such luck.
There are those that walk through rain and snow
They enjoy talking about those they know.
They speak about those from far and near
Because they are the ones held so dear.
They are a happy, humorous crowd
Even though they are occasionally loud.
they review the present, future and past
And usually can answer the questions asked.
Their collective minds know no bounds
Beau as Erin age, knowledge is found
If all of us could follow their leads,
Our tribulations would be small, indeed.
For those of you who are getting older and grey,
Why not stop in and see them someday?
You will find them to be meritorious
For they are, one and all, Emeritus.
We know the ‘God’ is the Supreme Engineer
And as each approaches the Glory near,
We pray that when ‘He’ makes the final decision
‘That there will be no revision.’
A Toast to Thelma Roth
Their hostess is ‘Thelma’ a wonderful girl
That serves foods that are like pearls
She never forgets their birthday dates
And always serves them delicious cakes.
On each cake is a candle bright
And she hopes that everyone is all right.
(Lyle C. Armstrong 1973)
The Levee Restaurant closed its doors on Sunday, August 26, 1973, when Thelma Roth retired and served her last customer after 18 years on Main Street. She said she enjoyed the years because of the many friends she made. It wasn’t just the customers, but also the many wonderful fellow business people.
Her retirement years were spent active in the community. Not only was she an active part of the Vergennes Co-Operative Club, the Cookie of the Bridge just couldn’t give up baking. Only this time, in August of 1974, she was baking for others. Thelma’s bake sale raised over $200 for the Lowell Rescue Unit and was sold out by 1 p.m. It wasn’t enough to bake and sell goods to benefit the community, but as an enticement to get shoppers to come, she offered coffee, donuts and cookies to those who came by to shop.
When she died on January 24, 1984, she was buried at Oakwood Cemetery, just upriver from where she spent so many years of her life, at The Levee.
The featured image, viewable on the website, shows a showboat audience sheltering under the awning of The Levee Restaurant in 1953. The bottom picture shows The Levee Review Club in 1973 with Thelma Roth at her restaurant on the corner of Lafayette and Main Street in Lowell. Pictured are: Lyle Armstrong, Oswald Bieri, Dave Clark, George DeGraw, Clyde Kinyon, Tom LaPreze, Charles Shaw, Frank Stephens, James Sullivan, Ray Purchase, Guy Quiggle.