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Former Kam Wah Restaurant Demolished To Make Way For New Waterville Bridge

The Kam Wah Restaurant at the corner of River Road and Mechanic Street in Waterville was demolished on January 16 to make way for the construction of the new Waterville bridge, which begins this spring. MIRROR PHOTO BY KAREN GERHARDINGER

BY RANDY STUDER | WATERVILLE HISTORICAL SOCIETY — In 1929, a small gas station was built on River Road in Waterville, at the base of the bridge. Christian Haulund of Maumee chose this location in Waterville for his new Hi-Speed Gas Station, in part because it was on the main road between Toledo and Defiance. Haulund was a partner of the Maumee-based Green-walt and Hauland Distributing Company, which had four Hi-Speed Gas Stations, including one in Grand Rapids and two in Maumee. Hi-Speed Gas was the brand name of gas and oil products from the Hickok Oil Company of Toledo. Waterville resident Grover Johnston, a World War I veteran, was the first operator of the station. During World War II, Haulund had to cut back in his gas and oil business because of gasoline rationing and shortages, so he closed the Waterville and Grand Rapids locations, said his grandson, Thomas D. Hauland. He remembers riding along on the tanker truck hauling gas from Hickok Oil to the gas stations. The old gas station building sat empty until 1949, when Gordon Fritz of Toledo did extensive remodeling. On July 18, 1949, Fritz and Cal Rady opened the River Road Grill. Rady had been a partner in the Village Kitchen for the previous four years. The August 23, 1949 issue of the Anthony Wayne Standard featured an advertisement for a Sunday chicken dinner at the River Road Grill. Cecile Weckerly and Cecile Bierbaum (known has the “two Ceciles”) did the cooking, along with the River Road Grill girls – Doris Amstutz, Carol Gingrich, Jean Kerr and Jean Lahr. Bonnie Heminger recalled stopping into the grill in 1951 with her then-boyfriend. “Gordon sat down and talked to us like we were old friends,” she said, adding that Fritz reminded her of Arthur Godfrey, a radio and TV announcer and entertainer. In August 1957, the River Road Grill was sold to James M. and Lela L. Poole. The Pooles were the former proprietors of the Johnny’s Sandwich Shop in Maumee. The shop didn’t last long, however, and ownership reverted to Gordon Fritz in February 1960. A few months later, Tom and Clara Reynolds of Toledo took over the operation of the River Road Grill. They did not operate it very long, either, and in 1961, Richard “Dick” Neely took over the operation and it became Neely’s River Road Grill. This became the breakfast hangout for men heading to Riverby Hills Golf Club on Saturdays, according to WHS historian Phyllis Witzler. Dick Neely bought the business and property on February 6, 1968 from Madelyn Fritz. A short time later, he renamed the restaurant the Village Inn. In 1991, Joseph and Jennifer Lee bought the Village Inn and renamed it Lee’s Restaurant, featuring Chinese and American food. The Lees added a dining room to the front of the building, and a bar. In 1992, Pearl and Henry Fok opened The Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant at 105 S. 3rd St., where Shawn’s Irish Tavern is now located. In May of 1999, Jennifer Lee sold the River Road property to the Foks, who relocated the Kam Wah Chinese Restaurant to the new location. In 2016, the state of Ohio bought the restaurant property along with the house behind it for the approach for the new Waterville bridge. Both buildings were demolished on January 16.

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