Pen art

Bonnie Karraker holds the sketch she made of the "Toothpick Buidling." The building at 302-304 NW Second Street was torn down in the 1950s. Karraker used the pencil sketch as a basis for his pen and ink drawing of the building.

In among all the two and three story brick buildings in downtown Abilene at the end of the 19th century sat an odd, narrow, two-story building with three windowed spires at the corner of Second and Broadway. It was so distinctive with its stick architecture that it picked up the nickname “Toothpick Building.”

It was an “iconic” building, said Abilene Realtor Stewart Etherington, who used to visit his grandfather Stewart’s real estate office on the second floor of the building.

Etherington remembers 12-foot ceilings decorated with tin.

A wide porch covered the sideway out to the street curb.

The building was torn down in the late 1950s when Citizens Bank next door expanded, but artist Bonnie Karraker has revived its memory in a pen-and-ink drawing taken from a photograph.

She will sign prints of her drawing from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Abilene Downtown Antique Mall. She also has notecards made from the drawing and is also willing to sell the original.

Karraker, who has drawn several historic Abilene buildings, chose to render this one in pen and ink instead of the watercolors she has used in the others.

Karraker makes sketches before she paints her subjects.

“When I made the sketch, I got to thinking, that’s going to be hard to paint. I think I would like it better in pen and ink because of all the lines,” Karraker said.

Besides the lines, there are also many tiny places that appear better in black and white, she said. There’s just so much detail that would get lost if she used colors, Karraker said.

She started the project because one day someone talking about her other paintings asked Karraker if she had ever painted the Toothpick Building.

“I said ‘what is that?’” Karraker said.

She couldn’t find much information or pictures. There are only a few out there, she said. Abilene artist Orlando Wilson had done a painting, but there wasn’t much more information to be found.

German cigar-maker Albert Lenze came to Abilene in 1884 with his wife, Catherine, and their Amazon parrot Laura purchased in New York City. Lenze worked for cigar-maker George Meyer for a time, then bought the business and rented space in “Vanderbelt’s old stand,” according to Abilene historian James Holland, writing for the April 10, 2017, Reflector-Chronicle. The stand became the “Little Red Store” in the Toothpick Building.

Lenze bought the building in July 1895 for $2,400, eventually moving his cigar factory there.

One can imagine he did a brisk business from train passengers wanting fresh tobacco, pipes and hand-rolled cigars while they were waiting at the train depot just across the street. He sold wholesale and retail and was a successful Abilene businessman.

Hank Royer sent Karraker some information about the building which once also housed the law offices of Royer and Royer.

Etherington said recently that he found detailed scale plans for all four sides of the Toothpick Building in Model Railroad magazine.

Contact Jean Bowers at

Contact Tim Horan at

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