Archeology Month 3: The Mercantile

Posted by : admin | On : October 28, 2011

By Peggy Smith
Henderson County Historical Society

Not too many places in town had more traffic that the Country Store. There seems to always have been a bench or chairs just outside where many tales were born and some of them even true. Sometimes it was where the “spit and whittle” group met to carve whatever object might be hidden in a block of wood while discussing crops, family, and politics. Store owners might join the conversation once customers were gone and the shelves had been stocked. Stores might be listed as dry goods, while others listed as grocery stores. They sometimes housed the town drug store in the back or even a barber shop. Probably the only place that saw more traffic in the early days of East Texas was the saloon.

The business that stands out in my mind in Anderson County was Ellis Mercantile in Frankston. It was on the corner of Main Street and Hwy 155 and whatever it was that you were needing at the time, Mr. Ellis usually had it and could go right to it. Visitors to the city always had to take a stroll through the store. I never saw so much in one store. J. Louie Burks bought A.F. Shepherd’s Hardware store in 1926 and his son Johnny still owns the store. Jesse Smith was the first grocery store I remember, but before he had the business M.A. Cook had a grocery store there. Back in the late 1800’s my 2nd great grandfatjer was John Wesley Ramsey. He and his wife lifed in the Sandflat community and their store was in their front yard. They had fresh produce(whatever was in season), material, and hardware.
Just up the road in Henderson County was a community called Fincastle in the mid eighteen hundreds. It was a booming community until the T & N O went through south of HWY 175. They had several stores in their short history. Crawford and Gilliland started a mercantile that was closed during the civil war. Wofford and Miller took over the business and was very successful. Adams and Chambers had another store there. Adams, Chambers and Wofford each kept 4 mule teams on the road bringing in supplies for the businesses.

Once the T & N O railroad came through in the early 1900’s people moved from Fincastle to Poynor or Athens. There had been a community south of the new town of Poynor called Fosterville. It was also a thriving community in the 1800’s with a general store, mills and a school. But the railroad changed things and Poynor grew. General stores and Mercantile businesses by Julius Wylie, Byron Milner and W.H. Foster supplied the ever-growing community. The old bank building on the corner saw several businesses ending with the Hanna’s losing it to a fire in the mid 1990’s.

In Athens, J.R. Gauntt bought prime property on Prairieville Street in the early 1890’s. He operated a mercantile store with his brother R.L. Gauntt. In 1896 he had the two-story brick structure built. Tom Barber had a grocery store downstairs and upstairs housed the law offices of cousins J.J. Faulk and W.L. Faulk. The building now houses the Henderson County Historical Museum.

In 1898, in Old Brownsborough, Perry Lee Holiman bought a general merchandise store from John Wyatt and Isaac Simmons. When the railroad came through, Brownsboro moved to it and Mr. Holiman built a new building. The business went through many changes, being rebuilt in 1926 by son A.D. Holiman. I have left out a wealth of history but it is owned and operated by Dusty Wise now. It makes me smile each time I roll my grocery cart over the wooden floor that has been preserved.

In Malakoff a prominent citizen named Dan Gentry started a mercantile business in 1910. The town began as Caney Creek, but changed it’s name to Mitchum Chapel in 1852. It became Malakoff in 1885 and it had many businesses, including several general stores.

Chandler began it’s history with mercantile stores owned by C.M. Hughes and son, R. M. chandler, and George M. Hughes. By the 1920’s were businesses of Parker and Dingler, Ellis Brothers, Tom Terrell in the grocery, and even Chandler Drug Store.

There are so many others of importance and too many to name here. Communities of Baxter, Larue, New York, Goshen, Trinidad, etc. They all played an important role in supplying the people with goods and groceries needed for everyday life. Some ledgers are still found every now and then and they give us insight to days gone by.