The original general store


When Ingalls officials began talking about a Dollar General Store coming to town, my mind kept flashing back to general stores from an earlier era.

In 2005, I was with some co-workers who were assigned to clean out the contents of a storage unit held for a non-profit organization. Items looked like they had been boxed up for years and were probably of little consequence to anyone but survivors of our long-deceased clients.

Many died estranged from their families.

My acquaintance with the clients who still lived or were recently deceased had involved their battles with old age or mental illness or a combination of the two. It was amazing to see old black-and-white photographs and even an old tin-type from the late 1800s.

The women were so fashionable in their high-button shoes, long skirts, and Victorian blouses and hats.

The little boys wore their short pants with ankle-high socks and brown shoes that later became identified with those who needed correctional footwear.

Way back in the storage unit was a small box upon which was the name of a woman with whom I was very familiar. She lived well into her 90s and had only recently died. The picture was black and white and showed three men standing in front of the “Bluffton General Store.”

Behind them was a wooden bar atop two posts meant to tie down the horses while picking up supplies.

The one step between the horse ties led up to the wooden sidewalk across the front of the store. The untreated wooden building appeared to be sitting alone on the block.

I loved the photo. It looked like a scene from an old episode of “Gunsmoke.” Almost anybody who grew up through the beginning of television surely had seen such a picture on the longest running cowboy series in the history of television.

I never saw an actual general store, though. The stores in Ingalls came close, however, as far as I was concerned. In fact, Ingalls had one on each end of town.

On the south end of town was Peg and Earl Milner’s’ store, where we could pick up anything from hardware to canned groceries and could get a bottle of soda pop for a nickel (we even got a penny back when we returned the bottle).

Earl Davis had a store on the north end that was primarily groceries and a few household goods.

John “Hoot” Cox ran the local post office down the left aisle of his small cement building and sold meat and limited food items on the right side.

I thought it was perfect in the days when I could run to the store for Mom (Burnha Dowden) or Grandma (Esther Dowden Kingery). All three stores were on Ind. 67. Hoot’s building is still the post office but it no longer doubles as a grocery.

It took weeks to find anyone connected with the old picture found in the storage bin. I contacted newspapers throughout the northern half of Indiana. I poured over obituaries. And I wondered what the Madison County woman had to do with the men in the Bluffton photo.

The woman I knew had an unusual last name. I thought it would have been much easier.

Finally, I found a connection.

I found that unusual name in a new obituary notice as someone who had preceded someone named “Pierce” in death. I referred to that person’s obituary from several years earlier and found a reference related to the same person. I went through obituaries from four generations and made contact with survivors in the most recent obituary. They were ecstatic! They knew some of the family history but not all. And to find such a picture – I was jealous. I would love a picture like that framed in my home.

The woman I talked with was involved in the historical society in Elwood and northern Madison County. Putting my envy aside, it was awesome to be delivering a remnant of our settler days to the rightful owner. She said it would be donated to the historical collection.