In our article last week we wrote about the beginnings of our town’s grocery stores, which were nothing like our supermarkets of today!
For starters, early grocery stores were often called “produce houses” because they sold locally farmed produce such as beans, potatoes, eggs and whatever was in season.
Unlike today’s grocery stores, they didn’t sell fresh cuts of beef or pork or chicken. And such staples as boxed cereal, crackers, bread, canned soup or cake mix were unheard of!
But you could buy flour by the barrel, sugar by the pound, and coffee that you would take home and grind yourself!
Every community had a small country store that functioned as a produce house, grocery, hardware store, feed store, clothing store and drugstore, all rolled into one.
The late T.J. Merryman of the Cato community wrote down what his store was like in the early 1900s, “When I began business there was no small packages of staple groceries like sugar, salt, beans and coffee. We bought aspirin in bottles containing 1,000 tablets and counted them out at five cents a dozen. Ohio River Salt came in 285 pound barrels, flour in 196 pound wooden barrels and 24 pound and 48 pound bags, horseshoes and nails in 100 pound kegs and 285 pound barrels, coffee in bags from 25 to 150 pounds. All of these were counted out or weighed out to the customer’s order.”
The produce houses in Hartsville did a kind of double duty. Not only did they sell foodstuffs to the public, but they also purchased produce and such from the farmers in the county. These they would then box up and sell to larger markets in Nashville, while keeping enough on hand for local residents.
Since this in the days before refrigeration, nothing that had to be kept cool was available. That is why you bought the whole live chicken instead of a nice package of chicken livers or frozen, pre-breaded chicken strips!
This was also before the days of air conditioning, so entering the old produce house was to walk in to the odors of live animals for sale and produce that had sat on the shelf for several days!
Our photo this week is from an issue of the Hartsville Vidette from 1914. The store in the advertisement was Naïve-Spillers, who also had a store in Gallatin. Mr. Naïve and Mr. Spillers were the owners of the house. Notice that they also bought hides and feathers and “etc.” We can only wonder what the “etc.” might have been!
Local farm boys often ran a trap line on the family farm and would catch mink, skunk, raccoon, possum and other small mammals for their skins. That just meant another odor you might have encountered when entering the store!
Every farm wife kept chickens, and the feathers mentioned in the advertisement would have been collected by the farm wife over the year and sold when she had a bag full.
You may have never slept on anything but a foam mattress and a polyester-filled pillow, but in the past you would have slept on a feather mattress and a feather pillow.
While I never used a feather mattress, I grew up with a feather pillow and awoke in the middle of the night many times, because the sharp end of a chicken feather had pierced through the pillow ticking to stick me in the cheek!
Freedle’s Store in downtown Hartsville was an early grocery and sold items in bulk, like Merryman’s Store in Cato. And like all early grocery stores, the clerk filled your order.
A customer would tell the grocer what they wanted and then stand at the counter as the clerk ran up and down the store shelves, pulling the items out and stacking them in front of you.
One story we have from Freedle’s Store has to do with the large wooden barrel of crackers that Mr. Freedle kept by the cash register.
A person could ask for a nickel’s worth of crackers and they would be pulled from the barrel and wrapped in a piece of brown paper that stood on a roll by the register.
One day a customer asked for some crackers, and Mr. Freedle lifted the wooden lid of the barrel to pull some out, and when he did, he exposed a mouse sitting on top of the pile!
Undaunted, Mr. Freedle simply said, “Git outta there, you rascal!”
The customer changed his mind about the crackers!