|THE OLD COUNTRY STORE & OTHER EVENTS
Attributed to Thomas T. Young, Sr.
When this store was built I do not know. To the best of my recollection it must have been built sometime in the 1880ís. Jonas Blair Bowditch owned all the property on the Dering Harbor side of the Ferry Road from Wilcoxís Coal & Grain & Wood yard to the bridge across Chase Creek. Mr. Bowditch also owned all the property from the Bridge on the west side of the Ferry road all the way to the property of Benjamin P. Conkling and to Chase Creek.
The store was only a frame building, 1 1/2 stories high in the middle with extensions on each side 1 story high with tin roofs. There was a small room in the rear of the main building which was used to store kerosene & barrels of vinegar and molasses. When Mr. Byron Griffing ran the store he used to handle "Breinigís Paint" and this was on shelves in this room.
The west wing of the building was reserved for Mr. Bowditch's use; he had a shop in a back room and he used the front room as his office. On the shore, just north of the bridge he had about a dozen bath houses which he rented; they were just abut big enough to undress in; I think that he charged 10¢.
The main store had rooms upstairs where Mr. Griffing used to live before he built his own house up the Ferry Road just to the south of the residence of Nathan Wilcox.
The store stood on locust posts, the land that it stood on was only meadow and the tide rose all round and under the building. There was a porch all across the front and the edge of the porch was at the edge of the public highway. There were hitching posts for hitching the horses.
The main room downstairs was the store proper. There were posts through the middle to support the second floor; on three sides were shelves which held the merchandise for sale. The west side was mainly used for dry-goods, mainly dress goods, material for making table cloths and dish rags. There was a large variety of oil-cloth which was used a great deal for covering kitchen tables and for shelves in the pantry.
A wide counter ran from the very front of the store on each side, with a narrow space between the shelves and the counters. On the west counter were two showcases in which were displayed sewing material and a large assortment of ribbons and laces. Next to this was a cleared place where the goods were measured when sold. There were brass headed tacks driven into the counter top marking off yards, 1/2 and 1/4 lengths. Under the stairs leading to the upstairs was a storage closet; this was a catch-all.
On the east counter as one came into the store was a show case which contained cigars, tobacco and pipes. Cigars came in wooden boxes of 50 usually. Tobacco was in small foil lined packages which sold for 5¢. Most pipes were corn-cob, probably because the average customer could not afford anything better.
Next was the candy show cases; much of the candy was loose; there were gum drops, marshmallows, stick candy and very rarely any box candy.
Next was an open space where there was a small scale for weighing out light items, such as tea, beans, spices, etc. At the south end of the counter was the coffee mill; this had been rigged up with a foot-pedal to make it easier to grind the coffee. Alongside was the larger platform scale for weighing out flour, sugar, butter, lard and other heavy items.
On the south end of the store was a large home-made ice-box in which the butter, lard and other perishables were stored. A large space had to be left for the ice; this was delivered from Greenport.
The east wing was used as a place where footwear was sold, not many shoes, mostly boots and galoshes; this room was divided and the south part was used to store flour, sugar, soap and items which were only called for occasionally.
Vinegar came by the barrel, about 55 gallon; this had to be tapped and a spigot put in. This spigot was made of wood and had to be driven into a tapered hole in the head of the barrel near the side and the barrel was then placed on its side for draining out the contents. There were measuring cups from a gallon size down to quart and pint.
Molasses also came in 55 gallon barrels. The new crop of New Orleans molasses usually arrived after Thanksgiving. The order was for 3 barrels; this would last until Spring. Nearly everyone used it for pancakes and for making molasses cake. After setting all Winter the molasses sugar collected in the bottom of the barrel and my father used to sell it to Mr. James. L. Downs who was conducting a bakery at that time at this home in Cartwright town. He used it to make molasses cookies. Customers would furnish all kinds of containers for putting the molasses in: pails, jugs and bottles. Filling these with molasses in Winter was a very tedious job. There was an old saying in those days: "As slow as molasses in January."
Handling of kerosene was the messiest thing there was to do. It was smelly; great care had to be taken not to get it near the sugar, or anything else for that matter. It was sloppy to carry in the wagon; the tops of the oil cans would get lost and in its place we used to stuff a potato, a cork or some twisted cardboard in the hole.
Eggs were cheap sometimes, and costly in the off season. The farmers would bring them in loose and traded them for groceries. When plentiful, they might sell for 10¢ a dozen. Breakage was a problem and accounted for most of the profit.
Sugar came in 320 pound barrels and was weighted out in various quantities. I put up many a package of 3 1/2 pounds for 15¢.
Flour came in 196 pound barrels, mostly Pillsburyís. We had to weigh it out in 24 1/2 pound bags; eight bags to the barrel.
Beans and peas came in 2 bushel white cotton sacks. Many of the people at that time bought a bushel of beans, a barrel or a half barrel of flour and a half barrel of granulated sugar in the Fall. This usually [lasted] them all Winter. At that time the store carried a supply of other types of flour, namely, canel, wholewheat, graham and Indian cornmeal. Nearly everyone had pancakes for breakfast; sausage was probably eaten more than any other kind of meat during the Winter.
All the stores made delivery in those days. In the Summer when the city-folks were here in their cottages, it was the practice of the business men to go to the houses and get the order for whatever the cook wanted. The help laundress, maid, chambermaid, butler and cook were not able to get around too easily, and it was a common practice of the tradesmen to accommodate these servants by going to the drugstore and buying whatever they wanted. Many of the cooks made their own vanilla, and we were able to get real grain-alcohol without a prescription for them to use. The drugstore carried vanilla beans then; perhaps they still do.
The S. I. Heights Association was at that time a private corporation and had to maintain their own roads; and to keep it a private concern they used to close the gates on the Chase Creek Bridge once a year. Of course, they had to pick a day in the Summer to do this. In order to make delivery of our groceries to the customers on the S. I. Heights, it made it necessary to drive the horse & wagon all the way around by the south end of New York Avenue, and to the bridge on the Heights side, and then carry the baskets, cans of oil and anything else across the bridge to the wagon. It always seemed to me that the Association could just as well have closed the New York Avenue entrance in the Summer and left the closing of the Chase Bridge entrance until Fall or Winter.
Whoever you were, you had to work hard for a living in those days.
There was no such thing as an oiled road at that time. O, the clouds of dust. The S. I. H. Assín. had a tank truck built for them which was hauled by a team of horses and it was backed down a ramp at Chequit Point until the tank was filled with saltwater. The truck was fitted with a sprinkler on the back and the roads were wet down to help control the dust. Over at Manhanset the roads near the Manhanset Hotel were paved with asphalt. This did not go as far as the German colony or beyond Yoco Road.
Ice was harvested at "Fresh Pond" for the Prospect House and the Manhanset House when it was 8 inches or more in thickness. It had to be marked off in squares with an ice-plow which was pulled by a horse. The horse had to be shod with ìcalksî in order to get a foothold on the ice. The plow was adjustable for different depths of cutting. If the cuts were too deep, there was danger of the cakes breaking and letting the horse & man in for an icy swim. This did happen.
Additional information regarding the store and my father.
The store was always heated with a pot-bellied stove. This stood in the middle of the store and there were chairs for the old timers to sit and chat and spin yarns and tell jokes. It was stained with tobacco juice which had missed the door or the cuspidor; nevertheless, it was a very rugged piece of equipment. A fire was kept in it continuously. The store items which could freeze were moved from their usual place to a nearby place for safety. The upstairs where Mr. Griffing lived was thus kept very comfortable and only a small stove was needed for upstairs use.
The store being located above a meadow and this meadow being frequently flooded at high water, it was impossible to have a well for water.
Molasses barrels were made of cypress and were well built and tight. These barrels, when empty, were used to hold rain water from the roof for use in the store. Some straw was put in the barrel and set afire. This charred the wood and removed any remaining sugar and made the water sweet.
This water was not used for drinking. N. T. WIlcox had a well near the Coal Yard and it was practically public property. Everyone used it and Mr. Wilcox made no objection. It was over three hundred feet from the store to the well and it was the common practice to carry two rather than one pail when anyone went for water. This well was only a few feet from the shore and if too much water was drawn from it at a time it would get a brackish taste. Actually the depth of the water in the well varied with the change of tide.
To get really good drinking water we went across the bridge to Mr. Chas. Corwinís; he had a pump on his back porch and allowed nearly anyone to use it. This was an even longer distance to carry the water.
I still have this old pot-bellied stove in my basement and as far as I can see it is still just as good as it ever was. I also have the coffee mill and the platform scales in my basement. These also are just as serviceable today as they ever were. My Fatherís old base-burner stove is also in my basement and that too is as good as ever, except possibly the eisen-glass which is in the doors. The last patents stamped on the coffee-mill is dated in 1870. These three items were a part of the store from beginning to the time it went out of business in 1927.
All of the storekeepers of the early 1900ís were too good hearted to be in business. Too many of the customers took advantage of these man and I know with certainty that there were sizeable bills for goods that were never paid. The storekeepers of that day were true philanthropists. The grocerymen of that period were G. R. Havens, Wm. J. Vogel, Ketchamís Store, both Herbert & his father before him, M. B. Duvall & his son A. H. Duvall (in the Centre) and Griffing & Young. The butchers were Caleb H. Dawson followed by his son Walter M. and lastly by Walterís son Austin. There was Ed Stein at the time I was a boy; Ketchamís kept meat in addition to groceries. Mr. Alexander Case had a meat market in the Centre. In those days almost all of the farmers were butchers. They slaughtered their own and assisted their neighbors besides. Mr. Thomas Preston did a flourishing business in the Fall killing or "sticking" pigs. Hardly a day went by in the Fall without my hearing the squeal of a pig being butchered at Mr. Prestonís place. We used to go there after school and were given the pigís bladder, which we blew up and used as a football. Cold weather used to come earlier in those days and so the meat kept for quite some time. Much of the hog meat was made into salt pork, a staple item which was almost a universal form of meat for everyone. A piece of all fat salt pork was kept in a dish by the stove. A sharp stick was used to hold the salt pork for easy use as a "griddle greaser".
Feather beds were owned by nearly everyone. I have an account of an inventory which was taken of a manís assets who had died. The most valuable item that was listed was a feather bed. Heavy quilts were commonly used as bed covering. Many were made of remnants of goods from which clothes and aprons were made (muslin). The women used to gather at one anotherís houses and sew quilts. This came to be known as a "sewing bee".
There was a dressmaker at that time named Miss Lavinia Chester. She had a "dress form" which she would carry on her bicycle when she went to the different homes to make dresses for the mother or girls. She did a very good business.
All kinds of scrap fish, spider crabs, skates & toad fish were spread on the land as fertilizer. They were allowed to remain on top for several days to ìdryî before they were plowed under. It does not require any great imagination to become aware of the ìperfumeî this produced. The people of that day made no ìnever mindî about it; it was taken for ìgrantedî that this had to be; it was the way of life. Even after the fish factory was moved to the Promised Land there was plenty of odor even from that distance when the wind came to the East. Imagine what it must have been back in the 1850ís and 60ís when there was the first ìTry-Worksî for obtaining bunker oil located at Chequit Point on S. I. Heights. Later it was moved to the west side of the Heights, to the property which is now Scudderís. By this time the objections to the smell had become sufficient to cause the owners of the business to move to North West for a few years and finally to Promised Land on Neapeague Beach. This factory is now closed and in all probability will never be opened again. I think the factory now in use is located somewhere in southern New Jersey.
Mr. Kenneth H. Payne, Jr. is still following the trade. The modern fishing steamer is a far cry from what used to be. Mr. Payne's father was in the business for over 53 years. There were a large number of S. I. men who were either captains, mates or member of the crew on these ìporgyî boats. Back in the early 1900ís the crews were brought from Newfoundland. They were the best crews that were ever assembled. Later crews in the South (Virginia and the Carolinas) were made up of Negroes. Toward the last of the fishing which was conducted at Promised Land, the crews were also Negroes.
The old steamers carried single and double crews, the larger boats having the double crews. The early boats were coal burning and had to come in frequently to refuel. A boat that had to come it to refuel would take on the catch from another boat that had plenty of fuel to stay out a few days longer. Thus both boats were paid for the catch. The small boats could carry about a million fish, but the larger double crew boats might manage a couple million if they carried them on deck in addition to what they had in the hold.
The above account of the past is mixed up and I go from one subject to another just as it comes to mind. However the facts are there. What I have enumerated is only a small part of the information that I am still able to remember. What I have written reflects and describes many occupations and ways of making a living now no longer possible. The skill and "know how" of those days will be forgotten unless someone (like me) takes the time and effort to record them.