By Willodene M. Hunter
The "Pound Store building" (as the oldtimers still
remember it) in Oswego has sat there on the bank of the Tippecanoe
River for as long as anyone can remember. Since it is the oldest
standing edifice in Kosciusko County what tales it could tell,
if only it could speak. This being impossible, perhaps my mother,
Mrs. Anna Hartman, aged 87, is best qualified to speak for it,
since she is, so far as I know, the oldest living person who knew
the store intimately in the days when it was a busy, thriving
grocery store, the center of much activity in our county's more
My mother was the daughter of James and Martha McCreary, who lived in the block between the store and the cemetery, nestled on Tippecanoe Lake's south bank. Since her parents had more children than money, John and Sarah Pound, proprietors of the store, hired her to help out when she was only 13 years old. She made her home with them from that time until she grew up and married my father, Charles Hartman.
I suppose she was officially the "hired girl," but the Pounds were lovely folk who took her right to their hearts and treated her just as a member of the family. She was like an older sister to the son, Harold, who was seven years old when she went there, and to his sister, Adria, who was a beautiful curly-haired little girl of only 2 ½. Harold and his wife still live in the same house, just across the lawn, west of the store building.
Probably none of them guessed that little Adria would grow up to9be a school teacher who would teach Mother's three children reading, writing and arithmetic. Then she married William Orr, who heads the REMC in Kosciusko County.
John Pound was a well-educated man who was very prominent in community and civic affairs, In addition to running the store, he was also postmaster, and served for some years as township trustee.
Sarah was extremely active in the local Baptist church. She was the soup of hospitality, and visiting speakers and dignitaries of all sorts gravitated automatically to the Pound residence when hungry or sleepy, knowing they would always find good food (prepared largely by my mother), good beds, and a warm welcome awaiting them. Of course this made much extra work, but also served to enlarge the young girl's world, as she rubbed elbows with all the recipients of the gracious Pound hospitality.
One of her duties was to "keep store" whenever there was a need. She could just take off her apron, dry her hands, and run across the lawn to the store. Later, she was appointed assistant postmistress, and would also make out money orders, sell stamps, etc.
She has vivid memories of Ira Gans, who, although he had only one arm, still managed to drive his covered wagon, pulled by two horses, from Leesburg to North Webster each day, throwing off a sack of mail as he passed through Oswego. It would then be taken to "the post office," located in the northeast corner of the store, where it would be sorted and placed in the proper cubby holes, to be distributed as called for.
There was no bread, cookies, or baked goods of any description in those early days. There was no cheese, and not even one cereal, let alone 711, as today! "Store-bought" bread was unheard of. You had "starter yeast' and baked your own, saving some out each time for the next patch. Should this starter yeast chance to lose its zip, you'd hitch the horse up to the buggy and go borrow some from a neighbor or relative.
No one growled about the exorbitant price asked for steaks or pork chops, because the only meat they sold was "salt pork" which was kept in a big barely in the back room of the store. When there was a call for it, my mother would go back there and fish a few pieces out of the brine that was strong enough to float a whole case of eggs, it seemed to her.
Nobody would have thought of asking for any dairy products. Everyone squeezed their own out of their own cow or cows. There were no vegetables or fruits for customers to squeeze.
Later, my mother's children would be among those who would get permission to walk down to the Pound store from school at noon, to managed to accrue, back when a penny would buy you a delicious sweet, when you finally decided which one you wanted most. Not that there were many different candies to select from, even then. All day suckers and stick candy were big.
But the candy shelf in the Pound store, as I remember it, was very well stocked indeed, compared to the days when my mother clerked there. At first, there was no candy at all, except at Christmas time, when they'd get some wintergreen mints and peppermint. Still later, the new chocolate drop put in an appearance. Then finally some gun drops joined the group. But today's children would have been appalled, because there was divinely no bubble gum. The candy was kept in large glass jars, and every so often, it was my mother's task to remove the candy and wash the jars until they were do shinny you could see your reflection in them then put the candy back.
Although there was no bubble gun, there was plug tobacco available, It was in flat wooden boxed, and "Horse Shoe" is the only brand my mother remembers of them selling. She was reminded of one time a certain minister stayed overnight at Pound's as he did on occasion, She was tending store the next morning when the minister strolled over, insisting on staying there while she went to the house and ate breakfast. Later, she decided he had had other "fish to fry," for when he came back, he gave Pound money for, as he put it, "some tobacco I sold," (to himself).
The first canned goods Mother remembers then having to sell were tomatoes and peaches. The peaches, especially, looked so delicious to her sitting there on the shelves, and she would so wish they'd bring a can or two over to the house for them to sample.
Lard, the only shortening they sold, was in a large barrel and would be measured out as called for. Crackers also came by the barrel, and the customers would keep sampling them.
They sold mostly staples: Baking powder, soda, salt, sugar, etc. Then as time for school to open drew near, they would add tablets, pencils, pens, and ink.
They had no flour or corn meal. After harvest, the men would put their wheat and corn in a boat and row down Tippecanoe River to the mill, located near where River Bend Park now is. There their grain was converted into flour and corn meal enough to last them until harvest time came again.
The first cereal my mother remembers was Matl-O-Vite. Everyone was agog! What progress! The manufactures were even then wily enough to distribute letters of the alphabet throughout the cereal in the boxes, announcing that the lucky person who first collected the proper letters to spell Malt-O-Vite was to receive a brand new piano as a prize. One is sure much Malt-O-Vite was stuffed down both little and big throats in the following weeks, and the hopes of many area inhabitants ran high. Elmer Cable was the fortunate winner, and he probably felt it was well worth it all, when his fine new piano was delivered to his door.
There were hitch racks lining the east side of the store, where Old Dobbin would patiently wait while his master and mistress shopped and visited. In frigid weather, the driver would throw a horse blanket over his faithful animal, so he wouldn't freeze stiff.
Everyone would come to the store with their kerosene can with a cob stuck in the spout, to keep the oil from spilling out, should they hit a rut on the way home. The kerosene was kept in the back room, so there were frequent trips to and from this room with the smelly containers. "Oil" was a must then for the lamps and lanterns, to "start the fires" each morning, etc.
Then came cheese in a huge round hunk, much to heavy to lift or tote about. It sat there on the counter, and the customer would state how much he wanted. Then the trick was to slice off the amount asked for. One man would regularly tell mother just exactly how much he craved. She'd study the situation carefully, then prepare to cut it! He'd draw back, cock his head, eye the cheese speculatively and then announce, "That won't be quite enough. Cut about here." She would comply only to find when she weighed it that it was a little bit to much. This was no problem at all to this particular customer: he'd just eat the excess on the spot and of course he'd pay only for the amount he'd asked for. Mother said he really did it to try to disturb her cool it wasn't that he wanted to cheat her.
There were brooms sitting on the floor and fishpoles and buggy whips hanging from the ceiling. Men, then as now, liked to loaf, and would sit on kegs of nails near the redcheeked pot-belled stove toward the rear of the store, evening time was when they liked to collect, and sit there, solving all the problems of the world.
When someone came in and asked for nails, the man sitting on the keg containing the size of nails in demand would obligingly get up and stand until the required amount was taken out of the keg.
Some of them liked to make good use of the plug chewing tobacco the store sold. They'd stuff their mouths, then alternately chew and gab and spit, aiming haphazardly at the stove, but seldom "making a basket." My mother would watch the hits and misses, and shudder, since she know she would have to scrub the nasty brown smelly gobs off the bare wooden floor later.
At long last, pop put in an appearance, and it was wonderful, and you could have any flavor your little heart desired so long as it was ginger ale. You had to be patient, even before you could quench your thirst with ginger ale, because the clerk had to go outside, walk around to the west side of the store, open the trap door, and go down the cellar to get a bottle of " the pause and refreshes."
The day the huckster wagon came each week was eagerly anticipated. When it would draw up in front of the store and the huckster would jump out and throw open the doors of the horse-drawn enclosed wagon, people would quickly start coming from all directions, to "trade" with him. Sometimes he would have a few bolts of " goods" which especially fascinated my mother. Ready-made clothes were about as scarce as a mouse's wings in the Oswego vicinity. Many houses didn't have even one clothes closet, because you ware most of your wardrobe on your back, except for your "Sunday best" outfit.
The store stocked unbleached muslin and mosquito netting. Calico is the first dress material Mother remembers seeing, and there was scant choice in pattern and color in it. When they would occasionally get in a now supply of goods, Sarah had the advantage. She could choose what she liked best before putting the rest on the shelves.
One memorable day Sarah brought a bolt of the prettiest calico Mother had ever seen over to the house. It was navy blue, sprinkled with white stars. Sarah told Mother that if she would make her a dress out of it, then she'd give her enough of the material to make herself one also. My mother had never sewed in her life, and was shocked at the suggestion, but with Sarah's help and encouragement, she plunged in and finally, Sarah's dress was all finished, except the button holes.
"You'd better make them" pleaded my mother.
"No," Sarah said, kindly but firmly, "The bargain was that you make the whole dress. You can do it!"
So she make button holes that probable left something to be desired but Sarah praised her and told her she'd done just fine. Neither of them had any idea what they had set in motion. After that, Mother surely made tons of garments, etc., and sewing has been one of the greatest loves of her life.
Sometimes Mother would go up to the second floor of the store building, where little Adria has cleaned out a small corner (the rest being filled with mostly trash) for a playhouse. One time Adria kept a little kitten up there for several days, because a bigger boy visiting them insisted on teasing and tormenting Kitty which broke Adria's heart, and led to her secreting her pet in the second story of the building.
Hannah Stuckman was a well known character in those days. She wandered about the country on foot, and would show up in Oswego once or twice a year. The older folk took her in stride, but her strange get-up and unusual mannerisms made her on object of terror to the children. They'd run quickly and hide behind their mothers' skirts, whenever they saw her.
About once during each summer, a man would come through town with a dancing bear that would perform in front of the store, eating things the crowd that quickly collected would throw him. This delighted everyone, especially the children.
Oswego is not very large today, but it was much smaller then, with just about a dozen or so residential homes, as my mother remembers it. Much of the center of town was vacant, except for orchards, grass, gardens, etc.
"Daddy Craven" was a well known personage. He ran a feed store in the northwest corner of the village, at the spot where a cement block building presently is owned by a boat company. He and my Grandfather, Jim McCreary, were great cronies, spending many hours swapping tall tales.
Whenever anyone wanted someone shaved and gotten ready for burial, after death, they'd call on my grandfather. He was also a champion shoe fixer. I still can vividly see him, with his cobbler supplies spread out in their kitchen, perhaps half-soling my shoes for me.
The school house was a big square brick building, located where the Calvary Baptist Church now stands. It was heated with stoves, and the pupils would carry water from across the street. Across from the school was a large apple orchard, which the pupils considered a blessing, as they would pick up the apples that fell and eat them. They wouldn't have thought of picking any off the trees. That would have been stealing. Mother graduated from high school as a member of one of the very first classes to graduate there.
The First Baptist Church was located in the southeast corner of Oswego. The Bone Prairie Methodist Church was just west of Oswego, at the crossroads.
Time passed quickly, and it didn't seem long until Mother married, and left the Pound home and store. Generations came and went, and the Pound store continued to serve the community proudly and well, with others renting it after John Pound's death.
Then came the day the last customer made the last purchase in it. But the building continues to stand, a monument to the past, unpretentious and unassuming, but strong and dependable much like those who operated it from so many years.
Harold and wife, who still live beside the ancient building, have deeded the old store to the Kosciusko County Historical Society, thereby insuring it will not one day be torn down by careless, indifferent hands, all in the name of progress. This group is in the process of restoring it. This is surely a most worthwhile project, for the oldest building Kosciusko County has a message for us today and for those who come after us if only we will take time to stop and listen.
This is reprinted from the "Kosciusko County Historical Bulletin" published in the spring of 1972.
Warsaw Times-Union Thursday, September 18, 1986
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