Ohio History Journal

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Professor of History, University of Kentucky

Any rural American over forty years of age and possessed of a

sound memory often lets his mind wander back to the countryside

and conditions of his youth. Many institutions and symbols of the

past are reminiscent of a life of peace and contentment. There was

the country church where he worshipped, or, perhaps more exactly,

sat and longed to be out in the sunshine and fresh air with the

ungodly. The country schoolhouse was surrounded by memories of

incidents which occurred in the lives of several generations. Scarcely

anyone can fail to recall the tender billows of love for a shy farmer

girl or boy which overflowed his soul at country school. Occasions

of boyish pranks, gawky adolescent accidents, and even the sting

of the master's switch are all blended into an azure haze of fond

memories. But none of these surpass in memory the delights of the

country store.

Just as the famous caravans from the East in the fifteenth century

brought exotic goods into medieval Europe, so the American country

stores of the last half of the nineteenth and first decades of this

century brought a wide variety of goods to their communities. North

and South, store architecture was fairly well standardized. Perhaps

this was not so true of the stocks of goods in the two sections.

Southern stores carried many types of merchandise which had a

fairly restricted local demand, and the same thing was true of

northern and western stores. But whatever the variation in stocks,

there was little difference in the fascination of stores for their cus-

tomers in all sections. Stores everywhere smelled alike, and the

general arrangement of merchandise was practically the same. Just

as stock was piled onto shelves and counters and tumbled into

corners and along the aisles in general disorder, so the odors of

the stores were mixed. There was a common smell of tobacco,

apples, kerosene, horse collars, freshly painted farm implements,


*This is the text of a lecture delivered at the Ohio State Museum, Columbus,

November 2, 1950.