From the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Sunday, August 9, 1970






Nothing has ever equaled the shopping center of 1900 in variety and concentration of merchandise – that’s the opinion of folks who still remember ELI GARMAN’s general store, a leaning two-story structure once serving a 100-square-mile area at the northern edge of Allen County.


During what must have been its last days, four telephone poles propped against the eaves kept it from toppling over.  The site was known as COLLINGWOOD, near Rowleys Corners where Highway 427 and the Allen-DeKalb County Line intersect.


As a lad on the old Warner farm (now the Isaak Walton League Preserve), DANNY MYERS of R.R. 1, LaOtto remembers whittling out an ax handle which he carried a mile and a half and sold to store keeper Garman for a quarter.  Eli sold the handle for 30 cents!


Collingwood originally was a star route post office and store operated at Rowley’s Corners by

JIM ROWLEY, a farmer who had little time for mail and merchandising.  Finally Eli petitioned the moving of the post office to his larger store and the name went with it.


The tired old store disappeared from the rural scene many years ago but its fantastic contents are remembered in detail by DANNY and WILDA MYERS and AL ELETT, for of Port Wing, Wisconsin.  They got together some time ago and made it live again – on paper.


Perhaps the strangest thing of all was that the mixed odors of harness oil, molasses, vinegar and kerosene, together with a whiff of smoked herring never seemed to violate the bolts of yard goods in the women’s department. 


Boarded Platform Smacked Of West


The entrance was graced by a boarded platform that reminded of the boardwalks of western frontier days.  Inside, Collingwood had an atmosphere all its own.  But Eli, with his easy smile, elastic sleeve bands, vest draped with a heavy gold chain and apron was the typical storekeeper though he was not fond of stiff collars and neckties.  The scene is recreated by Danny, Wilda, and Al:


The store building was approximately 24 x 50 feet, all one large room, with four large posts and a beam in the center to support the upper floor.  The walls were made of a matched lumber known as wainscoting.  Shelves took up most of the north wall, and the south wall had shelves as well as a rack for the many bolts of cloth.  A counter extended about half the length of the room on each side. 


The north side of the room was the grocery department.  Just inside the door a small glass case stood on the counter.  In it were several boxes of regular cigars, a box of each, straight and crooked stogies, one pound bags of Peerless and Standard that was used for pipe smoking, cigarettes, and chewing .  There were small bags of Bull Durham and Dukes Mixture and a supply of papers for the home-made cigarette smoker, and half pound bags of cigar clippings for smoking and chewing.  The top of the case was given over to the large boxes of Old Virginia Cheroots cigars.  These came three in a glassine envelope, full size cigars and popularly known as “three-fers”, 3 for 5 cents.  The lowest shelf back of the tobacco case had on it stacks of boxes about 14 inches square and 4 inches deep.  These contained “Plug” tobacco, one of the most popular chewing tobaccos of that time.  Beside the boxes was the “plug cutter”, a hand-operated machine that cut the large slabs into the popular ten cent size. 


A case exactly like the tobacco case, and next to it, contained the display of candy, small compared with today’s offering.  Several flavors of stick candy, long strips of cocoanut candy, and cubes of the same, and hard candy such as we have today.  Caramels and chocolate drops.  That was the assortment of candy.  A corner case contained marbles for the boys and “Jacks” for the girls.  The top of the case was sused for the display of seasonal “demand” articles such as sticky fly-paper and the black poison kind as well. 


Next in line on the counter was the big “wheel” of what we called cream cheese, in texture and flavor much like today’s Colby.  On top of the wheel was that long cheese knife, much like today’s straight slicer only much larger and heavier.  With that, Eli cut wedges out of the wheel.  It wasn’t easy to push it through a foot of cheese. 


There was an open place on the counter where Eli assembled your order.  No shopping cart.  It was the store-keeper’s job to collect the items for the customer’s order.


Crackers came from the factory in barrels.  As needed, they were put into a large glass case on the counter.  This had a sloping bottom so the crackers were always handy to be scooped into paper bags.  The little oyster crackers were in a similar case, only smaller.  The balance of the counter was piled with items most commonly asked for.  Bars of Fels Naptha and Globe laundry soaps, piled high.  Ivory and Packers Tar Soap, also stacked high.  Gold Dust washing powder in a cardboard package.  No detergents.  Sal Soda for scrubbing.  Arm & Hammer for baking.  Carton upon carton of wood stick “farmer matches”.  The old style Mason fruit jars and covers and rubber rings.  Wash-boards with zinc, brass or glass rubbing surfaces.  A revolving rack filled with brooms and the latest Bissell carpet sweeper.  There were of course many, many more items.  The counter was high enough to permit the barrels of granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt to slide underneath.  A large scoop in each barrel. 


Luncheon Snacks In Small Variety


On the shelves immediately back of where Eli filled the orders were the “luncheon” foods.  The variety was small.  Smoked sausages, wieners and bologna, all highly seasoned, practically embalmed, so they didn’t need refrigeration.  There was smoked sturgeon, commonplace then, but not so today.  Smoked herring, commonly referred to then as “Blind Robins”, were in great demand and cheap.  All of the above items were consumed in quantity, along with crackers by the men sitting around the big pot-bellied stove, busy settling the world’s problems as reported in their last week’s weekly newspaper.  On the floor under the shelves were stacks of five-pound pails of salted lake herring, and in season some ten-pound kegs of Holland herring.  Cove oysters in small cans, and sardines were also in liberal supply.


There was a limited variety of both canned vegetables and fruits.  The farm women canned their own.  The same was true for dried vegetables and fruits.  One canned product that seemed to be just as popular then as it is today was the Pork and Beans.  We remember Snider and Moss Rose.  They enjoyed just as much room on the shelf then as they do now.


Glass kerosene lamps, both large and small, along with assorted chimneys, and boxes of burners and wicks occupied one shelf.  Kerosene barn lanterns and their chimneys took up a liberal section of another shelf.  Stove pokers and fire shovels, dust pans and scrub brushes, carpet tacks and brads, stove pipe dampers and stove pipe collars.   Harness brushes, horse brushes, curry combs, harness rings and buckles, harness rivets and harness awls and thread, and a lot of other things so necessary to the well regulated farm at the turn of the century.  It was the age of horse power.  Small bug sprayers on the shelves, larger ones on the floor.  Slug Shot insect dust and Paris Green and arsenate of lead were the common pesticides, and just about the only ones.  Insect bombs or even sprays were not even thought of.


Cooking and baking pots and pans, made of “tin”, black sheet iron, cast iron or enamelware had a place in the shelves.  Dishpans, due to their size, were usually on the counter.  Pails were of tin, wood, fiber, or enamelware.  There were pot-bellied pails with lids.  They were the ones that had a habit of sneaking into the bedroom in the evening to keep company with the cute little chap that had been hiding under the bed.  Both occupied a place of honor on the shelves of Eli’s store.  Cooking spoons, forks, ladles, strainers, sieves, and colanders were of tinned steel.  The table service was steel with wood or bone handles.  A few had a light coating of silver.  All on Eli’s shelves.  A few patterns of serviceable everyday china was there, too.  On a special shelf were several china washbowl and pitcher sets, now so sought after by collectors.


The garden tools hung on the wall.  Not as many patterns as today.  The barn tools had a wide variety.  Forks of all kinds, shovels of all kinds, rakes both steel and wood, straw-hooks.  Hanging high on the wall were several styles of scythes, and a grain cradle (hand reaper), now seldom seen outside of a museum.  Crowbars, picks, grub hoes, mauls, axes, wedges by the dozen.  Single and double harpoon hay forks.  Tackle blocks and fence stretchers of all kinds.  Coils of manila rope from one-fourth inch to an inch in diameter, rolls of galvanized wire, rolls of fence and poultry netting.  All packed into a corner of the room. 


Against the back wall were large racks of bins for all sizes of bolts and screws.  Above the bins hung two sets of farm harness.  On top of the bins were gallon cans of neatsfoot oil that were used to grease the used harness.  A few rolls of belting were piled alongside the oil.  This belting was used on the small gasoline engines that pumped water and did other farm chores.  There were no electric motors on the farms.  Shelves for Eli’s stock of paints and roof coatings took in the rest of the back wall.  In front of the bins was an island of nail kegs.  In front of the paint shelves was a rack on which were three barrels;  molasses, kerosene and vinegar.  The smell from these and from the oak tanned leather in the harness and the harness oil hung heavily over the back end of the store. 


Now let’s go up to the women’s department.


The counter was similar to the one on the grocery side, as were also the two show cases.  These were filled with all sorts of sewing and dress-making sundries in use by the farm women of that time.  Back of the counter were racks for the bolts of brightly figured calico, checked ginghams, better dress material and blue as well as striped denim for men’s and boys’ overalls.


Most men at that time wore buckskin, cowhide or horsehide work gloves, so there was a large display of those.  Many women wore goatskin work gloves.  Ma said they kept her hands soft.  Old fashioned sunbonnets and men’s and boys’ straw hats were on the shelf or on racks, as were felt hats and cloth caps.  Stockings, socks, and bandanna handkerchiefs were in evidence.  Factory made jackets and overalls of both blue and striped denim as well as wool jackets and pants filled a rack.  On the counter were rows of all sizes and styles of shoes common to the farm scene at that time.


The famous BVDs had not as yet appeared on the market.  All men and boys wore “long-handled” underwear the year around; that is they did unless they cut off the sleeves and most of the legs as I did.  One old man derided me:  “What keeps you warm will also keep you cool.”   I disagreed with him.  So Eli’s display of men’s underwear was limited to “long-handles”.


All available space was piled full of something.  What it was varied with the season.  With the coming of winter, felt boots and arctics would join the abbreviated display of shoes.  The same would be true of the denim jacks and overalls.  Probably a good description of Eli’s trading post would be to say that it was stuffed. 


Eli’s was a country store of three-quarters of a century ago.  He dealt exclusively with farm families who were producers and had farm products to sell.  It was almost barter.  I’ll buy your produce and you buy my groceries.  Everyone was happy.  A few farmers turned in their produce for credit on Eli’s book, and then purchased against that credit.  They were happy with that arrangement. 


Only a few feet from the store was the building in which were stored the butter and eggs.  A butter mixing machine stood in about the center of the room.  Several batches of butter were placed upon the machine’s table and worked back and forth by a fluted roller that was turned with a crank.  Then the mixed butter was pressed into a wooden butter tub, and was ready for market.  The buyer came every week.  Cases of pop were stacked high in one corner.  There was no cap on the bottle such as there is today.  It was sealed by a rubber washer that was fastened to a wire loop.  To seal the bottle, the washer was pulled up, to open it was pushed down.  A favorite soft drink of that time was Iron Brew.  Nostalgia makes me wish for some.


Farmers were busily clearing land, and Eli’s was headquarters for “stump powder” a 40 per cent dynamite.  It came in fifty pound boxes.  These were stacked up one on top of another.  On a shelf near by was the stock of fuse, and those devilish caps.  That would not be legal today.


On the opposite side of the store was a building that was used to house the poultry that Eli bought.  Several times a week a team of horses pulling a big wagon picked up the poultry.


Eli’s store was typical of the year 1900.  “The Store” as it was spoken of, the old waterpower flour mill, the horse and buggy, and the age of steam are gone.  All that remain are the memories.