BERWICK, NOVA SCOTIA
September 4, 1947
Country Stores, As They Were Known 50 Years Ago.
By Mrs. John E. Woodworth
The rural store as it was conducted in the last century bore little resemblance to the department store of today, but to those whose memories reach as far back as the 80s or 90s, it seems to have occupied a place in the community to which its modern successor can never hope to attain.
Of the general stores in West Cornwallis at that period, perhaps the most outstanding example was that of Thomas Lawson, in Grafton. Mr. Lawson, one of the most public-spirited citizens of his time, came to Nov Scotia from his native town of Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland, after a few years spent in Bermuda. At first making his home in Halifax, he moved to Waterville in 1882 and for more than ten years carried on business in that village, conducting the only general store there at that time. In 1893 he sold his Waterville business and removed to Grafton, establishing there the general store which for 25 years played such an important part in the life of the community. It was the only store within a radius of several miles, and its stock in trade included practically everything that the people of that district were likely to require. Most of Mr. Lawsons imported goods were purchased in Saint John. They were brought to Harbourville in sailing vessels, from whence they were conveyed to Grafton by horse and wagon, often driven by the captain himself, whose duty it was to see that the goods were safely delivered. No department store of today carries a greater variety than Mr. Lawsons customers could obtain at his store. Nor was cash an absolute essential in making purchases, for all sorts of farmers produce was readily exchangeable for the imported goods on the shelves. Butter, eggs, tallow, grain, axe handles, wool, hides, and whole carcases of pork were only a few of the many things which Mr. Lawson took in trade all of which he could later dispose of in other markets.
In addition to its importance as a community centre, the store also housed His Majestys mails, for Mr. Lawson acted as Postmaster for 25 years. Early closing had not yet become popular, and Lawsons store was a busy place in the evenings. Especially was this the case after Mr. Lawson had established the Farmers Telephone Company, with its central office in the store building. People from far and near were wont to gather there, to make purchases, or to mail letters, to make purchases, or to hear the latest news by telephone, or simply to enjoy the congenial society of friends and neighbours.
Mr. Lawson took a delight in inaugurating schemes for the benefit of his fellow citizens. About the year 1897 he originated a Farmers Fair, after the fashion of similar gatherings in the country districts of Scotland. It was held at Waterville once a month during the summer, in the Pine Grove near where the United Church now stands. Its purpose was mainly to bring together farmers and others in need of help, and workers looking for employment. These fairs were gala occasions and lasted well into the evening. Booths and stands were erected, sales were carried on, and entertainment of various kinds was provided music, speeches, and sometimes even fire works. On one occasion a walking exhibition was given by Edgar Woodman, of Cambridge.
At another time, for the convenience of his neighbours, Mr. Lawson arranged, at his own expense, for an advertising space in The Register, which he called "Lawsons Corner". In this space the farmers of that section were encouraged to place 2-or-3 line notices of articles wanted or for sale, leaving the copy at the Lawson store to be forwarded to The Register office.
After a business career of 41 years in Western Kings County, Mr. Lawson died in March, 1923, in the 80th year of his age.
Berwick at that date, being a much larger and more compact community, though making no pretence of being a town, could boast of several good general stores. To go "down to the village" was the accepted phrase when a shopping trip was in contemplation, or when some household need had to be supplied, for the business centre fifty years ago was at Main Street corner, and not at "the Station". Most of the stores were in that vicinity, and all were general stores, dealing in merchandise of every description, from millinery to carpet tacks. A short distance east of the corner was the store of T. Anthonys Sons. The founder, Thomas Anthony, some years before, had come to Berwick after retiring from a seafaring life, with his wife and family of seven sons, two of whom in later years carried on the business after their fathers death.
In 1898, the younger of the two, afterwards the Rev. John P. Anthony, retired from the business, which was thereafter carried on under his own name by his brother Malby, still remembered by many as one of the most popular and enterprising citizens of Berwick. A photograph taken shortly before this date shows the store in summer time with five of the brothers and one or two customers standing near the doorway. Under Malby Anthonys management the business was enlarged and brought up to date until it became second to none in the county, though always retaining its character as a general store. Malby Anthony as for some years a Municipal Councillor for Ward 13, and his store was a favorite gathering place for the male element when local or county business was to be discussed. The destruction of this fine store by fire was a double calamity for Berwick, as it brought about the removal from the town of the last members of the Anthony family, so long prominent in the business, social and religious life of the community. The seven brothers, who came to Berwick as children, grew to manhood here, and went away, one by one, to seek wider fields of enterprise, and to carve out for themselves honourable careers in law, medicine business and the church. Only two are now living; the others are still remembered with affection and regret by those who were once their fellow citizens.
West of the Anthony store, and nearer the corner, was another establishment, which bore the somewhat ambitious name of the Western Emporium. This was a neatly kept and well managed place of business, the property of Joseph Andrews, a dignified gentleman of Scottish ancestry, who prided himself not only on the varied assortment of goods which he kept for sale, but on keeping only the better class of merchandise of all sorts. Among his customers he numbered many ladies, to whom an additional attraction was the millinery department in the rear of the store, over which Mrs. Andrews presided. Mr. Andrews was a man of very decided opinions and of the strictest integrity; a staunch Conservative and a zealous Anglican. At the time of Berwicks first attempt to secure incorporation his name was prominent among those mentioned in connection with the office of Town Clerk.
A third store near the corner at that time was in a small building which the owner, C. H. Beardsley, a few years later, enlarged and greatly improved by adding to it the old Aberdeen Hall which he also owned, and which he moved from Commercial Street to Main Street. This addition, with other changes and improvements, gave Mr. Beardsley a fine building for the display of a large and varied assortment of goods, which besides the usual stock of dry goods and groceries, included furniture, china and household appointments of all descriptions.
The Patterson store on the west side of Commercial Street, almost at the corner, was a close rival to those already mentioned. Here, at the stand formerly occupied by Stephen Ilsley, the late J. M. Patterson carried on a brisk business for some years before removing to what is now the business centre of the town.
Not far away, on the same side of Commercial Street, L. A. Forrest conducted a general store in rather crowded quarters, where he served the wants of a large section of the community until he too removed his business to a more commodious building farther south, on the other side of the same street. Upright in business dealings, active in religious and temperance work and prominent in musical circles, Mr. Forrest and his family were liked by everyone, and their departure from Berwick in 1916 was generally regretted.
A substantial amount of business was carried on over the counters of these stores, which were the leading establishments in Berwick at that period in her history. Much of this business was done after 7 p.m., for with the exception of Tuesday, and of "prayer meeting night", Thursday, the stores were open in the evenings, and the light from the windows, even though only that afforded by kerosene lamps, shed a welcome measure of illumination on the streets in their vicinity, which were almost as heavily shaded by trees then as now. Base burners, or queen heaters, furnished adequate warmth. The sidewalk in front of each store had its row of hitching posts for the convenience of the farmers horses, and these were usually all occupied in the evenings, especially on Saturday.
At the other end of the village, near the station was another general store, that owned by S. J. Nichols, on Mill Street, near Commercial Street corner. It was a most unpretentious building, as viewed from the outside, but within its walls the buyer was confronted with a bewildering array of merchandise of all sorts and descriptions, from which every reasonable want could be supplied. There was a well founded opinion that any one in search of really fine wall paper would be well advised to patronize "Jim" Nichols. The proximity to the station was considered an advantage. For the ladies, the most attractive feature of the establishment was the millinery department conducted by Mrs. Nichols in a room off the main store. This building is still standing. But of those which housed the five at the Main Street corner, no trace remains today. All were destroyed in one or other of the disastrous fires which combined to change that part of Berwick into a purely residential section. The Western Emporium was the first to go, in a blaze which in 1899 levelled not only Mr. Andrews store but also his residence near-by. It was a crushing blow to Mr. Andrews, who, though he made a brave effort to carry on in another business, survived his misfortunes for only a few years.
Malby Anthonys store was the next to be swept away, in 1907, when in spite of every effort of Berwicks fire fighters, with their pitifully inadequate equipment, the building, with all its contents, was totally destroyed. The residence of N. W. Keddy, west of the store, fell a victim to the same blaze. In connection with this fire a story was told of a couple who, near midnight, were driving home to Waterville, after spending the evening in Berwick. After passing the Anthony store, one of them remarked that something inside that store looked like a redhot stove pipe. They thought of going back to investigate, but as they were in a hurry to get home, decided that it was only a reflection. Before morning the store and its valuable contents were in ashes.
Mr. Beardsley was the next loser in 1909 and the two stores on Commercial Street, at that time under changed ownership, met the same fate at different periods within the next few years.
Of the other stores in Berwick in 1897 there were one or two which kept only one class of merchandise, while others specialized in some particular line, and while not confining themselves altogether to that line, made no attempt to carry the wide variety offered in the general stores. J. Burton Chute sold only flour and feed, and in the Oddfellows Block, then a new building, were the Drug store and that of H. A. Cornwall, whose stock consisted mainly of mens furnishings. With the exception of a small Kandy Kitchen in the Brown Block, these were the only stores on that part of Commercial Street. Nearer the Station, S. H. Nichols specialized in Boots and Shoes, and John G. Clark in Hardware and furniture. C. E. Gaul had a small grocery store on the east side of the street.
All these country stores bought from, as well as sold to, the farmers in the surrounding districts. All made use of The Registers advertising space and their advertisements usually carried a postscript to the effect that farm produce of all kinds would be taken in exchange for goods.
In the adjacent villages of Waterville and Aylesford the general stores played an important part. In Waterville, the White Store, which was built by Mr. Lawson, during his mercantile career in that village, was sold by him to C. O. Cook, who carried on the same line of business. Mr. Cooks slogan, "We Lead, others Follow," always appeared in some part of his advertisement in The Register.
J. C. Thompsons place of business in Waterville was known as The Corner Store. Mr. Thompson made a specialty of high class Dry Goods, but his stock in other lines was extensive. H. Fulmer was another merchant, who, for a number of years, until his death, did business in Waterville.
The Harris store in Aylesford enjoyed more than a local popularity. Fred E. Harris, the owner, who inherited the business from his father, was a man whose sterling qualities and splendid business ability, had won for him a large measure of success. Fifty years ago the business was on rather a small scale as compared with its later development, but under Mr. Harriss energetic management, it was soon greatly enlarged and improved. In the course of few years a joint stock company was formed and the establishment was brought more into conformity with the modern idea of department store. But with the death of Mr. Harris at a comparatively early age, the business came to an end, and only the splendid traditions of the Harris store remain today.
There were one or two other small stores in Aylesford at that time, one of which was conducted by C. J. West. The Aylesford Dry Goods Company, specializing in Ladies Wear and Millinery, had their store in the Farnsworth Building.