Benton County Pioneer Life

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Pioneer life in the Benton Co. WA area

Chamber Pots, Axel Grease/Merchants of Yesteryear

Tri-City Pioneer
Tri-City Herald, Sunday, January 8, 1961, page 22

The first general mercantile store in Kennewick was owned and operated by Henry Leeper. It was located near the Kennewick House Hotel. Henry Leeper was a tall thin man. He always wore a Rutherford B. Hayes style beard. His health was none too good. His wife was a dark complexioned, small, good looking woman. The son Herman was a husky, fine, industrious, handsome youth. The family lived in a very finely furnished living quarters in the rear of the store building.

The family ran the store. With courteous service, they rapidly built a splendid trade and a fine stock of merchandise. It consisted in part as follows: staple groceries, flour, sugar, salt, rice, canned goods and smoked meats, and vegetables in the food section; nails, horseshoes, clevises, single trees, double trees, rope, spreader chains, horse hobbles, pack saddles, horse harnesses, riding saddles, hand axes, picks, shovels, hammers, crowbars, handsaws, bucksaws, cross-cut saws, garden rakes, hoes, grub hoes, frying pans, iron kettles, stew pans, dutch ovens, files, lamp chimneys, chamber pots, and axle-grease in the hardware section. A small line of men’s and women’s and children’s boots, shoes, sox, stockings, overshoes, denim overalls, and jackets; bolt goods of calico, canton flannel, house lining, and mosquito netting in the clothing and drygoods department. This is not a complete inventory, but gives some idea of the stock carried. You will notice the absence of all electrical supplies. There was no electricity to use in the Early Days and no inside plumbing.

Merchant Leeper and his family were very successful in the operation of their store. Unfortunately the health of Henry Leeper gradually grew worse. They were forced to sell the store. They moved to North Yakima where the son, Herman, in after years, became Yakima’s Postmaster. There were two general stores and one Chinese store in Pasco at this time. I am not sure which opened first, but believe it was John Towles’ (pronounced toals).

John Towles was a huge man, standing well over six-feet and weighing over three-hundred pounds. His wife was an Indian woman. They lived in the rear of the store building. Towles’ stock of merchandise was not large. He carried a little of everything. He did most of the clerking himself. For such a large man he was quite active. He kept his store swept clean, the windows well washed and his merchandise neatly arranged. His wife never waited on the customers but stayed in the living quarters where she prepared their meals.

The real swell General Mercantile Store of Pasco was owned by Robert Gerry. This was the finest and largest store in the Tri-City region and rivaled the stores of Walla Walla. It was at this date, modern to the last degree. It was divided into grocery, hardware, clothing, dry goods, and furniture departments. There was a small balcony constructed high in the rear corner of the store. This supported a large steel safe, the proprietor’s desk, chair and clothes tree. Also, there was the bookkeeper and cashier’s desk, chair and a table from which ran wires to every counter of the store. On these wires hung a small trolley bearing a leather coin container. The clerk at the counter would place the sales slip and payment in the leather container. Then by means of a rubber slingshot, he would shoot the container over the wire to the cashier on the balcony who would make the change, place it in the container that would roll by gravity back over the wire to the sales counter. The cashier had a brand new contraption which, by pushing buttons, could make the correct change. This was a very early model of a cash register.

The store also had a delivery wagon. This store did not barter with the farmers or stockmen for their products. It paid them cash in return sold to them for cash. The old Trading Post system of barter was abandoned.

Gerry was well financed. He was an honest and brilliant business man. A distant relative was Elbridge Gerry, the famous old colonial politician who divided the representative districts in such a manner as would favor his party. This practice has since been called Gerrymandering.

The Chinese store was owned and operated by a Chinese merchant, Wong How, and it could be possible that his store was the first in the region. He furnished supplies to the early day Chinese placer miners who mined the sand bars of the Columbia River. He was a very honest and well liked individual. He was very public spirited and many times donated the fireworks for the Early Day Fourth of July Celebration.

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