Country Store Revisited

Country Store Revisited

AT LEFT, folks from an earlier era gather on the front porch and in front of a country store in the Denmark area of Rockbridge County. ABOVE, an unidentified child poses in front of another general store that offered, among other items, confections, soft drinks and cigars. These photos are part of the new exhibit at the Brownsburg Museum.

Country Store Revisited
Country Store Revisited
Country Store Revisited
Country Store Revisited

ABOVE, this panel describing the role of general stores in helping cope with the 1918 influenza epidemic is from the new Brownsburg Museum exhibit. The exhibition historian and author of the panel text is Nancy Sorrels, veteran historian and past president of the Augusta Historical Association. The panel is one of 10 in the exhibition. AT IMMEDIATE LEFT, Shawn Hilliard puts up a mural for the exhibit this past winter, while Barry Word looks on. AT FAR LEFT, the proprietors of a long-ago country store in Lexington, Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Pettigrew, are seen in this exhibit photo. For more photos of the exhibit, see page B2.

Exhibit At Brownsburg Museum Recalls Earlier Era

Over the course of the last few years, the Brownsburg Museum has gained a reputation for hosting quality exhibits. “Cradle to Coffin: Remembering the Country Store” continues and even expands upon that tradition with an exhibit that not only fills both rooms of the small museum, but spills out onto the front and back porches – just like the jammed-packed stores of the past.

The exhibit’s opening, originally scheduled for April, was postponed by the pandemic and can now be seen by appointment only. To make a reservation for a visit, call Julie Fox at (774) 279-9742. Admission is free. For the health and safety of everyone, visitors are being required to wear face masks.

Long before the internet, rural Americans had connections to the outside world. They called it the country store. Although local mercantile establishments have almost disappeared, at one time they symbolized the very heart of the community; places where folks of every age, race, and gender could purchase anything they needed, literally, from birth to death.

“Not only could Americans buy what they desired at the country store, but they could also sell products – such as eggs, butter, furs, and ginseng,” notes one of the interpretive panels of the exhibit. But a visit to the store also meant picking up mail, hearing juicy gossip; playing checkers while discussing politics; carrying out some banking, and buying a pound of sugar, a schoolbook, a hat, a tobacco plug, or a packet of garden seeds.

The country store evolved from traveling peddlers selling pins, combs, and other niceties on the frontier to settled shopkeepers. For a century and a half such stores prospered before turning into fading memories because of the automobile, the mail order catalog and giant chain stores.

Visitors to the “Cradle to Coffin” exhibit will find themselves immersed in the sensory experience of a country store like one from the Denmark area of Rockbridge County. The front room of the museum will have traditional museum interpretive panels explaining the rise and fall of the rural retail business, as well as displaying historic store artifacts, and photographs from area country stores.

A step through the door into the back room of the museum, however, will be like stepping back in time as the entire room will be a recreated store from the past. From ceiling to floor and wall to wall, visitors will observe shelves and counters jammed to overflowing; a kaleidoscope of colorful advertisements vying for attention; baskets and buckets dangling from the ceiling, and clothing fluttering from lines strung hither and yon.

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