The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

May 7, 2013

The historic importance of general stores

OSKALOOSA — This store on display at Nelson Pioneer Farm isn't an actual store. However, the heritage it holds is very real.

On Saturday, Robert and Jan Williams were on hand to tell folks about the W.L. Mott and Sons General Store. Robert and Jan volunteered their time during Saturday's season-opening day for the Nelson Pioneer Farm and Museum.

The Mott store is special to Robert, in part because it's home to his high school photo from Lacey High School back in 1957. Many other high school class photos from Lacey High School are at the store, as well.

As it sits now, the Mott store is meant to appear as it did in around 1915, according to Robert.

“They have gone through and looked at the store so that most of the items in the store would be period pieces like what would have been there,” explained Robert. “There are some things like wooden apples to represent apples. But, otherwise, the store things in here now are trying to represent that period so that when people come in — when school groups come in — they can know about what was sold in the store at that time and those kinds of items.”

Preserving the Mott store because of its place in history is important to Robert. The same is true for the other living history displays at Nelson Pioneer Farm and Museum, he added.

“The history sites bring back how we grew up — how the world started in this era in Mahaska County and the fact that the Nelsons — their farm — has been in that history so long,” explained Robert.

Jan, who hails from eastern Iowa, noted the importance of general stores in days gone by.

“We would go in, probably once a week, take a big can of milk or cream in, sell it to the store — sell eggs to the store and get back trade usually.”

Barb Johnson also volunteered at the Mott store on Saturday. She said her parents had a grocery store, noting that people would sell items to the store for credit in order to buy items they needed.

Robert said general stores offered a kind of one-stop shopping for people.

“When you buy things, you buy grocery items, you buy clothing items, you buy everything — comes out of that general store,” Robert said.

During one particular time period general stores were the center of where people congregated regularly. Typically, in smaller communities, the general store is where everyone met on Saturday nights, said Robert.

For more information on the Nelson Pioneer Farm and Museum, call (641) 672-2989 or visit http://www.nelsonpioneer.org.

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