Traveling Back to 1908

Arkansas drug store postcard captures a moment lost in time and a visit to the old Rock Island Plow Company factory then bought by Case tractor.

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I have probably told y’all this before, and I will probably say it many times more in the months and years to come, but there are times in my life when my feet itch. Life has seemed to have thrown me a curveball and I have a bit of trouble hitting the bender. Lately, when I walk outside my door, I don’t even recognize the world anymore; it’s like everything is just a bit off plumb.

During times like this, I generally have a hard time figuring out what to write about. I find a lot of peace in traveling, and I derive quite a bit of inspiration from the small towns I wander through, but the two or three adventures I would go on in a year’s time have been reduced to pretty much nothing. These trips are what keep me centered.

Recently I was sitting at my desk, pondering over our next visit, when I happened to look up at my great-grandfather’s picture. His name was Ben Freeland. From what I remember, his family was from the Shell Rock, Iowa, area. Maybe some of his relatives still reside in that area; I don’t know. In the picture he is just sitting there in his World War I uniform with his legs crossed, looking unimpressed and not really all that enthused about what is going on.

As I was giving his picture a good goin’ over, I got to wondering if he ever felt the same way that I do. He lived through the flu pandemic of 1918. He also came through the Dust Bowl and Great Depression in pretty good shape, not to mention the challenges of World War II, with rationing and all that. Maybe he would sit and stare at the world around him and think the same thing I do. Maybe the difference between now and then is, back then, people had a bit more mental toughness and quite a bit more common sense. I don’t know.

Back down the line

During this visit, we are going to go to the Natural State: Arkansas. When it is time to sit down and write and the words do not seem to flow, I look through all my old picture postcards and pictures until I come across something that feels right. When I came across this picture, it just fit. I would love to be able to walk in a drug store like this today.

“Interior Stainton Drug Store, Prescott, Ark 5337.

Image courtesy of Anthony Lovelace

At the bottom of the picture postcard, it reads “Interior Stainton Drug Store, Prescott, Arkansas 5337.” I wonder what the 5337 is. The postmark stamped on the back is Feb. 21, 11 am, 1908. According to what I found on the Internet, the population in Prescott in 1910 was 2,705 souls. In 2019, it was estimated to be have grown to about 2,989 people. So in a little more than 100 years, it gained 284 people. At its height, it had just over 4,000 people. It looks as if Prescott has been able to stand firm.

The first thing I noticed was the name scrolled across the cigar display: “Joe R. Hamilton, Prescott, Ark.” My first thought was, this must be the fellow that snapped the picture, but we will get back to Mr. Hamilton a bit later in our visit.

When I zoom in on the cigar display, I can make out some of the cigars in boxes. Sitting on top of the display case is a small sign that reads “Havana Schiedam Hand Made.” I thought this was pretty interesting. I wonder if they were Cuba cigars or made by Schiedam in the Havana style.

I also noticed a tall, for the lack of a better word, water cooler-type thing. It is sort of round on top with a rectangle bottom. Upon closer inspection, I could read Coca Cola across the top round part. It looks like the top part has a lid, and underneath the lid it looks like paper sticking out each side. It also looks like the top round part can be lifted off the bottom rectangle section. I got to nosing around the Internet and I think that is an old Coca Cola syrup dispenser! The ones I found online said they were from the 1960s, but this one is quite a bit older than that. That would be a really neat piece to have in my collection.

Studying the details for clues

To the left and behind on the shelf is a bunch of glass jars. I wonder if these are medicine or full of candy. It would seem odd to me to have the medicine that close to the refreshments but hey, you can never tell. The glass jars have labels on them but I couldn’t make them out. The top jars looked like they have a darker powder in them and the bottom jars seem to have a lighter colored powder in them. Do you think these were maybe flavors to add into the soda, or maybe they had to do with malts or sundaes?  There are some stools in front of the counter where customers could get off their feet and enjoy a drink. I wonder if they drank the sodas warm or if they had some block ice somewhere that they could use to cool drinks.

The store doesn’t look to be very big, but the owners sure seemed to pack every square inch of space with products to peddle. One thing that surprised me is the small number of signs. Besides the one advertising the cigars, I can make out one pitching some brand of chocolate; it is hanging from the loft on the right. I can also make out one that reads “Natural Remedy.” It is sitting on the counter to the right of the Coca Cola syrup dispenser. It looks like there is a lady on it fixing to take a cough drop. 

If you look to the right in the picture, there are two display cases on the counter top. The one on the left looks like it has pocket watches displayed. It seems kind of an odd item in a drug store. On top of that same case is a jacket someone left there. I thought that was kind of funny, as it is something I would do. Just left of that jacket you will see what looks like to displays of postcards. They are on those spinning displays still used today. I bet this very picture postcard came out of that display!

I thought it was pretty interesting that on one side of the store there was a loft of shelves where goods are stored, but on the left side there is nothing. I noticed the stovepipe coming up and across to the left. I bet that old stove made the store warm and cozy in the winter. If you look close, you can see lightbulbs coming down from the ceiling. I was surprised that the store would have electricity in 1908.

Against the back wall, directly behind the cigar display, you will see what I call a curio cabinet. It has some decorative woodwork at the top. I found this kind of an odd piece of furniture to be in a drug store, maybe because I am used to seeing them in people’s houses. I actually have one myself. Mine doesn’t have the same decorative top, but it is curved like that and has the door in the front. Mine is full of all kinds of old treasures. On each side of the curio cabinet are what look like framed certificates. I wondered if those were the pharmacists’ licenses.

A card’s cryptic message

When looking close at this picture postcard, I find all kinds of little things that are neat. I found that all the display cases were on top of counters; there were no display cases that had glass all the way to the floor. I found that interesting. I am going to assume that the owner of the store had a ladder to reach all the goods stored up high, and it looks like it would have to be a tall ladder. They kept quite the inventory.

But here is the most interesting thing about this picture. You might not be able to see it, but when I enlarge the picture on the computer, on the upper floor in the middle of the store at the very back, right below the two baskets, I can make out the image of a woman. And she is transparent. I can see the bricks or boxes right through her. Now don’t take me wrong; I do not think it’s a ghost. I would say it is some type of reflection or maybe happened when this picture was developed. Maybe it was an advertisement that is blurred; I don’t really know, but it is pretty weird.

The back of the post card is pretty simple, yet it’s pretty interesting in itself. It is addressed to a Mrs. Annie Y. Stone at 103 East Market Street in West Chester, Pennsylvania. The first thing I noticed was there was no zip code. I wonder how that worked. At the bottom of the postcard, if you remember, it said Prescott, Ark 5337. Maybe folks in Pennsylvania did not need a zip code.

The message reads “Will you please exchange cards with me Joe R. Hamilton, Prescott, Ark.” This is the same fellow who wrote his name across the cigar display. Now this made me wonder did Mr. Hamilton work at the drugstore and want a picture of the drugstore in West Chester? Was he some lonely old bachelor looking for Mrs. Hamilton? If he was, he probably should have sent the picture postcard to a Miss Stone, instead of a Mrs. Stone. Maybe, like myself, he just collected picture postcards, or maybe he wanted a pen pal. It leaves a lot to think about. If he was sparkin’ on her and trying to court her, he probably should have written a message a bit more romantic. I don’t think he is going to get far with what he wrote. I wonder why he felt the need to write his name across the picture. I gave it a good goin’ over as I laid in bed and an answer is still evading me.

Wandering the back roads

When life keeps me close to home, I have a tendency to break out the old photographs of my adventures and kind of re-live them. As I was going through my pictures, I picked out a few I thought you might like to see.

Many times as I roam the countryside, I find things that intrigue me and I will find somebody who can shed some light on the subject. This building was one of those that kind of fascinated me. It is located in Bland, Missouri. Highway 28 splits right through Bland, which sports a population of about 500 residents. I finally found a lady in town who told me that this building is an old broom corn factory.

This shows what I think was once a broom corn factory. If you look at the far left of the building, that looks like it was added later; the rest of the building looks pretty old and in good shape.

Photo by Anthony Lovelace

I did a bit of research on the Internet and found out that it very well could have been a broom corn factory, but research also revealed that corn cob pipes and shoes were manufactured in that county. No matter what was manufactured there, it was a really neat building.

The next picture also taken in Bland. It was located cattywompus across the street from the factory. I asked the same local lady what it used to be, as it seemed rather large to be a house. I was thinking along the lines of an old school or something. She told me that it was a boarding house for people that worked at the factory. She said that many of the workers were from other towns, rural areas, and even farmers. They would come in and work all week at the factory and stay at that boarding house and then take the train home on the weekends. I could never state any of this as fact but nevertheless I loved both these buildings.

This is the old boarding house across the street from the factory. I bet she was grand back in her prime. It would be so neat to stay in a place like this.

Photo by Anthony Lovelace

If my travels take me near towns that I have a picture postcard of, or to towns where agriculture equipment was once produced, I do my best to visit. If I have an old picture postcard of the town, I try to find the same buildings shown in the card and take a picture of it today. If the towns used to be home to an equipment company, I try to find the old buildings.

I think the building shown in this picture is the old Allis-Chalmers factory in La Crosse, Wis. Notice the right end of the building that is a different color. It looked to be older than the rest of the building.

Photo by Anthony Lovelace

I was on my way home when I found myself in La Crosse, Wisconsin. I knew that Allis-Chalmers used to have a factory there, so I did a bit of digging and went to track it down. I don’t know if I found the right building or not, but I enjoyed nosing around La Crosse very much. It is a wonderful town and, when I get a chance, I am going back to explore some more. The drawback to exploring some of these towns is I am usually dragging a trailer, which makes it look a bit weird, and makes it a bit harder to get around town.

This is that lighter colored section of the building. This may be the only part of the original factory left.

Photo by Anthony Lovelace

Uncovering traces of the past

When I go on a trip, very rarely do I make plans. I just go. I know what my end destination is; how I get there and when I arrive are matters I leave totally to chance. I love to travel like that; it’s the only way to travel, I think. On one trip, I found myself in the Quad Cities area. I have always been interested in Rock Island and been looking for a good Rock Island Plow Co. hit-and-miss engine for a while, so when I discovered I was near Rock Island, Illinois, I didn’t think twice. I called my friend Tyler Nighswonger back in Alva, and asked him to look up the location of the old Rock Island factory.

I believe to be part of the old Rock Island Plow Co. factory is Rock Island, Ill.

Photo by Anthony Lovelace

Tyler texted me the address and I hunted it up. I know that Case eventually bought out Rock Island Plow Co. I do believe I found part of the old Rock Island factory, but could not get to it. I could, however, get to anotherbuilding on the same complex; it was now a large trucking company. I went in the front door and right there in the lobby was this beautiful Case Eagle inlaid on the floor. Wouldn’t this have been a wonderful area to see back in its heyday!

This is the old J.I. Case factory in Rock Island, Ill.

Photo by Anthony Lovelace

The Case Eagle is inlaid at the entry to the building that once housed the J.I. Case factory. A trucking company now occupies the building.

Photo by Anthony Lovelace

I hope you enjoyed getting together as much as I have and I look forward to seeing you again. Until our next visit, remember to take time out of your busy schedule and enjoy the view from the back roads. FC

Anthony Lovelace, who died in December 2020 just weeks after completing this column, enjoyed traveling and collecting anything old.

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