15 April 2012

Lottie's Memoirs: The Store

... This is part three in a series. Please see the initial post for explanation.

The Lee Family at Silver Creek, Nebraska

Lottie Mae Lee Houston
Mrs. Andrew Houston

Page 6, continued.

The Lee store grew from a small, pioneer venture to a large mercantile business covering more than half a block, and including warehouse buildings as well as the general store. It carried dry goods of all kinds, "notions" for sewing, etc., groceries, feed, hay and grain. People bought staples in large quantities as they did not come to town often. The groceries were shipped in from Chicago, mostly, and were in bulk. For example, rice or beans or sugar came in large sacks or boxes. There was a great "cheese block", a round piece of wood as large, almost, as a table, which we kept on a counter by itself, with a large cheese on it, covered by a wire screen to keep the flies off.  A piece would be cut off and weighed for a customer as he wanted it. The cheese itself was covered with a very fine cheesecloth which came around the mold. There were crackers in a large barrel or boxes, (I remember big wooden boxes best), and sometimes when Dad could not get home for a meal on time he sliced off cheese and took some crackers for a quick lunch. He loved crackers and cheese, and I remember that in his old age he still liked them for a snack.

As the farmers prospered they began bringing in grain in big sacks or by wagon loads, to be shipped out. A big scales was installed in front of the store so that loads of grain could be hauled on be horses, and weighed. All grain was then sacked and shipped out in freight cars on the Union Pacific railroad. Later, a grain elevator was built in Silver Creek, by a grain company.

A post office department was added to the store, and our father was appointed postmaster. The business grew, and the store was enlarged by building on, four times in all. Many settlers

Page 7.

had no cash, so Dad gave credit, with the people promising to pay when they sold their crops. Some did pay, probably most of them, but to this day many have not! Our father felt that he was doing something for his country, for humanity and for religion when he could help someone in need. Many times I have heard him say when someone said "Mr. Lee, how can I ever thank you for this?" ------ "Pass it on. Pass it on to somebody else who needs something." He was known as the kindest of men.

With the thriving business it was necessary to employ several clerks -- one being young Thomas Lee, a brother of C.H. Lee and nine years younger. Another was Warren Tolman, son of a fine Baptist family who had moved to a farm east of Silver Creek. Both Thomas and Warren were boys of about 16 when they began at the store, and they kept mattresses under the counter, which they laid out at night to sleep on. This gave the store some protection at night. Also, living quarters were hard to find. (Warren grew up to become a lawyer and to move to Washington State where he finally became a Supreme Court judge, at Olympia, Washington. He visited and was visited by Lottie, daughter of C.H. Lee, in the 1920s, where she lived at Enumclaw, Washington.)

Uncle Tom Lee was bookkeeper for the store for a long time. He worked at a high narrow desk which stood against the wall, and he sat on a high stool. The desk was built like a box on four long legs, and had a sloping hinged lid which let down to form a writing surface. When the lid was closed, the ledgers could be locked inside.

The money was kept in a large safe, and although there was fear of outlaws in the new country, I do not remember that there was ever a robbery. There was always someone at the store. Dad worked there early and late, and as I have said, the boys slept there at night. I can see Dad as he was then, a tall, good looking man in his twenties, always whistling or singing, busy unloading merchandise from railway cars, loading grain, supervising men, checking invoices, replenishing shelves, waiting on customers.

The town gradually added a drug store, blacksmith shops, livery stables, barber shop, saloons, meat market and a weekly newspaper, predecessor of the "Silver Creek Sand", ( I do not remember the name). Our Grandmother Lawrence, while she lived in Silver Creek, helped support herself by writing for this newspaper, which was owned and operated by one man. She was something of a poet, as well as a cap-writer of prose, and was always called upon for vivid descriptions of special news events and for editorials and obituaries. In those days obituaries were very complete and meant a great deal to friends and families, and I remember that many people requested the "Mrs. Lawrence write the life story of someone dear to them.

[Transcribers note: "Grandmother Lawrence" is Sarah Evans Lawrence, mother of Mary J. Lawrence, who is Lottie's mother.]

Grandmother Lawrence later moved to Colorado, where she lived with Uncle Warner and his family. She died there and is buried at Brighton. She had a large family of children. I have been unable to keep up contact with most of these relatives, but in later years have known and valued the families of Aunt Frances Lawrence Brown, and Lula Gregory Ten Broeck. Lula's daughter, Ruth has more information about the branches of the Lawrence family.

...to be continued...

Property map from 1899 listing Mary J. Lee, mother of Lottie.
Also includes Tolman family mentioned by Lottie in her text.
(Source: Ancestry.com)


  1. Very cool. Talk about authentic. Love the description of the store, with the cheese and crackers. Your relatives were central to the town, it sounds like. Good memory that Lottie has of her Dad saying "pass it on." I hear my uncle was the same way -- honor was valued in the community, and a man's word was his bond. A deal on a handshake.

    I've missed part two, obviously. I'll look around for it. Don't these sound like much less complicated times than today. I know they had hardships, but . . . I'd like to be the clerk who slept overnight at the store.

  2. Blanche Lawrence, a sister to Mary Josephine and to Frances Elizabeth Lawrence (Mrs. Oscar Fitzallen Brown), married John Fisher Gregory. Their daughter Lula Gregory m. Dirk Wessel Ten Broeck. Their daughter Ruth Gregory Ten Broeck seems to have kept in correspondence with Lottie.


Please comment! I would love to hear your thoughts!