Above: The shelves look sparse in this small butcher/grocery. The photo is from my collection of photos taken by a Noblesville photographer in the mid-to-late 1890s. I believe it may be the butcher bay of the Caylor Building on Conner Street (which now houses Indiana Kitchens & The Hamilton restaurant) as that’s the only commercial building I know of in Noblesville with a wood paneled, rather than tin ceiling. Cured meats hang from the wall on the right side above the meat counter with it’s roll of waxed paper for wrapping meat. Multiple scales line the table on the left for weighing produce.
On my first visit to England in the 1980s, I found a country where families had relatively small refrigerators and so did a little bit of grocery shopping each day. Most people walked some to and from work, school, or commuter stops, so they picked up milk or meat or bread each day as they moved to and from home. That’s a good way to think about the grocery shopping realities David Henry encounters in my novel, Noblesville. Folks had ice boxes, small oak or ash cabinets that were tin-lined and had a tin basin at the top where a large block of ice would be placed. We’ve all seen these in antique stores. The ice boxes didn’t hold a lot, preservatives in food were primitive or non-existent, and if your ice block melted before the ice man made it back down your street . . . well, you can imagine the dangers of having a lot of milk, cheese, or meat at home. It’s would go to waste. So most days people bought a little bit of each, ate leftovers as quickly as possible, and made due with what they had out of necessity.
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Below, Wild & Bart Grocery on the south side of the courthouse square in Noblesville, current day home of Martha Gascho’s law office. Note the barrels of produce – perhaps apples or potatoes, a bundle of brooms at the far right, and the “Eat Nudavene” sign in the window. Nudavene was a brand of oatmeal flake breakfast cereal. At the left note the African American man, and beside him to the right a fountain of sorts, spilling trickles of water into a basin so low, it could only be meant for the watering of horses. A water fountain for horses was smart marketing. Gave folks another reason to pull up and stop.
Midwestern small town women were caught in a food buying transition in the 1890s. Most town families had been pioneer or farm families just one or two generations back, so there was a social norm of growing food, trading for or buying it and preparing/canning it yourself. But as the photo at the top makes clear, canned food was readily available. The oral histories I’ve read of folks who grew up in the 1880s-90s reveal there was a touch of shame in town women buying canned goods – as if they were lazy, or prima-donnas, “too fancy” to grow, gather, or buy food to eat fresh or preserve. So canned goods were bought, but at least two sources I’ve read said their mother’s hid the store-bought tin cans in the trash so their neighbors wouldn’t know they’d cut corners.
In towns as small as Noblesville the farm was nearby and professional men routinely took a week or two off work in the fall to help farm family members get the crops in, routinely taking produce as partial pay. It was also normal for town women to buy bulk items like berries, tomatoes, and beans to preserve for the long winter. So hiding store-bought tins reveals something else about the midwest in general, and Indiana in particular: it’s socially vital to be down to earth and not act or live as though you’re better than anyone else. Above all else, Hoosiers are suspicious of folks who think or act exceptional or apart from the norm, in this case, “too good” to roll up their sleeves and prepare their own food.
In the novel Noblesville, David Henry finds folks arranging with grocery stores like Caylors to have wooden barrels of apples, turnips and potatoes brought to their homes and stored in their cellars. Diaries and oral histories are thick with stories of picking through the barrels in mid-winter, looking for something still worth eating, or worse yet, something that worms, mice or rats hadn’t already gotten to. Folks had seasonal diets: fresh strawberries and leafy greens in the spring, raspberries, tomatoes, and fresh green beans in the summer, apples, potatoes, melons and peanuts in the fall. And every step along the way, canning and canning and canning the overflow – “setting up” food in the cellar for the winter.
Below, Caylor’s Grocery with a fresh and gigantic delivery of Uneeda Bisquits stacked on the sidewalk. This is the front of the building that may have housed the butcher shop pictured at the top of this post, on Conner Street between 9th & 10th Streets. To help locals get their footing – the three “Caylors” across the sign band are above separate entrances. Today, the entrance at far right today houses Indiana Kitchens, the center entrance houses The Hamilton restaurant, and the far entrance houses Indiana Tae Kwon Do. In The Hamilton restaurant today you can see exposed, bricked-in archways that once connected the 3 bays of this building. This is what amounted to a large grocery store in the 1890s. The photo must have been taken in autumn as baskets are filled with potatoes, yams, and melons. Attorney Thomas Boyd, renamed Thomas Swain in my novel, Noblesville, actually had his office above the far right bay, just as it was described in the story.
Below: Samual Tescher relaxes at his desk at the back of Tescher’s Men’s Clothing Store. In the novel Noblesville, David Henry buys his clothes in this store. A close examination of the image shows a hat in the display case behind Sam along with stacks of hat boxes beyond that. The safe, with its door open is ornately painted with “S. A. Tescher” across its top. It’s here in this store that David Henry learns that if a man’s trousers have a crease down the center of each leg it marks him as a common man, one who can’t afford tailored clothes and has bought his folded on the shelf at a men’s store. Second photo below: An 1890s Shopping Mall looked something like this – a typical courthouse square. The building with “Tescher” at the top is the building Samuel was sitting in for the 1st photo below. Caylor’s Grocery can also be seen in this photo, at the immediate back, far right, touching the edge of the image.
Below, Craycraft & Osbon, pictured just after the turn of the century. This was located immediately west of Caylor’s Grocery (pictured earlier in this post). Women’s clothing and draperies are displayed in the window behind the posing store clerks. I represented a buyer in the sale of this building nearly a decade ago. At that time, long-abandoned fur lockers still existed in the basement, where locals could pay to have their furs safely stored away from summertime insect damage. The building now houses a restaurant/bar called Copper Still. Its facade was dramatically altered in the early 20th Century. For locals to get their bearings, this is the Conner Street side, eastern portion of Copper Still. Because of the redressing of the building’s front, it is today unrecognizable.
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