Thursday, October 30, 2014

Inside the Company Store: Post a Letter or Make a Deal

During the Depression Era, the Company Store was the place of much activity. . .Here sharecroppers and tenants bought (usually on credit) their seeds and supplies. . . shopped for food and clothing. . .posted a letter or received their order from Sears Roebuck and Company. . .made contracts for farmland. . .to sharecrop or to rent acreage. . .It's the place where everyone met to talk about the crops or hear the latest gossip. . .Notices were posted. . .The latest news was heard on the radio. . .

It's not much different at the Duncan Farmstead today. . .It's the place our groups gather. . .Purchase their candy and other items. . .Learn more information about the Depression Era. . .Maybe get a lesson in Rag Rug Weaving. . .As the Company Store was, it still is. . .The HEART of the farmstead.

The Company Store might also house the Farm Manager's Office. . .Here the farmers met with the 'boss man'--discussing the terms of the sharecropping or tenant contract and the line of credit they needed to carry them and their families through the season. . .until crops were harvested and sold. . .This was called 'the furnish'. . .The manager or land owner sold the crop that the farmers tended and harvested during the year. . .Then they'd meet back in the office to 'settle up'. . .(SEE: Sharecroppers and Tenants ) . . .

We have Marguerite Brownlee of Dell to thank for our Company Store Post Office. . .She was Postmaster in Dell for many, many years. . .When that facility was up-graded, she had the foresight to store this original Dell Post Office so that it didn't end up in the dump. . .She saved the rent boxes. . .the cage. . .the cubby holes. . .the scales. . .the tables. . .and numerous other Postal Service items. . . They sat in the storage room for many years at Brownlee's Store on Main Street in Dell, waiting for the day to be seen again. . .and that day came a few years ago when the Brownlee Store building had to razed. . .What a surprise it was when Mrs. Brownlee and her family generously offered the vintage Post Office to us. . .We were working on the interior of the Company Store. . .not sure how we'd come up with the displays we needed. . .Of course, we jumped at the chance--knowing that many country and company stores housed the community post office. . .We were so grateful for the opportunity.

Other vintage items came from donations and family. . .The Aladin's Lamp was donated by Bobby Hogan. . .The Mule Collar Mirror by Joe Chipman. . .Postal Stamps by Don Davis who also worked for the Post Office in another town. . .The office desk served my Grandmother Duncan for years. . .and Daddy after that. . .His vintage Underwood typewriter sits there. . .It was Daddy's first and last typewriter. . .He never up-graded and used it everyday. . .He said a new one--or a computer--wouldn't know what he wanted to say. . .The drawers still store his office supplies, tapes, and files. . .just as he left them. . .

The 1938 Desk Diary was my Granddaddy's (Earl Magers). . .and the ledgers were found stored in a barn at my parents home. . .

It has taken us years to gather everything and display it for our visitors to enjoy. . .It's been a monumental task. . .but I think it's finally done. . .Now it's time to sit back and enjoy telling the old stories. . .and welcome visitors as they participate in a piece of Delta history.

It's also the place I go to manage our farmstead. . .A place to open mail. . .pay bills. . .enter receipts in the ledger. . .correspond with others. . .The old radio still plays gospel music each morning. . .with news and updates every hour. . .Not so very different from 80+ years ago. . .A simple but busy life style. . .As it was. . .and as it is. . .

Post Script: My apologies for poor quality of the photos. . .For some reason, it is very difficult to photograph the back office and postal area. . .I suppose there's not enough light?. . .To our 21st century eyes, the colors seem rather dark and forbidding at times. . .but this isn't 2014. . .Nope. . .It's 1938. . .and 'just the way it was'. . .All the newest and best. during the Depression Era.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sharecroppers and Tenants

"I have land which you need, and you have muscle which I need. Let's put what we've got in the same pot and call it ours. . .I'll give you all the land you can work, a house to live in , and a garden plot and room to raise chickens, hogs, and cows if you can come by them, and all the wood you want to cut for fuel. . .I'll get you a doctor when you are sick. . .Until the crop comes in I'll try to keep you from going hungry and naked as far as I am able. . .I'll pay taxes and I'll furnish the mules and plows and gear and whatever else is necessary to make a crop. . . This is what I promise to do.
You will plant and cultivate and gather this crop as I direct. . .This is what you will promise to do. . . When the crop is picked, half of it will be mine and half of it yours. . .If I have supplied you with money or food or clothing or anything else during the year, I will charge it against your half of the crop. I shall handle the selling of the cotton and the cottonseed because I know more than you do about their value. . .If the price of cotton is good, we shall both make something. If it is bad, neither of us will make anything, but I will probably lose this place and you will lose nothing. . .It's a hard contract these hard times for both of us, but it's just and self-respecting and if we both do our part and have a little luck we can both prosper under it."
from the book LANTERNS ON THE LEVEE, William Alexander Percy
When Granddaddy Magers and family arrived at Dell in 1916, he had no more than $10 in his pocket but a big dream in his heart. . .By 1919, he had bought several large pieces of property--one at Roseland, one close to Victoria, and several parcels scattered around Mississippi County--as well as the entire First Addition to Dell. . .It didn't stop there. . .He continued to buy and sell for several more decades--until he owned some of the choicest land in the area. . .Granddaddy only had an 8th grade education, but when it came to buying real estate and farmland, he was a very smart businessman.

In the beginning years Granddaddy worked his land through sharecropping or tenancy. . .From what I've been told, he was fair to his farmers and his word was good. . .This wasn't always the case with others. . .The sharecropper rarely got out of debt to the land owners. . .and many a deal went foul.

Unfortunately, many farmers fell down the tenancy ladder rather than moving up it. From the bottom rung, the hapless sharecropper could climb to share tenant if he could accumulate enough of his own equipment and money. Share tenants kept two-thirds or three-fourths of the crop, depending on how much they could furnish. If a share tenant progressed to a point of needing nothing but the land, he could become a cash tenant by paying a fixed rental. Cash tenants kept all of the proceeds from the crop. . . It sounds good. . .but. . . many farmers lost their farms or their status as cash or share tenants because of crop failures, low cotton prices, laziness, ill health, poor management, exhaustion of the soil, excessive interest rates, or inability to compete with tenant labor. Many tricks of nature (drought, flood, insects, frost, hail, high winds, and plant diseases) could ruin a crop. . .Lots of heartache went into farming in those early years.

During the Depression, families were grateful to find land available for work. . .A house was included in most agreements. . .and they had the opportunity to grow a garden for food. . .In many ways, farmers faired better than those living in the city. . .At the very least on a farm there was the opportunity to feed the family with a garden and wild game. . .Families were closer. . .Lasting friendships were made. . .Everyone shared what they had. . .and LIFE WAS GOOD. . .in spite of the hardships.

1930s Sharecropper
We share this part of our Delta history with each and every visitor to the Farmstead. . .In fact, we just might have you pick a little cotton for us while you're here. . .Always looking for GOOD help. . .

. . .from the farmstead. . .

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Little Bit of Barn Charm

We've added one more barn to the FARMSTEAD. .  .much smaller than the other two. . .but with just as much charm. . .don't you think? . .So cute and just in time to have it's photo taken with the cotton fields in the background. . .I simply love it. . .LIFE IS GOOD. . .

Monday, October 13, 2014

White as Snow

This is what we're all about Everyone. . .COTTON. . .The fields have been as white as snow this year. . .I love seeing it outside our windows. . .I love the smell of it drying in the sun. . .I love walking through the fields when the bolls are full and plump and ready to pick. . .I even love riding in the picker every time I get a chance.

We are literally surrounded by fields and fields of COTTON. . .

Fall activity is exciting as the farmers try to beat the weather and get everything picked before any rains or storms show up. . .Half Moon Farms worked into the night--with lights on--last Thursday, trying to get our fields picked. . .Then it began to rain. . .and rain. . .and rain. . .Today we're to get more rain and wind. . .There's much more COTTON to be picked, so we're saying our prayers and keeping our fingers crossed that the crop will still be there once everything dries out. . .Farming isn't a stress free lifestyle. . .Daddy used to say that growing COTTON was a bigger gamble than playing the river casinos. . .The cards are stacked against you. . .yet. . .he wouldn't consider doing anything else. . .and neither would I. . .There's just something about it. . .a rush and a thrill each Fall as we see all the hard work and worry turn into Fields White as Snow. . .one of the many times when LIFE IS GOOD. . .on a COTTON FARM.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ready for a Sneak Peek Inside the Company Store?

Guess I've teased you long enough. . .I think it's time I give you a peek at what we call our Company Store. . .But first, I need to give you a little history lesson. . .

Most larger farms and plantations in the Delta maintained what was called a Company Store that was located within the farm complex. . .Anyone who sharecropped or worked for the 'company' was expected to buy from that store. . .Often prices were inflated but at the same time, most farm workers didn't have the money to maintain themselves and their family through the year. . .So the Company would issue credit to them and "settle up" when the crops came in and were sold. . .Of course, the Company did all the selling so they could withhold any money to pay the outstanding bills. . .On most farm/plantations, the store might be open to the public also--for cash sales. . .A few plantation stores were warehouses that opened 1-2 days per week only for anyone associated with the farm.

Granddaddy never actually owned a Company Store. . .While he had quite a bit of acreage, his farms were scattered throughout Mississippi Country, each with a farm complex of it's own. . .If a store was located at any of the complexes, it was run by someone not directly connected to the farm. . .but they were required to rent the building from Granddaddy.

In order to preserve a part of our Delta history and to teach visitors the plantation system, we moved the C. A. Smith Grocery from Dell to the Duncan Farmstead. . .The exterior is preserved as it was when C. A. ran the store in Dell. . .The interior is not. . .It reflects a Company Store during the Depression Era. . .

Granddaddy actually constructed the original building ca. 1919 for the black community in Dell. . .Someone in the Magers family has always owned it from 1919 to the present day. . .It was rented to the store keepers. . .Sometime in the late 40s, when mechanization took over the farms and the black community began to leave, C. A. took over the grocery and remained there until he retired ca 1975. . . The building was rented from then on mostly for storage.

When we moved the building to our farmstead, it was nothing but a shell. . .an empty building. . .John did all the carpentry, electrical work, and general renovations. . .It took four years to complete.

Through the generous donations from Marguarite Brownlee in Dell, we have an original Post Office from Dell, vintage glass displays and a wooden counter from the Brownlee Store in Dell, and many other vintage items and displays. Our center display table came from the old Dell School, which was built back in 1935 after a tornado ripped through Dell and destroyed much of the original building.

We have also been blessed by others who have donated a number of goods and pieces of history, including Katherine Bowen of Gosnell,  Doris Bryaens of Gosnell,  Sandra Carpenter of Dell,  Joe Chipman of Manila,  Don Davis of Blytheville,  The Dilldine Farm of Half Moon,  Bobby Hogan of Dell,  and Kenny Jackson of Dell. . .as well as family items from Aunt Mamie Griffin,  Aunt Naoma Gill,  Great Aunt Pearl Magers Sheppard,  Earl and Alice Magers,  Curtis and Irene Duncan,  and our own personal collections.

So with all that said, here's a peek at the inside of our Duncan Farmstead Company Store. . . .You know what you have to do to see the rest. . . .

I'll feature the Post Office in a future post, as well as the Company Office.
but, that's another story for another day. . .
Be looking for it soon. . . . . .

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Corn Crib Gazebo: Before and After

"The Corn Crib was once used for the storage of corn and other feed grains. In the 1930's, Mr. Magers had two buildings joined together to make one larger building. Constructed of cypress, it has a hip roof that is covered in shingles. The style is unusual for a farm building. It is in POOR REPAIR." . . from the National Register of Historic Places 2007

I wish I had a photo of the corn crib when we moved to the farm. . .The photo above shows it in excellent repair compared to what we found in 2005. . .The photos below are after much clean-up. . . .When a survey team arrived from the Department of Arkansas Heritage in Little Rock and went to work gathering information and photographs so that they could submit our farmstead to the National Register of Historic Places, they were amazed at the good shape most of the barns and larger buildings were in. . .Not so much the outbuildings. . .While they encouraged me to TRY to restore it, they knew it would take a lot of work and money to restore the Corn Crib. . .Unlike the image above taken ca 1960s, the poor building was in horrible shape. . .Floor fallen in from termites and rot, so treacherous it was unsafe to enter. . .No doors. . .Siding rotted and falling off. . .Few shingles left on the roof--only enough remnants to see that it was green at one time. . .Many of the joists had rotted. . .Trash and animal droppings scatter around. . .For all the negatives, the main structure of cypress including the rafters was still in fairly good condition. . .If we could get a roof on it, it might be saved.

I would never considered anything but restoration. . .I'd worked at Colonial Williamsburg long enough to know that any building could be brought back to life. . .There was another reason I wouldn't tear it down, though. . .It all goes back to the late 1950s-early 60s when I'd bike out to the farm (we lived 'in town') to be with Daddy who often had some project going on in the shop. . .At one time he was building a houseboat to put on Lake Norfolk for our summers. . .but that's another story I'll have to tell you later.

While Daddy worked, I'd roam around the barns and buildings making an adventure out of the day. . .I liked the big barn. . .the little barn was alright. . .but my favorite was the Corn Crib. . .By the time Mom and Daddy inherited the farm, there were no longer cattle or mules or horses or any animal except dogs, chickens, and a few barn cats. . .So Daddy used the building to store fertilizer and seed. . .The only time I could play in it was at the end of summer when it was empty until the next year.

I wasn't suppose to play there. . .chemicals and all. . .but I did. . .I pretended it was my little home. . .daydreamed of how I'd 'fix it up'. . .where the bed would go. . .and a rocker. . .and a table and chairs. . .I'd need a big wood stove to cook on. . .a cabinet top to make my pies. . .Daydreams. . .

Forgive me Daddy. . .but, every time I'd hear the shop door open, I would run or hide so you wouldn't catch me. . .How many years ago was that? And, I'm just now confessing. . .

Anyway. . .Let's just say I've been fond of the building for many years. . .The deterioration didn't concern me. . .I envisioned it as a place where we could relax with an iced tea in the afternoon. . .or fire up the grill and have our friends over. . .or spend a quiet Sunday there alone with a good book.

In a way, I suppose it is my playhouse still. . .just not the one I planned years ago. . .John and I both have added special touches making it everyone's favorite of all the twelve buildings. . .I picked the Victorian style screen doors. . .John constructed the cupola with the weathervane rooster. . .We  painted the gazebo exterior red with white trim to match the other buildings. . .I made certain a green roof went on top. . .The siding IS the original. . .all we could salvage. . .which is how we determined the area to be screened. . .We started adding back the reclaimed boards at the front and then the back. . .and used the remainder on the lower sides. . . .It was six years ago that we finished and have enjoyed it every since. . .By next Spring the old beauty will be due for a coat of paint. . .or not. . .part of her charm is the weathering of the cypress and paint.

You can see the interior photos at THE COUNTRY FARM HOME:
although here's a peek for you. . .Quite a difference, isn't it?
I'm so glad I never forgot those childhood daydreams and salvaged this building. .
.It's a fun place to relax and regroup. . .whatever the season. . .Yep. . .
LIFE IS GOOD here at the farm. . .
No complaints

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Sign, Sign, Everywhere A Sign

Located at C. A. Smith's Grocery, Duncan Farmstead

Are you old enough to remember that song by the Five Man Electric Band? . .Well, I am. . .and for a month it has been playing over and over in my head. . . .every time I worked in the store. . .
"Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?"

Located at Duncan Farmstead

I never realized how many signs we have until I began taking Sneak Peek photos for you. . .I think Coca Cola signs are the most plentiful. . .but we have many others scattered around the farmstead. . .Some advertising. . .Some informative. . .Some just for fun. . .
(grin) . . .The funny thing about this sign is. . .we have no sidewalks. . .(chuckle--chuckle). . .A little humor never hurts anyone, does it?
Just popping in for a moment. . .I'm on my way back outside to add a few more signs. . .'sign, sign, everywhere a sign'. . .hmmm. . .hmmm. . .hmm, humm, humm. . .LIFE IS GOOD. . .