Warren County Historical Society Presents …


June 1, 2014

Shopping at the Turn of the 20th Century

The following article appeared in ‘The Hague Chronicle’ in June of 2012.  In writing about Hague’s early markets, former Hague Town Historian, Clifton West, provides a look at what a shopping experience was like around 1900.  Thanks to Pat McDonough of the Hague Historical Society for permission to use this in our Rewind column.

The Barton and Keenan General Store in Hague, early 1900s.

The Barton and Keenan General Store in Hague, early 1900s.



Mr. West writes:

“Sometime in the early 1890’s two brothers named Bolton came over to Hague from Brant Lake.  Richard was a wood cutter and he soon got a job chopping and piling four foot wood to be used firing the boilers at his uncle’s mill at the Wheeler Mine back of the Rising House.  He could cut and pile a cord of 4 foot wood in a day.  He probably received one dollar for this work.

Ellis Bolton had a better idea for earning a living.  Even though Hague had two stores, he could see the need for another general store in town to better serve the farmers.  Melvin Barton had come from Horicon to build the big three-story building which contained a store with living quarters upstairs for the family.  After Ellis Bolton died, the family sold out to Barton.  Later John and William Keenan came from Horicon and joined Barton in the business.

The only means of refrigeration in those early days with no electricity was by ice cut in the lake and stored in ice houses.  There was a big one back of the store.  Three times a week several cakes of ice were removed, sawdust washed off the cakes, and they were slid down over the cooler on iron “runs”.  This kept butter, eggs, meat and other perishables from spoiling.  Milk was not sold in stores.  Local dairymen delivered it from their farms direct to homes.  Much of a store’s sales were by barter and exchange.  Farmers came to buy what they could not raise on the farm.  They would pay with home grown produce.  No money would change hands.  Village customers had more money as they had jobs.  That is where the store keeper made his profit.

The store keeper had several casks of hard cider in the basement.  If a few of the men chose to sit around the big wood stove and get warm before starting home, the clerk might bring up a pitcher of cider for the boys.  Near the left end of the present deli counter hung a full bunch of bananas and a machete-like knife to cut them off.  They sold for five cents each.  Most of them were bought by workmen who put them into their lunch boxes.  At the serving counter the customer asked for his order or gave the clerk a list.  Then the clerk gathered the various items and bagged them.  Many of these items were loose like crackers, cheese, corn meal, flour and vinegar.  The latter was kept in a big cask down in the basement.  Usually people brought their gallon jug from home.  They used a lot of vinegar.

The kerosene pump was outside by the present ice chest.  The old lamps used a lot of it.  Some families laid in a barrel of flour for winter, but most was sold in 25 pound flour sacks.  Shotgun shells, rifle cartridges, and fishing tackle were treated as seasonal and not on display all the time.   I remember that when a customer bought a one gallon or five gallon can of kerosene the clerk stuck a small potato or onion on the spout to prevent oil from splashing out.”


Thank you to the Hague Historical Society and The Hague Chronicle for this material.

© June 1  2014, Warren County Historical Society




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