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Monday, March 26, 2012

GENERAL STORES, WALKER EVANS, AND CULTURAL MEANING

Courtesy of Library of Congress

As I look at this Walker Evans photo above, taken in the 1930s, I wonder if this building is still standing? To me it is a cultural icon representing the early part of the 1900s -- reflecting early vehicles, advertisements, architecture, community, general stores,  postal conveniences, all wrapped up in a place . A place where everyone knew who you were which kept most people honest. 


General stores at one time, in this country, had meaning. It was a way of life in small communities to have such stores down the road usually within walking distance. Settlements in agricultural areas clustered near such stores. They acted as newspapers for the settlements -- casting out news  gleaned from one source then dispersing it to others as they arrived at the store. Examples of such news items might be; who just had a baby, the wind storm that blew down part of Jacob's barn, auction of Mable's estate, and who needs a little help.


Below are a few photos of vacant general stores that exist today in central Kentucky. What will become of them? Will they ever return to the iconic ways present in the Walker Evans photo?


KIRKSVILLE AREA
I notice these general stores as I ride the back-roads. How many of these once small diverse stores have been removed from the landscape? Time brings increasing demolitions to our older buildings.  


UPDATED BUT EMPTY, GENERAL STORE NEAR BEREA.
What do we have today that can be likened to this icon of the past? What social changes do we realize from their demise? What takes their place?


BARELY STANDING IN ITS ORIGINAL STATE. 
GENERAL STORE IN THE
RED LICK AREA.


ADDENDUM:
Commentator Kirk deDoes pointed out that Sprott, AL is aware of the Walker Evans photo. He left this link that highlighted the Sprott folks and Walker Evans photo. Interesting link to visit. Here is one of the photos taken from the link. See Kirk deDoes comment below for link  address. 
  





20 comments:

  1. Unfortunately, it is most likely large stores like Wal Mart that have taken their place. We have lost that small sense of community with the demise of these places.

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    1. Stores such as Wal-Mart have taken away the meaning of community. I wonder around in big box stores feeling lost. thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  2. Wouldn't a lady have been intimidated trying to enter that first store! Whew, that's a gauntlet to run. I love the last photo; what a perfect place to spend a few afternoon hours. I doubt the general store will ever come back--it's been supersized into Wal-Mart. What a loss.

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    1. Granny Sue -- I agree, I like the last general store photo. I do know that in its hey day it had a post office counter. What a nice place for folks in the country to meet up with each other and exchange news. thanks -- barbara

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  3. I grew up "in the sticks" and we had a general store that is surprisingly still standing and still a general store. It looks pretty much like it always did. It is no longer in the sticks like it used to be and there are many other businesses moving in. I wonder what its future will be?

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    1. Birdie -- Probably will turn into a coffee house or a McDonalds??? It's the way of the world I guess -- thanks -- barbara

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  4. There were quite a few of these when we moved to the mountains in 1975 -- almost all are closed now but I was heartened to see one (Glendora's)in a very rural part of our county which had been closed twenty some years has re-opened and had a full bench of old guys in overalls sitting out front.

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    1. Vicki -- Nice that Glendora's reopened. I'm sure the folks living in that very rural part of your county appreciate the convenience. Love to see the men clustered in bib overalls sitting in front of a country store. -- Thanks for the comment -- barbara

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  5. We used to visit the 'original' Mast General Store in Valle Crusis. Back then it really was a general store although it had already begun to be something of a tourist spot. They even sold caskets and their motto was that they care for you from the cradle to the grave. Now they have really commercialized and are located in many western NC towns not unlike Cracker Barrel. No real charm anymore.

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    1. I do know that early furniture stores also sold caskets -- I wasn't aware of any general store that sold caskets. I find that unusual. but perhaps it wasn't that unusual? You say your Mast Head General Store has gone corporate -- figures -- it is the way of the commercial world we are living in. -- Nice comment -- barbara

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    2. The chain of Mast General Stores as well as the original one in Valle Crusis, NC no longer sell caskets but most of them have one on display. The real wording of their motto was, "Goods for the living; Coffins and Caskets for the dead."

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    3. NCmountainwoman -- If I ever get over to NC I will have to stop in one of the Mast General Stores. Sounds like they try to keep the feeling of the old original store -- their motto is hilarious. Thanks -- barbara

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  6. I thinkg the Walker Evans general continues to stand. Check out the website:
    http://www.marvhamm.com/my_family_page2.html

    Looks different.

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  7. KIRK -- Many thanks for the info on the Sprott/Walker Evans link. I found the old family photos wonderful. The link contributes to the feeling of community. Especially liked the one family photo in front of the barely discernable log house, Appreciate your input -- barbara

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  8. I feel I'm in a kind of time machine, being flown back for many decades. Such documentary photos are of great historical value.

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    1. RuneE -- sometimes I feel like I am in a time machine going back as I ride the roads of central Kentucky. There are many material artifacts from the agricultural past that sit quietly on the landscape. thanks-- barbara

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  9. Thanks for the links to the past. Amazing structure with stories, stories, stories...

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    1. Birdman -- If only the landscape artifacts could talk -- such stories would be told! -- barbara

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  10. I love these old country stores and try to stop in them when I travel. They make great photo opps and it's always nice to get a flavor of the area. I miss having one nearby, as I did for many years when I lived at my farmhouse in Ansel. Walker Evans photos are wonderful.

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  11. I loved these photos, thanks for sharing.

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