The Crooked Lake Review

Spring 2005

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Mendon — The Early Years

The General Store at Mendon Centre


John G. Sheret

During the last half of the 19th century and the first two decades of the 20th century, the hamlet of Mendon Centre was an important, flourishing commercial center for a large area of the Town of Mendon. In addition to the Schlafer & Kramer carriage works and the blacksmith shop of the Turner brothers, later operated by William Donovan and James Campbell, Mendon Centre was also the location of the Lord Brothers cider mill and dry house, the Krenzer grist mill, and the saw mill of Samuel Bull. The latter two mills were located on Irondequoit Creek that flows through Mendon Centre. The foundation of the grist mill can still be found where the creek leaves Mendon Ponds Park and enters the hamlet. The early Greek-Revival-style house of the mill owner was recently demolished and replaced by a new house.

KEY. 1. Gazley's General Store and Post Office, 2. Grist Mill, 3. Cider Mill and Dry House,
4. Saw Mill, 5. Black Smith Shop, 6. Carriage Painting Shop, 7. Site of first General Store

All of these shops and mills are now gone, either due to fire, as was the case with the grist and cider mills, or, in the case of the others, replaced by 20th-century buildings.

The words "Carriage Painting" can still be read on a red barn standing on the Mendon Centre Road as you enter the hamlet from the west. This building was the shop of William Wasson Cox who achieved local fame as an artist and painter of carriages. By the second decade of the 20th century, Cox, reacting to the changing times, became a painter of automobiles as well. His Gothic-Revival-style house and beautifully landscaped grounds have been faithfully maintained by a succession of owners over the years.

However, perhaps the most important and enduring business in any rural community during this era was the general store. Almost every crossroads of any consequence boasted a store that existed to sell its merchandise as well as to provide a gathering place for the residents of the neighborhood. In many cases, prior to the inauguration of Rural Free Delivery, it was also the location of the Post Office.

Some propietors of General Stores were also the collectors of real estate taxes and were justices of the peace. Or, if not actually elected, they served as unofficial judges who settled disputes among the residents.

During the late 1800s and early 1900s Mendon Centre was, as it is today, a busy and important crossroads for travelers passing through the area. One road led eight miles to the village of Pittsford and was the principal route for teamsters hauling loads from the huge stone grist mills in Honeoye Falls to the Erie Canal. A nearby tavern, built in 1820 and now a private home, was a favorite stopping place for drivers to rest, obtain refreshments, and to water their horses.

The other road, now known as the Rush Mendon Road (R-251) is the principal route across the Town of Mendon from Rush on the west to Victor on the east. Prior to the completion of the Rush Mendon Road in 1904, travel across the town was by way of the Mendon Centre Road.

An early General Store was started in the Centre by Robert Briggs at an unknown date. In 1852, William Van Wagner opened another store at the cross road location which he subsequently sold to Robert Briggs whose first store then became a tenant house on the Abner Bushman farm.

In 1865, Briggs sold his store to Alonzo D. Gazley who had recently moved with his family to Mendon Centre from Dutchess County, New York State. In the 1869-1870 Monroe County Directory, Gazley is listed as a "dealer in dry goods and groceries, postmaster, and agent for the Eureka mower."

In the spring of 1882, Gazley moved the store building a short distance down the Victor Road to a site near the west bank of Irondequoit Creek where it was converted into a private residence for Mrs. Frank Burrell.

At the location of the earlier store, Gazley erected a much larger building with the front part devoted to store operations. The second floor contained a large room known as "Gazley's Hall" which, for the next three decades, was the community center used for dances, weddings, and other social events. The remainder of the space in the building was reserved as a living area for the store keeper and his family.

As was the custom of many general stores in the latter part of the 19th century and the early part of the 20th century, Gazley operated grocery wagons out of his store. His sons, Ernest and Melville, each had routes on which they called on farms in the surrounding countryside at regular intervals.

In January of 1885, apparently tiring of the business, Alonzo Gazley advertised his store for sale. In March of that year, Patrick Malone, a prominent resident of the Town of Pittsford, purchased the store for his son Joseph.

The same month Gazley commissioned auctioneer Lloyd L. Lewis to sell all of the equipment associated with the business and most of his household goods. He then moved to Rochester where he accepted a position as a salesman for the Flower City Soap Works.

On March 31, 1893, Joseph Malone, having been in poor health for a number of years due to a railroad accident, passed away at his home in Mendon Centre. On the day of his death, after finishing his morning work, he told his wife, Katherine, that he would lie down for a few minutes. After she had prepared the noon meal, she went to the bedroom to call her husband and in her own words "found him cold in death."

Katherine Malone, known as "Kate," with the assistance of her four children, operated the store until Januay 1900, when she, while retaining ownership of the building, leased the business to Benjamin Cole, the son of a neighboring farmer.

In the spring of 1900, a group of Mendon Centre residents formed a telephone company to connect the hamlet with the village of Honeoye Falls and the Lehigh Valley Railroad depot at Rochester Junction. One of the three pay stations was in the general store of Benjamin Cole, who was on the board of directors and served as secretary of the new company.

On January 1, 1902, Rural Free Delivery was inaugurated in Mendon. This event, much to the distress of many residents, marked the end of the Mendon Center Post Office, which had been located in the General Store for over sixty years. After the completion of the Rochester and Auburn Railroad in 1841, mail had been carried by horseback from the station at Fishers to Mendon Centre. By 1902, however, mail arrived in Rochester Junction via the Lehigh Valley Railroad. The first Post Office was located in the Terry Hotel at the Junction and a few years later moved to the Lehigh Valley Railroad depot.

Lewis Kimball, who next ran the store, was the son of Homer and Sarah Kimball, owners of a farm that Sarah had inherited from her father, John Dunshie, who had settled on the land in 1832. The property, along the Rush Mendon Road, passed to Lewis, who, deciding to give up farming, purchased the good will and contents of the general store from Benjamin Cole in December 1901.

Improvements to the store included removing the Post Office and replacing it with a large showcase. He stated that his aim was "to keep a general stock of goods needed by a farming community."

However, Lewis Kimball's venture into the general store business proved to be short lived. In December 1904, Kate Malone, who was still the actual owner of the bulding, sold it to Albert Alonzo Lord, who at the time owned a large farm just west of Mendon Centre. In a sense the store stayed in the same family, inasmuch as Albert's aunt, Delia Lord Malone, was the mother of Kate's late husband, Joseph Malone.

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by Albert Lord and, with the intention of staying in the store business, Lewis Kimball in January 1905 bought land on the north side of the Victor Road, just east of Irondequoit Creek. On this site he erected a store that he claimed to be "commensurate with the importance of the place."

The March 9, 1905, Honeoye Falls Times reported that the "interior was finished in Georgia pine presenting a neat and bright appearance. Mr. Kimball has provided a shelter for horses so that in inclement weather farmers need not worry about the comfort of their horses while transacting business."

In order to meet the competition of the new Kimball store, Albert Lord erected a 20' x 36' horse shed for the convenience of his customers. On April 8, 1905, Mendon Centre residents were treated to the grand opening of a newly painted and freshly stocked general store with Albert as the proprietor.

During the night of March 15, 1906, a fire on undetermined origin broke out in the store of Lewis Kimball. The building was completely destroyed and all of the fire-fighting effort was directed to save a nearby dwelling. This disaster ended Kimball's venture into the store business and, from this point on, he concentrated his efforts on raising vegetables on land that he owned in Mendon Centre.

On November 14, 1906, Albert Lord's daughter, Vernie, married Oliver M. Francis, son of Mr. and Mrs. Merritt Francis of Honeoye Falls. The young couple moved to Victor where Oliver obtained a position as a telegraph operator for the Lehigh Valley Railroad.

In June 1908 Oliver and his wife returned to Mendon Centre where they rented a house and Oliver entered the employment of his father-in-law in the general store business. In November 1909 he purchased the Thomas Doyle residence situated diagonally across the intersection from the store.

In March 1913, the two men formed a partnership and advertised that the business would be known as "Lord & Francis" after April 1st. This arrangement prevailed until February 1917 when Albert Lord sold his interest in the store to his son-in-law. At the same time the two men agreed to exchange residences, with Oliver moving his family into the store building, and Albert and his wife moving into Oliver's house across the street.

Mr. Lord then pursued other business interests, one of them being the ownership of a store on Monroe Avenue in Rochester, in partnership with his daughter, Neva Lord.

In his early days as a partner in the store, Oliver, or "Ollie," as he was known to his friends and customers, made four trips a week in a peddling wagon pulled by a team of horses named "Billie" and "Pearl." The wagon had a door on each side that allowed Ollie to open the one nearest the kitchen of the customer when he drove into a farm yard.

1913 photo of Oliver Francis and his peddling wagon. The near horse is
Billie; the far horse is Pearl. Photo courtesy of Alberta Francis Young.

As he made his rounds, Ollie would buy, or more frequently take in trade, eggs and butter from farm wives.The eggs were placed in a cross-hanging crate suspended between the front and rear wheels of the wagon (see photo). Under the seat was a zinc-lined compartment in which he packed ice, butter, steamers (hot dogs), salt pork (for beans), and baloney.

In May 1913, the Honeoye Falls Times printed this article: "Have you seen the Mendon Centre grocery wagon? It is a dandy! It is equal to a country store right at your door; not only groceries but also dry goods and everything a farmer needs."

In 1917, Ollie abandoned the peddling wagon in favor of a Ford single-seat automobile from which he removed the trunk and bolted in a large rack to hold groceries and other supplies.

By the early 1920s, instead of following a prescribed route, Ollie obtained orders from his customers by telephone each week. All members of the family then worked to grind coffee as needed, draw vinegar and molasses by the quart or gallon, and place the groceries in baskets or cardboard boxes for loading into the delivery truck.

On Tuesday the delivery route was Mendon Centre Road, Rochester Junction, Sheldon Road, and Clover Street; on Thursday: Taylor Road, Hopper Hills, and Cheese Factory Road; on Friday: "around the square," that is, Pittsford Road, Pond Road, West Bloomfield Road, and back home on Rush Mendon Road; and on Saturday: around Rochester Junction again.

Oliver Francis and son Edwin outside General Store (circa 1920).
Photo courtesy of Alberta Francis Young.

For many years groceries were ordered from the wholesale firm of Brewster & Crittenden in Rochester. Ollie would then pick them up at the Rochester Junction station on the Lehigh Valley Railroad located a short distance from Mendon Centre.

Older residents of the Mendon Centre area describe Ollie as a kindly man who liked to joke and tease children. One recalls that, when he was a young boy, he tried to be home when Ollie delivered groceries to his father's Sheldon Road farm because he usually brought candy for him. He also remembers that his grandfather, after completing his evening chores, would hitch up his buggy and drive to Mendon Centre and in the summer join his friends on the front porch of the General Store where they would swap stories about the day's happenings.

Top photo of Helen Rewald White working as a clerk in the General Store.
Bottom photo of Oliver Francis in the store.
Photos circa 1935 courtesy of Helen Rewald White.

In the winter the men would congregate inside the store. Ollie's son, Edwin, recalls that at times the store would be "blue" with smoke from their cigarettes and pipes. Some of the men would chew tobacco and then spit on the floor and at the base of the wood stove. His father did not like the spitting and provided tobacco boxes filled with ashes to be used as spittoons. He also recalls that the men would swear and use very colorful language. After radios became available in the late 1920s, men began spending more time at their homes.

The inventory of the store and its physical layout were typical of a general store of that period. The author of this article had the good forture to obtain the following description of Ollie's store written by his son Edwin Francis in 1950.

On one side were located shelves for groceries and a case for candy. Next was a counter with a scales for weighing bulk food. Under this counter were three bins: one held 100 pounds of white sugar; a second, 100 pounds of brown sugar; and a third for salt.

A second counter held a large roll of wrapping paper, next was a glass cheese case and a case for tobacco in tins and bulk tobacco. At the end of this counter was a bread case. Under the front of the counter were open bins for different size nails. Ollie's big oak roll top desk, in which he kept his business records, was also located in this area.

Along the back of the store were shelves filled with lye, lantern globes, and boxes of bolts. In later years there was a large refrigerator in which Ollie kept meat and a cutting block on which he would cut up a "quarter" of beef bought from Swift's meat market in Rochester.

On the other side of the store was the dry goods section where boots were stocked below the counter in the winter. Also, on this side in the early years, Ollie carried shoes, sheeting, percale, and men's clothing. In the middle of the same counter was a section for school supplies, such as writing tablets, pencils, pens, ink, and crayons. In the last section were a barrel of molasses and a barrel of vinegar from which jugs would be filled as required by customers.

Located in the open part of the store was a display rack that held crackers and cookies. They were displayed in pasteboard boxes on which were placed hinged glass covers. The contents were then weighed in paper bags in the quantity requested by a customer.

Edwin Francis also recalled the gypsies that frequently traveled through Mendon Centre and sometimes attempted to enter the store. They succeeded several times, but, in most cases, the rural mailman, Van Treat, would see them first and call Ollie in time to close the store. The children would be placed in the parlor with the shades drawn but would peek around the shades to see the gypsies as they approached the store.

For many years Ollie kept the store open from early in the morning until nine o'clock at night. By the early 1940s he closed for the noon hour and earlier in the evening.

In addition to the long hours, another requirement was that the proprietor of a general store would have to carry a number of is customers "on the books." Farmers would pay their bills, often as high as $300, when they sold their crops. After his father's death, Edwin found one account of $900 that had never been paid.

In 1930 Ollie had rented the store to Ernest "Red" Holforth and moved his family to a house in Mendon Ponds Park where he worked as a park employee. After several years he decided to return to the grocery business and moved back to the store in Mendon Centre.

Helen Rewald White grew up on her father's farm in Mendon within sight of the General Store. When she was a young woman in the 1930s she worked as a clerk in the store from 7 a.m. until 9 p.m. for $1.00 and two meals a day. In addition to waiting on customers Helen pumped gas for motorists and cooked for Ollie when his family was at their Conesus Lake cottage. Despite what may seem to be a very low wage by current standards, Helen remembers Ollie as being a "very generous" man.

Ollie Francis operated the store until his death August 8, 1949. Several days later the Honeoye Falls Times printed the following obituary; "Oliver M. Francis, a merchant storekeeper in Mendon Centre the past 30 years died last Sunday following several months of illness. He was a member of the Union Star Lodge, the Mendon Grange, and the Mendon Presbyterian Church.

"Surviving are his wife, one daughter, two sons, seven grandchildren, two sisters, Miss Charlotte Francis and Mrs. Peter Lanes, both of New York City. Private services were held from his Mendon Centre home with the Reverend Albert Kinglsey of the Mendon Presbyterian Church officiating. Burial was in Honeoye Falls Cemetery."

Ollie's wife, Vernie, kept the store open for a short time before it was sold to Emilio Zanche. After three years the husiness was discontinued and the store building was converted into apartments in 1953.

Sign for Gazley's General Store. Author's Collection.

On Labor Day 1998 a destructive wind storm struck the Mendon Centre area causing extensive damage to trees and utility lines. Due to the power outage, an occupant of one of the apartments used a candle for lighting. After he fell asleep the candle ignited bedding in his apartment causing a fire that destroyed the building.

The building has since been rebuilt as an apartment house on the foundation and in much the same configuration as the old general store.

As one passes through Mendon Centre (now Center) today, there is no evidence that the large frame building was once the site of a prosperous general store, bustling with activity as people went about their business. The store's role as a provider of services to a community has disappeared along with the carriage shop, the blacksmith shop, and the mills for sawing wood, grinding grain, and pressing apples into cider.

The Mendon Center of today is still a pleasant place to live with many newer homes built on the land that was once part of the farms of families who patronized the general store and took the fruits of their labors to the mills.

© 2005, John G. Sheret


Francis & Lord family papers, Honeoye Falls Times, Beer's 1872 map of Mendon Center, 1869-1870 Monroe County Directory, Honeoye Falls/Mendon Historical Society, Helen Rewald White, Alfred Euler

Index to Articles by John G. Sheret
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