Olin Fugit braved 30-degree temperatures and donned a purple, cotton cap under a navy blue hard-hat covered in stickers Wednesday, all for a good friend and a good cause.
Fugit and four volunteers began dismantling the Easley Store, a 114-year-old country store in the Easley area of southern Boone County. The Boone County Historical Society is sponsoring the project and plans to use parts from the original building to reconstruct the store on its land near Nifong Park.
The $50,000 Easley Store project is chaired by former society president David Sapp, who was present Wednesday with his wife, Jo.
“I’m just a good friend of David,” Fugit said. “I think it’s neat to preserve part of the history.”
The sound of a reciprocating saw cut through the area around 9 a.m. and continued throughout the day. Volunteers spent the day removing the store’s siding and taking out windows. Sapp said some of the salvaged pieces will be used in the building’s reconstruction. Unusable items will serve as models for new parts.
“It’s hard to make a new store feel old,” Sapp said.
By 1:30 p.m., all that was left of the storefront was its rotting wood frame and remnants of foam-like insulation. Much of the siding on the building’s left side was also gone, and windows from the back were stacked on a trailer bed.
The Easley Store reconstruction project is part of a larger Historical Society initiative to create a village on site, said Deborah Thompson, the executive director. The country store will be the third building in the village; the Gordon cabin and Maplewood house are already there.
Thompson said the society is especially energized about the Easley Store project and the story it has to tell.
“We’re very excited about the Easley store because the country stores were such a center of a community’s life,” Thompson said. “That’s something that we urban people don’t have a concept of.”
Sapp said country stores were staples in rural communities because of the goods and services they provided. These stores were one-stop shops, carrying items such as food, clothing, tools and animal feed. The store in Easley also had a U.S. post office and a railroad ticket office.
In the late 1950s, national news syndicates picked up a story about the purpose of the Easley Store. Amy Easley, who co-owned and ran the store during that time, received letters from people across the nation, praising the concept of country stores.
Wrote 70-year-old Grace Patchletter of Prattsburg, N.Y., in January 1958: “I always wanted to travel through the south. If I ever should, which I do not expect to be able to do, I will surely visit your store and buy me a dress or apron from some of your pretty goods.”
In the letter, which was handwritten on personalized blue-tipped, scalloped-edged stationery, Patchletter vividly described her memories of a country store’s interior, mentioning “the bananas hanging up on stems and the pretty sticks of candy in those glass jars.”
Amy Easley’s daughters donated the store to the society for the village project after Sapp asked them to contribute it.
“They deserve a lot of credit for working with us on it,” Sapp said of the Easley heirs. “Otherwise, it would soon be a pile of lumber, and we’d lose the ability to tell that story.”
Sapp said he thought of adding the Easley Store to the village while on a country drive near the town. Being in the area triggered his memories of the store, and he decided to contact the daughters.
“As a teenager we would go down there to the store and have a soda or ice cream and then ride our bikes all the way back to Columbia,” Sapp said.
Fugit said he also has memories of coming to the Easley store.
Volunteer Willis Smith never visited the Easley Store but did patronize a country store in Deerfield.
“I’d go in there and buy a Pepsi-Cola,” Smith said.
Sapp said the recovery work will take about a week to complete. The society hopes to have the store rebuilt and operating on site in 2006.
“We’re excited about recovering what we can of this particular store and ultimately recreating the types of goods and supplies that they have in the store, the general atmosphere and helping tell that story to future generations,” Sapp said.