In 1921, students at Cootes Store Schoolhouse wrote and collected essays about their community in a hand-written magazine called “Evergreen.”
Edith E. Fulk, 17, examined old documents to compile a list of early family names: “Trumbo, Brock, Shoemaker, Yont, Bible, Miller, Alger, Cootes, Moore, Wonder, Brunk, Riddle, Branson, Carr, Riggleman, Tussing, Turner, and Brenneman.” She added others from “the west side of the gap”: Riddle, Faulk and Reunion.
Mabel E. Turner, 13, and Katie Funkhouser, 15, told the story of Samuel L. Cootes who came from Pennsylvania in 1834. Mabel wrote that Mr. Cootes “first built his house and then added a storeroom in connection with his dwelling.” She added that the store was still open (remember she was writing in 1921) and that the community of approximately 50 residents bears his name.
Almost every community had a country store. Brocks Gap in western Plains District claimed numerous stores, many of which operated for only a few years. Others started in the late 1800s and survived changes in ownerships and locations to exist for decades, some for over 100 years. Among the oldest in the area were Samuel Cootes Store (1834), Noah Hoover Store in Cootes (1882), Jake Custer Store in Fulks Run (early 1890s), Doug Brenneman’s store in Genoa (1894) and S.A. Criders’ store in Fulks Run (1913).
In those years before telephones and daily newspapers, the country store served as the hub of the community. Residents could purchase just about anything—groceries, clothes, shoes, house wares, feed and later, auto supplies.
Matthew and Ron Fulk, who bought Crider Bros. Store in 1976, tell the story of an old-timer who came in soon after they opened and asked for “sharp “cheese. The man then remarked, “Ain’t gonna be much of a store if you don’t have sharp cheese.”
The country store was just as important as a meeting place for local men to socialize, gossip, “talk shop” or play cards and checkers. One of the men who enjoyed stopping by Samuel Cootes Store was Dr. John Q. Winfield of Broadway. After making house calls through the Gap or on a Saturday afternoon, he could often be found at the store. He not only met his wife in Cootes (the stepdaughter of Samuel Cootes) but in the 1850s, became instrumental in organizing between 50 and 60 local men who regularly met there as Lecher’s Brocks Gap Rifle Company. The organization named Dr. Winfield its captain. After joining forces with Brig. General Turner Ashby’s cavalry, they played a significant part in the Confederate defense of the Valley during the Civil War.
Often, the owners or other renters lived above the store. Brown Dove Jr., of Timberville, recalled that as a child, his family rented an apartment above the S.A Criders store in Cootes. During the night in March 1933, the store caught fire; his family escaped in their nightclothes, but lost all of their personal possessions. The store was rebuilt about 1940.
In later years, some country stores in Brocks Gap provided space for pool halls, doctor’s offices, barbershops and even a fitness center. In the 1980s, M. & R Hardware in Fulks Run held annual pool tournaments drawing as many as 50 local and out-of-state competitors.
Today, one of the best-known stores in the area is Turner Hams, an off-shoot of Fulks Run Grocery begun in 1949.
Through timelines, pictures and artifacts, the current exhibit at Plains District Museum traces the history of 13 stores in the Brocks Gap community. Displays include store equipment and an authentic “loafing bench” from Garnett and Lena Turner’s Fulks Run Grocery opened in 1948. Calendars dating to 1916 from Brenneman Bros. and 1920 from the J. D. Custer Store to more recent ones from Mac’s Superette and Brock’s Gap Service are on exhibit, as well as several pieces of “premium” china from Valley Land Hardware and the J. D. Custer Store.
The exhibit will continue through December 2012.
Helen W. Smith volunteers at the Plains District Memorial Museum, where she is board vice president and also coordinates the exhibits and lecture series. She is a native of Mayland.