Mail Call: July/August 2012
(Page 2 of 4)
In 1885, Henry von Riesen and David Dyck decided to get out of the grocery business and enter a more reliable occupation, one where they did not have to deal with perishable food items. So they moved across Main Street in their small south-central Kansas town and opened the next-best thing to a grocery, a hardware store in a two-story stone building built six years earlier . The two men had migrated from West Prussia a few years earlier to settle on the Plains with some of their fellow countrymen in a colony that became known as Halstead, Kansas.
The business was passed down to their sons in 1909 to continue as one of the mainstays of their community. In 1916, business must have been good because they ordered new oak cabinets from the Warren Cabinet Co. of Chicago (see Image Gallery). Ten of the multi-unit 7-foot-tall cabinets were shipped out by train and unloaded at the hardware store, where for the next 96 years they would hold rural necessities, such as screws, washers, pots and pans.
When the 1950s came with the idea that everything had to be painted to be up-to-date, the wall units were covered with paint. Later the drawers and doors of many of the old wood units were taken out of their position, and the remaining open shelves were used to stack hundreds of boxes of screws, washers and nuts for the viewing public. Old electric drop lighting was replaced with the new fluorescent lighting; the rolling ladders were taken down; and pegboard and wire turntable-type displays replaced many of the old-style glass-topped showcases that ran the full length of the store, but it remained a hardware store.
In 1998, my husband, Gary, and I purchased the store and decided to revive the place. We removed paint from the cabinets, the drawers and doors (which had been stored upstairs for more than 40 years) were repaired and reinstalled, lighting was changed back to the old-style hanging globes, pegboard was thrown in the dumpster, and center showcases were brought back into use.
Today, folks can walk into the Old Hardware Store on Main Street in Halstead and feel as though they have gone back to 1920. If only the fixtures could talk. The tin ceiling, the oak cabinetry, the 1915 nail scale, the rolling ladder and the squeaking wood floor would have many stories to tell. The grand old lady has withstood a tornado, numerous floods from the nearby Little Arkansas River, and hard economic times, but she still stands today: A hardware store, one of the very few of her age still in the business of selling hardware in the state of Kansas.