Country general stores were the center of community life a hundred years ago along what is now US 219 in West Virginia. They often housed the local post office and provided an informal meeting place for discussion of local affairs and the great issues of the day. These stores sold staples – groceries, hardware, clothing, shoes and boots, guns and ammunition, and bought furs and herbs such as ginseng.
Country stores for the most part also provided goods on credit to local customers, and in many cases also delivered grocery orders to residents who could not conveniently get to the store. As the roads were paved and many families obtained cars and trucks, the role of the general store diminished. More and more people traveled to the county seat towns to do their trading. Still more recently the advent of big box chain stores has in large part decimated the small town retail trade, and the rural general store is largely a thing of the past.
One such general store stood for more than 100 years at Mill Point, at the intersection of US 219 and State Route 39, the road to Richwood, just across Stamping Creek from the McNeel Mill in southern Pocahontas County. The store itself was on the ground floor, with warerooms and an apartment on the second story.
Nowadays the old Mill Point store lives on only in memory, including mine, since I lived just up the hill from the store from 1986 to 2000, and my daughter, Joanna, still makes her home there.
Built by local farmer and businessman William “Billy” Auldridge in 1900, when the timber boom brought new prosperity to the area, it served the community for more than fifty years under the direction of Billy and his son, Rueben “Rube” Auldridge. Billy was also postmaster of Mill Point, which provided extra revenue for the store. Rube inherited the position along with the store when Billy died in 1919.
Rube himself passed away shortly after WWII, and his widow, Belvesta, leased the store to Winters Hefner, father of Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys founders Bill and Richard Hefner. Winters, in turn, became the postmaster. His son, Richard, remembers vividly the sights, sounds and smells of the store in the 1950s.
Winters Hefner gave up the store in 1959, and it was taken over by Alfred Dean, who ran it for a few more years. The upstairs apartment continued to be occupied for another 30 plus years; while the store space downstairs was used for various short-lived enterprises, including a bingo parlor and a junk and antique shop. The Trinity Baptist Church now located just up US 219 near Buckeye, held its early services in the store. The building, gradually deteriorated, and in 2006 the WV Division of Highways bought and demolished the store as part of a bridge replacement project.
But one old general store in the area has found new life and a new purpose.
The Pretty Penny Café in Hillsboro, two miles south of Mill Point on US 219, was, for more than 50 years, Moore’s Store, and the restaurant still retains an old fashioned feel, with the store shelves ranging up to the patterned tin ceiling, the old rolling ladder for reaching the top shelves still in place, and a sampling of products from days gone by on some of the shelves.
But there is a real modern day equivalent of the old-fashioned general store in Hillsboro. McCoy’s Market, a one-story structure with its two aging gas pumps, offers a variety of groceries and a small, but handy, stock of electrical and plumbing supplies and other hardware items, plus a sandwich and pizza service.
McCoy’s has a seemingly bottomless pot of coffee, where the men of the community gather before work each morning to compare notes and swap lies.
You could say that James L. “Laverne” McCoy is the Billy Auldridge of the 21st century.