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Early merchants kept community supplied

When Ebenezer and Lovee Sheldon settled in Aurora in 1799, and those that followed them from New England over the next decade, they brought with them the basic things needed to survive in the wilderness of the Western Reserve. Families depended on their own skills to survive. Everyone in the family was expected to work, even the children. Daily chores included fetching water from the nearby stream, chopping wood to heat their cabins and to use for cooking. Settlers planted gardens and tended to the sheep and cows that they brought with them. While they may have brought with them their rope bed, they made crude furniture to meet their needs. They spun yarn and wove their own cloth. They collected maple sap to make syrup and made their own candles. Their daily existence was a dramatic change from what they had been accustomed. To obtain glass for window, nails, fine linen, coffee, tea, sugar, spices, tobacco, and other such items required a 30-mile journey to Warren or 110 mile trek to Pittsburgh. The trips were over “dark and gloomy” wilderness trails with “bears and wolves prowling and growling.”

In 1810, James Baldwin opened a store in a bedroom of his father’s house, which stood where the Baldwin red brick house is located diagonally across from the Aurora Memorial Library on East Pioneer Trail. Baldwin had returned from a business trip to New York, bringing with him various goods. His makeshift store quickly sold out despite the prices. Among the goods were six yards of calico. As written in “More Thoughts and Recollections of Aurora,” by Henry Hawkins, the cloth, “was bought at the marvelous price of one dollar per yard. Moreover, we are constrained to believe that it was used to adorn by dress, of richness and beauty, the stately form of some well married dame, rather than the more fitting purpose of lending a new grace to the modest charms of some timid young maiden, lovely in form and dainty in step, who despite her timidity, apparently felt more than willing to warmly clasp in her gracious arms a loving young husband.” It was recorded that Perla Eggleston bought some of the calico cloth for a dress, while Lovee Sheldon quickly purchased the rest. Polly McCoughey “heard about the sale a little late.” Lamenting that she had “nothing to wear” she travelled the “great distance” to Hudson hoping to find material.

James Converse in 1825 rented the building on the corner of routes 82 & 306 (Currently the offices of Sutton Insurance) and “commenced the business of a shopkeeper,” paying $25 a year in trade. His father lent him $5.31¼ for change. Converse purchased many of his goods from merchants at Skinner’s Landing (Fairport Harbor), hiring the teams of Alanson Baldwin and John Singletary to haul the items, reducing by almost half the cost of buying goods in Pittsburgh. The fastest selling item in his store was whiskey, which he charged 6 pence per pint, a shilling per quart and 3 shillings for a gallon, giving a discount to “veteran drinkers.” One customer was known to frequently purchase a barrel of whiskey at a reduced rate. He purchased his whiskey from a distiller in Cuyahoga Falls. On Feb. 22, his sales soared as his patrons celebrated the anniversary of George Washington’s birthday. From these early accounts, while there was an urgency among the women of the community to purchase the latest in fashion, the men were anxious to make sure they had their libations.

In 1845, ownership of the store was transferred to Hopson Hurd. Hurd had operated a store on the northwest corner of Pioneer Trail and Chillicothe Road as early as 1813. Moving to the new location allowed Hopson Hurd to greatly expand his business. His “general store” offered a wide variety of merchandise. Hurd accepted cheese as “legal tender” and often accepted other items in trade for his goods. He sold brandy for 50 cents and 70 cents per drink, keeping a barrel of whiskey and a ladle in the basement for those who paid their bills on time.

Ebenezer Sheldon II built a home in 1838 on South Chillicothe Road adjacent to Forward’s Tavern (1815 Tavern), which was located on the corner of West Pioneer Trail and Chillicothe Road. Sheldon also established a small store in a portion of the residence. The building was later sold to C.R. Harmon who, with his sons, operated a “general store” into the 1940s. C.R. Harmon & Sons was the major merchant in what is today’s Aurora’s Central Historic District. During the latter part of the 1800s and into the turn of the century, Harry Harmon, a grandson of C.R. was the shopkeeper.

The Harmons offered all of the merchandise that the community needed including household goods and notions, building materials, paint, heating oil, spinning and knitting supplies, cloth, whips, shoes and boots, brooms and shovels, coffee, tea, sugar, salt, floor, fruit, meat, tobacco, brandy and whiskey. Harmon bought office supplies from the Burrows Brothers Company, cigars and tobacco from Standard Tobacco & Cigar Company, and hardware supplies from George Worthington Co. in Cleveland. A special cough medicine was purchased from the E.C. DeWitt Co. in Chicago and patented “kidney medicine” from the M.M. Fenner CO. in Fredonia, New York. Like its predecessors, the Harmon store sold its fair share of whiskey. To save money Harmon stopped buying from a local wholesaler, the Weiderman Co., and bought whiskey directly from E.L. Anderson Distilling Company in Newport, Kentucky. As the business expanded, more middlemen were bypassed as the Harmons bought directly from the manufacturers. Harmon dealt with more than 250 suppliers from across the eastern seacoast, as far south as Georgia, and as far west as Minnesota. The store’s “Day Book” records indicate that merchandise on the shelves came from 39 cities across Ohio. Harmon also purchased goods from local residents such as eggs, butter and cheese.

Harmon’s store also functioned as a bank. He accepted I.O.U.s and sold goods on time which had to paid back by the end of each month. He cashed I.O.U.s for others in the area giving cash to those without money to pay their debts. He collected peoples’ rent and paid men for work performed in the community. During the Civil War from 1861-65, when silver and gold coinage became scarce due to hoarding, Harmon issued his own paper scrip which was commonly known as “fractional currency.” Issued in denominations of five, ten, twenty-five and fifty cents the scrip was used as legal tender.

While there is no direct record of the store having been a social gathering place for the exchange of local gossip or a good story shared by the old veterans of the community, the 19th century general store was often the place where everyone could buy the newest goods and get the latest news. As evidenced in the photo, the store’s front porch lent itself as a place where many afternoons and evening could be spent talking, drinking and watching those passing by.

C.R. Harmon & Sons store closed its doors in the 1940s. Having been a vital part of the community for more than 100 years, the building continued to play an important part in Aurora’s daily commerce. The building was the home of Ed Hackbart’s grocery store and subsequently Chet Edwards Home Furnishings. Today it is the home of Wayside Workshop.

Printed with the permission of the Aurora Historical Society, which retains rights to all content and photos.

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