If these walls could talk: 120 S. Main (Culver's hardware store)
We continue our series of semi-regular journeys through Culver’s past as we look at the lives of historic buildings in the Culver area. For now, we’re strolling down Main Street’s east side in downtown Culver, making our way south.
If many of the downtown commercial buildings we’ve looked at in this column to date have presented a dizzying maze of businesses seemimgly hopping in and out of alternating storefronts, 120 South Main Street boasts a refreshing breath of fresh air. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of any one business within the town which has remained the same business -- albiet with a few, and then only a handful of, different owners -- for as long as Culver’s hardware store.
It’s not always been Culver’s only hardware, and it wasn’t the first (possibly the first sat at the northwest corner of Jefferson and Main Streets, at the site of today’s First Farmer’s Bank and Trust, but we’ll get to that corner another day), but it’s been the only one for more decades than most of us can recall. And of course, one of the charming aspects of the hardware is how unchanged it feels in many ways, right down to the tile in the floor.
The first name attached to it, quite early on, was that of John F. Wiess. The Culver Citizen, in a 1938 profile of O.T. Goss, said he began his association with the hardware on January 10, 1906, as a partner of Charles Replogle. At the end of one year, Replogle had passed away, and Goss, born and raised in Bremen and having worked for a time in the hardware business in South Bend, became sole proprieter.
Goss had the store for most of the first half of the 20th century, and his was a household name during those decades in the Culver community. The Citizen credited him with helping bring about “many of the changes that have kept Culver abreast of the times.” Besides serving on the school and town boards, he also helped oversee the creation of a municipal “water works system” in Culver, serving for some time on the water works board as well. He later became Vice President of the hugely successful State Exchange Bank in Culver.
Those wishing to stroll a bit more to tie in loose historical ends, may wish to take a close look at the plaque outside today’s Odom funeral home, which was given an historical award by the county historical society as the “Goss house,” as it was for years prior to becoming the Bonine funeral home in the 1960s.
According to his late son Bill, Paul Snyder bought the hardware store from Goss around 1944. Son Bill took it over around 1963, he told me in a 2007 interview, the same year Bill -- who died last year -- sold it to Dave Beggs, making for a remarkably short list of owners of the longstanding business.
The cash register Bill used right up into 2008 is so lodged in the minds of locals, it’s become almost a legend. It was some months after my interview with Bill that fall, when I stumbled across an historical reference in the Culver Citizen to the purchase of a new National cash register in the June 3, 1909 edition, dating back to the days when the store was dubbed, the Culver Cash Hardware. “It will do everything about the business except collect the bills and pay the rent,” boasted the paper of that high-tech machine, which has since been replaced by a computer system (the faithful old register, with which Bill was still quite ably ringing up customers three years ago, resides with the Snyder family today, I’m told).
“When dad bought this,” recalled Bill in `07, “the store was only on the north side of the building, so it was half of what it is today. The south side was all storage. There were things like horse rope there, things we didn’t use much anymore.
“Before 1909, when Goss came, there were ladders all along the walls. The back room was an office, but we sold some stock out of it too.”
In the mid-1940s, a raging upstairs fire brought about another change.
“It was quite a fire,” Bill remembered, pointing to a small snapshot of the fire he used to keep in the store. “I was in church and came out, and someone said, ‘the hardware’s on fire!’ I came over and watched the fire all day.”
As a trestament to the abilities of Culver’s fire department at the time, the fire didn’t destroy the entire building. The upstairs apartment was no more, but the ground level building, then as now, continued on undaunted.
In the 1960s, the laundromat, across the alley to the east of the hardware, was added to the Snyder business complex, though that’s a story for another day.
Since the Beggs’ purchase of the hardware, which added to their Main Street Manor bed and breakfast across the street to the southwest (which we’ll examine more closely in a few weeks), Dave Beggs has expanded and rearranged the store and its offerings, but it’s certainly retained its primary features, and still looks, feels, and yes -- even smells -- like that Culver hardware of old...like when we were children.
Bill Snyder’s comment to me nearly four years ago now holds true for the Culver Pro Hardware today: “You have to keep working, be nice to people and try to helpople. Most people like it and are glad we’re here.”