104 S. Main – L. Price Hardware Building 1910-2013
Posted November 15, 2013
By Sherry Phebus Vogel
104 S. Main – L. Price Hardware Building 1910-2013
The blustery, frigid wind swept the icy cold crystals across the landscape. The homesteader made his way to the new settlement of Baker. He was excited as he made this trek. This was the day he would purchase his fencing materials. Finally, he would be able to build protect his crops from the many cattle that were grazing the open range.
As he drew nearer to his destination, he discovered many horse drawn wagons tied out along the rutted wagon trail which served as main street. This meant the livery stables were full. He spotted his sought after prize. A large stack of barbed wire and fence posts piled on the lot adjacent to the thriving L. Price Hardware & Furniture Store. In 1910, many ‘Honyockers’ poured into southeastern Montana. For many paying fare on the emigrant train, then building a claim shack exhausted their monies. Often times they would plow a single furrow around the border of their claims and drive stakes to protect their “squatters” rights.
By late 1911, the country was quite well settled. Around 1912 and ‘13 they were getting good crops and the settlers were beginning to get somewhat prosperous.
By 1912, Lewellyn Price Store was struggling to meet demand for fencing supplies. Although he was receiving two boxcar loads via the Milwaukee Railroad per month.
The homesteader tied his rig out front and made his way into the store. As he shouldered open the heavy front door, a welcoming waft of warmth engulfed him. Inside, ten to twenty locals were gathered around the ornate iron pot bellied stove. They enjoyed swapping stories and caught up on local events.
Luckily for the homesteader not all the men gathered were customers. Some were biding time as their wives busied themselves purchasing supplies up the street at Lang & Son General Merchandise Store. Once located in the old Russell Clothing Store which is presently Hair Care.
In 1910, Lewellyn Price, who was born and raised near Oshkosh, Wisconsin, came to Baker with the intention of opening a store to sell hardware and furniture. He built his new business on the south side of Main Street. It was next to the new Baker State Bank which had just opened its doors for business. His store thrived selling everything from pot-bellied stoves to guns and anything else a homesteader needed to settle his claim.
One account told by John Karch, Sr., who settled a few miles east of Baker, tells of the time he went to Price’s Store to purchase a revolver to protect his crops from a mean bunch of cattle drivers bent on grazing their cattle on his property.
The honyockers were considered intruders by the cowboy. They were used to grazing their cattle on open range. The cowboy was rapidly pushed out of this area as the homesteaders began fencing. It used to be a fellow could ride cross country from Wibaux to Marmarth without having to open a gate.
L. Price Store was one of the first buildings constructed in Baker. It was a prominent gathering place as well as a thriving business establishment. It was not only one of the first stores, but also held title of first car dealership in Baker. It sold the Ford Model T, as well as the Overland Star automobile. In 1915, it was home of an early John Deere tractor dealership. Since there were no filling stations, only garages and stores sold gasoline. It at one time had a little red gas pump out front. It dispensed five gallons at a time and was pumped by hand.
The upstairs area was originally a furniture store. Surprisingly, in 1912, the upstairs area was then transformed into Baker’s first undertaking establishment. Mr. Price’s brother-in-law, Lloyd Owen, became a certified mortician. In time, the mortuary was moved to its present day site at Stevenson Funeral Home. Mr. Owens was Baker’s undertaker from 1912-1952.
The Prices ran their business out of the original building until 1963, at which time they constructed a new store. The Prairie Rose Classic Car Museum is now operating in this building. The original clapboard store was then maintained and used as storage for merchandise for the new Price Store.
Now after 103 years, this lot is once again barren. Today only a bit of its existence is evident. Theghostly outline of its presence is seen upon the bricks of the old Baker State Bank building which it neighbored since 1910.
This is the only reminder of the historic old clapboard which is forever lost to this town’s legacy.
Editor’s note: Last spring, this writer took an opportunity to stop and gaze through the dusty glass of the old store front window. I was in awe at the nice state of this vintage building. The ceiling, adorned with beautiful tin tiles, was soundly intact. The wood floor appeared without blemish. The original floor to ceiling shelving, which was characteristic of a turn-of-the-century mercantile, complete with tall suspended rail system ladder, which was employed to retrieve items from the lofty top shelf, stood frozen in time.
It wasn’t hard to imagine a transformation of this building into a present day antique store, photography studio, or office space.
Later learning that the building did not have a heating system or plumbing, a thought occurred to me.
This building was already located next to a private museum which draws history buffs to this location. What a wonderful historic three-dimensional diorama it would make. The mercantile exhibition was already in place. All that was needed were antiques to stock the supplies that the old store had once sold. Knowing that the local museum is full to the brim, many of these antiques are in abundance.
The beauty of this display would be that no additional man hours would be needed to operate it on a daily basis. A visitor would only have to peer through the storefront window to catch a glimpse of yesteryear.
It is a shame that this particular historic site, which had been well maintained by the L. Price family for decades, and not suffering the disrepair of many other historic buildings in the downtown area, had not been repurposed and allowed to proudly remain a member of this town’s business district.