The Company Store
National Park Service
The store here at Blue Heron was, like that of the other camp stores, a branch of Store #1 in Stearns. This one was built in 1939, two years after the tipple was started. The first store was only an old tool shed, but was added on to several times.
It also served as post office and time keepers office, and it was here the men were advanced company printed or minted money called "scrip". Pay advances could be had in scrip, and then be "worked off" during the next pay period. Some at Blue Heron complained of "owing their souls to the company store", others said it was not a problem.
First, Bill Pryor, who also began the Blue Heron Quartet and then Theodore Childers were the store managers. Mr. Childers recalled that the company let him run the store just like it was his own. Though "scrip" issued at the store allowed workers to buy on credit, when the company closed the store at Blue Heron, people left very little debt behind. Some paid the debt off in the later years.
The store sold nearly everything anyone at camp needed, from shoes and mining gear to food. Simple house dresses could be gotten there and fabric for sewing your own. Jackknives and fishing poles, shotguns and shells for hunting, even sugar some say ended up at the whiskey stills on the ridges were all available at the store.
The store was the hub of economic life for Blue Heron. It was where mining time was kept, where miners were paid, where credit was extended and basic goods were available, and where people got their mail. It served not only those who lived in the camps but others who lived out "on the ridges".
In a company store they had about anything that you needed.
Mining lamps, safety shoes, bubblegum and candy and pop.
I sold quite a few rifles and shotguns and a few pistols.
Sometimes they had dresses hung up.
We packed latches for them and sold them more clothing.
I remember Bob Collins slicing bologna. That was usually everybody's favorite.
We had first class merchandise; we did have no seconds of nothing.
I started out a tool shed and kept adding to it.
There were windows across the front. There were bars across the windows on the outside. OK, there was a bench there. You know there was a post office. Then you go to your right. And then the counter was a horseshoe-type thing.
So I had a porch built for them to come up on so if it was raining they could stand there and draw scrip.
They had a runway built made from the little store out to the track. It made a good place to sit, tell jokes, and see what was going on.
When Bill Pryor was there, I can remember the little boxes they had. They put your mail in and you could also see if you had any mail or not. Our box number was forty one. Remember that. Forty one.
I like Bill Pryor pretty good. Yea, he's our store manager there.
I had to be the time keeper too. I had hundred, un a hundred seventy-five, on my payroll. I issued them scrip and all that kind of stuff. And I hired me another store man, Theodore Childers, and made a store manager out of him.
I don't think he would of took a dime off of you unless it would have been a mistake, honest. That's the way I always felt about Thee-door.
I run that store just like it belonged to me. I done the buying. I extended the credit. I done the collection. I done the whole work.
He knew all the kids. And he knew everybody. He knew if a kid took something they weren't supposed to take all he had to do was tell their parents. Because their parents worked there in the mines.
You did'nt have many people you had to collect from. You know ninety percent of the people of McCreary County are honest.
Kind of like Ms. Baker was. She was a fine woman and very particular. She wouldn't have nothing but white eggs. At that time they weren't putting them up in dozen cartons like they do now. They just come thirty dozen to a case. So when she just come in the store I just handed her a bag and let her help herself to the eggs. But one day she sat the bag right back down there by one of those Davis girls with one egg in it.
So I just went and put it in my stock. I thought there was something wrong with it. Next morning, Nora came in. I said, "Nora, what's the matter with that egg." She said, "Oh there was nothing wrong with it Bill. You know I counted them eggs myself and when I got to the house I had thirteen (laughter). I said, "Good God Nora, why did'nt you just keep the egg. You didn't have to send it back." "No, she had to send it back."
I would go into the store and make purchases. You didn't stay around that store. It wasn't too lady-like, you know for the women and girls to do that.
Oh my, I was lucky one time. I found a five-dollar scrip piece and I didn't tell anybody. I went straight to the store and spent it. And then I found out once you got out of Stearns the money wasn't any good. And I thought man they've really got you sewed in. You either spend it here or you don't spend it.
It's awful easy to spend everything you can make because it's so handy. Why you just about owe it all to them.
Tennessee Ernie, you owe yourself to the company store. That's just about the way it was.
To continue your visit through the Blue Heron Mining Community, choose the next "ghost structure" you wish to visit.