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The Old Town of Greenbriar: Part 1

Posted Wednesday, November 14, 2012, at 6:48 AM

This photo of Greenbriar, Missouri, taken about 1920, shows the pile of railroad ties in the foreground. The town was very busy during the logging years in Southeast Missouri. Very little is left today.
During the early 1920's, when I was growing up in South Bollinger County, Mo., our shopping center was the little town of Greenbriar. The story of Greenbriar has been handed down from one generation to another. It is reported to have gotten its name from the rambling wild rose that grew so profusely in the area. The roses are all gone now, and so is the town of Greenbriar.

This town of Greenbriar was laid out by Mr. Nathan Lloyd in 1889; however, it was never organized as a town. The first post office was established in Greenbriar on November 15, 1889, and Mr. J. T. Camren was the post master. The Frisco train delivered the mail to Greenbriar on its one-a-day run from Brownwood through Greenbriar to Zalma. This was a "dead-end" spur, and the train had to travel in reverse from Zalma back to the main line at Brownwood. At this time, there was no depot in Greenbriar, so Mr. Camren had to meet the train every day with the out-going mail and pick up any in-coming mail. This situation was somewhat alleviated when a regular railway boxcar was set off along the side of the rail line and was used as a depot for the entire life of this branch line, which ended in 1932.

Our home on Cato Slough was about one and one-half miles from this town, and. we would hitch the team to the wagon and go over there about every week, or at least every two weeks to see if we had any mail and buy a few groceries. We would take along a few dozen eggs or some chickens to sell, so we would have money to buy the things we needed. W. G. Cato's store is where we did our shopping.

In this store, the clerk stood behind the counter and the customer was on the other side with a list of her needs. The customer would read from this list, one item at a time, and the clerk would go to various places in the store and get the items. The clerk would write the price of each item on a paper bag, as it was brought to the counter. When the order was filled, the figures would be added up with a lead pencil, and this would be the bill, showing the total amount of the purchase.

About the only packaged food items in the store were a few items like the 25 pound sack of "White Lilly" flour, a 3 pound box of "Mothers Oats," Calumet Baking Powder, Arm & Hammer baking soda, boxes of corn flakes, and some canned goods. A large part of the grocery items were shipped to the store in barrels or large boxes. If the customer needed some lard, she brought her lard pail with her, as lard came to the store in 25 and 50 pound cans. If she needed vinegar, she brought her vinegar jug, and the vinegar was drained from a 50 gallon barrel.

All the lighting for the home was the kerosene lamp and lantern, so everyone had a two to five gallon kerosene can, which was brought along when kerosene was needed. This kerosene was pumped from a 100 gallon tank by turning a crank. Even beans, coffee beans, sugar and salt came to the store in wood barrels, and the clerk would weigh out any amount the customer needed--after he got the sleeping cat out of the barrel.

If the proceeds from the sale of eggs and chickens were more than the amount of the purchase, the customer did not get any money back. Instead, the customer was given coins, bearing the name of the store, and the customer had to come back to this store to spend them. (I have one of these coins, which is imprinted "Good for $l.00 in trade at W. G. Cato General Store, Greenbriar Mo.") This was no great problem, as this local store was about the only place we ever did any shopping, other than the Sears & Roebuck catalog.

I have a 1902 edition of this catalog, which boldly states that it is "The cheapest Supply House on Earth." It has 1162 pages of pictures and bargain prices on infant's cradles, tombstones and everything in between.

Most of our clothes came from the Sears catalog. We could get a pair of overalls for $1.00. We could get a pocket watch for $1.00, and a good pair of shoes for $2.00. However, there were times when we did not have the $2.00, so we just put some new soles on the pair of shoes we had been wearing all winter. We could get pots, pans, guns, hoes, axes, and harness for the horses. We could buy a harmonica for .25 cents or a piano for $98.50. A box of fifty 22 shells cost 15 cents and 25 shotgun shells were 75 cents.

There was even a chart where you could test your own eyes and order a pair of spectacles for $l.25.

For the ladies, there were corsets for 50 cents, and for the men there was an ankle-length nightshirt for $1.35. Also for the men, they could take their own measurements of chest, waist, hips, arm and leg length and order a tailor-made suit for $10.00

All these items were sold on a cash only basis, and since we did not have a checking account, we would buy a money order at the post office to cover the cost of the items ordered, put a 2 cent stamp on the envelope, drop it in the mail and anxiously wait about five days for the items to be delivered by parcel post. If we sent too much money, or if they were out of some item, they would send a check to make up the difference.

A new catalog was sent out about twice a year, and the old one would be relegated to the "Two-Holer" out house, as toilet paper was an unknown item.

(To be continued)

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I love these stories about the little towns that no longer exist! Life was hard in this region, as late as the 20's, before the land was cleared and the swamps were drained.

-- Posted by goat lady on Wed, Nov 14, 2012, at 7:23 AM

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Bunyan Tales
Paul Corbin
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Paul Corbin is a 100-year-old historian, humorist, and amateur archaeologist from Advance, Mo. He grew up in the Greenbrier area west of Advance, where he attended Stepp School on the banks of Cato Slough and the Castor River, important waterways throughout his life. In an age when many area residents did not go to high school, the young Corbin made the decision to walk the five miles to Zalma, graduating in 1933. Throughout his life, he was an enterprising businessman, selling Watkins products from house to house throughout a large area - and later opening a variety store in Advance. He and his wife Geneva traveled throughout the United States, even following the route that the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled. His knowledge of Native American culture is extensive, and he has donated a sizeable collection of his artifacts to the Cape Girardeau Conservation Nature Center and the Bollinger County Museum of Natural History in Marble Hill. Throughout the years, he has submitted articles to TBY, the North Stoddard Countian, the Ozark Mountaineer, and several other Missouri publications. He has also written two books - "Reflections in Missouri Mud," and "Fragments of my Feeble Mind." The first one is out of print.
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