February 14, 2021
Whole Number 130
THE SPARKS STORE COMPANY OF PERSINGER, WEST VIRGINIA
THE SPARKS STORE COMPANY
Persinger, Nicholas County, West Virginia
Photograph provided by Susan Stiner
Taken in 1918/19
This store was operated by John Calvin Sparks (1862-1939) in partnership with his nephew, Colbert Kennison Sparks (1890-1964). John Calvin Sparks is shown standing on the porch to the viewer's right; Colbert Kennison Sparks, also standing on the porch, is at the viewer's left. The child standing in the doorway was Madge Sparks, 5-year-old daughter of John Calvin Sparks. (See pages 2763-64.)
The photograph of the Sparks Store Company appearing on the cover of this issue of the Quarterly was provided to us by Susan Stiner who also copied the cemetery records of Nicholas County, West Virginia, appearing on pages 2760-62. Mrs. Stiner is a great-granddaughter of Martha Alice Sparks (1865-1957), who was a daughter of James E. Sparks, III. (See page 2760 and the paragraphs preceding the cemetery records for further information on this branch of the Sparks family.)
The Sparks Store Company, typical of the country stores that were so common in the South at the turn of the century, was built by John Calvin ["Cal"] Sparks in the early 1900's. Intended to serve the Persinger community in Nicholas County, West Virginia, it was operated as a partnership between John Calvin Sparks and his nephew,Colbert Kennison ["Cob"] Sparks. In an account of the store's history appearing in the Nicholas Citizens' News of March 6, 1985, it was noted that the post office for Persinger was located in the store with first John Calvin Sparks as postmaster and then, in 1911, his nephew, Cob Sparks, became postmaster. "Cob retired in 1960, and the Persinger postmark retired with him." (The inscriptions from the tombstones for both John Calvin Sparks and Colbert Kennison Sparks were among those copied by Mrs. Stiner in Cemetery No. 1, see pages 2760-61.)
Our cover photograph was taken in 1918 or 1919. The child in the doorway was Madge Sparks, daughter of John Calvin Sparks. Colbert Sparks was the man standing on the reader's left; John Calvin Sparks was on the right.
Camila Sparks Morton, daughter of John Calvin Sparks and an aunt of Susan Stiner, recalls the days when the Sparks Store Company was the "hub" of the Persinger community. "The store was a meeting place, and sort of a recreation center for people of the community. In the evening, they would gather for a game of horseshoes, or to listen to the Persinger Band, to learn the news of the day, play dominoes, and sometimes sing along to the music." She recalls that the store opened at 7:00 a.m. and usually remained open until 10:00 p.m., or even later if there were still customers. When the road past the store was re-routed in 1965, the store was moved, the name was changed to F & H Country Store, and its operation taken over by Faber Herbert, who had married Mary Agnes Sparks, daughter of Cob Sparks.
For a reporter for the Nicholas Citizens' News, Mrs. Morton recalled that the Sparks Store Company was a large, rambling red building and carried a variety of goods, including livestock feed, hardware, clothing, shoes, jewelry, drugs, candy, fabrics, and, of course, groceries. Madge (Sparks) Gilbert, the five-year-old girl in the picture (daughter of John Calvin Sparks) has noted that all merchandise sold in the store "was of good quality." Before the coming of the automobile, hitching posts were provided in front of the store, with a wide space for wagons. Farmers brought their butter, eggs, and chickens to trade for merchandise - - any credit remaining would be issued in the form of a "Due Bill." Credit was likewise extended by the store, and a fair number of such bills were never paid. Faber Herbert, the present owner, states that the old safe is stored in the basement and that it contains records of debts never collected amounting to thousands of dollars.
Mrs. Morton described the store, as she remembers it when a child, for the Nicholas Citizens' News as follows: "In the center there was a large Burnside stove, burning coal, which was the heating system. Usually the ones who chewed tobacco would aim for the ash box on the bottom of the stove, missing it. Floors were black with oil and wooden. There were counters on each side. One side was the Post Office, and dry goods, including yard goods like calico, sheeting, ticking, percale and silk. There were also Bear Brand stockings, underwear, lace, buttons, caps, hats, overalls, pants, and shirts of all description. On the outside of the counter, there was a long metal rod to keep customers from sitting on the counter. On the end of the counter was the jewelry showcase. There were diamond rings, rubies, necklaces, gold rings of all kinds, and it was a joy just to look at them. There were also knives, silver jewelry and other items found in jewelry stores of today.
"Back in the right of the store were hundreds of pairs of shoes, from baby shoes, ladies' sharp-toed lace ups, button shoes, shoes with brass tops for little ones, Hunk-a-Dory boots for woodsmen, Ball Band rubber footwear, Red Goose shoes, Hamilton Brown shoes, and Florsheim boots of all kinds. In the center of the rear of the store were men's coats, overcoats, suits, lumber jackets, Richey jackets, ladies coats, hats, canes and all kinds of ready-made clothing.
"On the left side of the rear of the building, divided by a partition, was the hardware. Woven-wire, barb-wire, bolts of all kinds, axes, shovels, hatchets, sledge hammers, plows and all parts, rakes, spades, hoes, nails of all kinds, in wooden kegs were sold.
"Coming back to the front area of the store, on the left side were the medicines and drugs of all kinds: Cardui, Black Draught, Lydia Pinkhams, Pinnex, and a host of patent madicines. Past the medicines, were all the baking products, spices, soda and brown sugar. Then came the canned vegetables and all the candy. We had a tobacco cutter which would cut a five-cent piece, up to 15¢ per plug. Scrap tobacco was Mail Pouch, Beech-Nut, Pay Car, Tiger Stripe and bags of RJR, Bull Durham, Golden Grain, and cans of Prince Albert, Sir Walter Raleigh, Velvet, Half and Half, Model and other brands. Cigarettes were Lucky Strike, Camels, Chesterfields, Old Golds, Wings and Domino.
"In the ware room was flour of all kinds and bags of meal. This was where the eggs were stored before being shipped by rail to Baltimore. In the next area of the ware room were all the cattle, horse and chicken feeds. In other areas was paint, tar, roofing and larger hardware items. There were cases of pop like strawberry, grape, orange, and root beer to name a few."
Mrs. Morton remembers when the old country store was removed, and the present store built on Rt. 41. "This was also a country store, but the country store of former years was gone, never to return."