Commiskey, Jennings County, Indiana
When I was moving I found this article from the
Sunday Indianapolis Star Magazine from July 17, 1966. It must have been sent by
a relative to my parents who were living in California at that time.
Lurton's store building still stands in Commiskey but it is now a restaurant.
Through the 150 years of Indiana's history as a state perhaps no institution has
evoked the fond memories or spanned the time from past to present as had the
country store-community forum, social center and market place for the
necessities of life.
Of the larger ones, only a few
remain. One of these is Lurton's, at Commiskey, Ind., nine miles south of
Founded by Dr. Charles F. Lurton in 1881, the
store has been operated continually by the Lurton family.
When he came to Commiskey, Dr. Lurton moved into a town that had happened by
A combination of poor
brakes and a steep grade had caused a Mississippi & Ohio train, carrying a
new station for Sherman's Crossing, to overshoot the village by a
Unwilling to carry the building to Jeffersonville
and back, the crew shoved it off into a briar patch near a cabin built by
Patrick Commiskey. Within a few weeks, the railroad crew posted a sign
"Commiskey" on the station, and it became official.
Pat donated a tract of land for the town which grew around the station, and the
"accident" assumed direction.
Like Commiskey, Dr. Lurton's
first store was small, specializing in tinware, buckets, tubs, tincups and
similar items. With the town, it was destined to grow.
The storekeeper-doctor was a man of many
talents, the foremost of which was his practice of medicine. This was carried on
principally at the store, where he also received emergency
A long-remembered example of the latter occurred
when Gilbert Wilkerson, playing with a hatchet, almost severed two fingers from
his brother Sherman's hand. The boy was rushed to Lurton's
Dr. Lurton examined the hand, then walked to a
small case behind the counter and removed a new pair of scissors from a clutter
of hardware pieces.
After sterilizing the sissors in a
bottle of alcohol, he calmly pushed back the skin and amputated one
After wrapping the hand, he gave the child a piece
of candy, and the operation was over.
alcohol, the finger was a topic of conversation in the store for several
In addition to physician and storekeeper,
the doctor also was a photographer, specializing in tin-types. For these, the
store became his studio. Often, when a customer made a purchase at the store or
sat for a tin-type, "Doc" entertained him with a song and a banjo
This musical talent prompted his attendance at
fairs and shows, where he performed. Alert to every business opportunity, he
also worked as a photographer at the gatherings. His wife, Mary Katherine, and
son Charles F. Lurton Jr., clerked in the store, making these summer forays
Accommodation is the key word in the
history of Lurton's store.
It served as Commiskey's first
postoffice where mail bags arrived via the Baltimore & Ohio, successor in
the O. & M.
The mail was sorted, bagged and carried on
the route by deliverymen on horseback. In the early years, one trip was made
each week, then it increased to twice weekly.
daily papers began to be issued, the couriers rode each day. The Indianapolis
Star was the paper carried and their trips soon were known as the Star route.
This continued until RFD service was established in 1904.
Another symbol of Lurton's service was the
peddle wagon which Charles F. Jr. first drove out of Commiskey in
This huckster route, extending west and south into
Scott County, required five days of travel.
In an era when
most farm families made one yearly trip to North Vernon or Madison, the peddle
wagon brought necessities and some luxuries otherwise impossible to
It arrived with a distinctive sound as the driver
first blew a conch shell and, later, a discarded Civil War bugle, to attract
What a sight it presented. Two horses
pulled the big, creaking farm wagon with its high top and covered
Attached to the sides were coops for geese,
chickens and turkeys which were bought at the farms. In the cold months rabbits,
too, were available, often priced at 10 cents each. These were piled
Beside the driver, stood the butter barrel. Into
it the farm wife scraped any butter she had made for sale.
In winters, the arrangement was not bad, but dust and heat may have affected the
product in the summer.
Eggs, bought from the farm, were
piled in large boxes in the center of the wagon.
Poultry, eggs and butter furnished the
medium of exchange and little money actually changed
A farm wife would order a hen's worth of soft
sugar, a rabbit's worth of pepper and exchange eggs for a dress length of
calico. The calico was valued at 3 cents per yard.
of flour, soft sugar (brown), salt and pepper were carried as were the dried
fruits, considered a delicacy.
A tank of kerosene stood
near the back of the wagon. This area also consisted of a series of shelves
stocked with trimmings, dry goods and notions. The hinged shelf cover was
lowered to serve as a measuring table where the peddler cut his yard goods and
Farm women sewed for the family, and often, in
the fall, gought a bolt of factory (muslin) and one of outing.
Arbuckle coffee was the only brand
available. It was sold in whole bean form either roasted or green, the latter
for those who preferred to roast it in their own ovens.
When the peddle wagon returned to the store, eggs were graded and crated, the
poultry fed and watered, and all were prepared for shipment on the
The butter barrel was emptied and cleaned and the
wagon re-stocked. Cherks worked late at night filing orders to go out on the
wagon the next day.
The store's name became known afar. At
the same time, one member of the Lurton family was known nationally. Burton F.
Lurton, brother of Dr. Charles, as an associate justice of the United States
As Dr. Lurton's health waned, his
son assumed more duties at the the store.
In his early
teens, Charles F. Lurton Jr. had shown a flair for business. And with typical
Lurton versatility, he had learned telegraphy. As Commiskey's first Western
Union operator, he added yet another dimension to the store's accommodations.
Later he became the town's first railway express agent.
The railroad was Commiskey's avenue of commerce with the outside world, and
Lurton's was the center of operation.
Alongside the track,
stock pens corralled sheep, beef and hogs. These with eggs, turkeys and poultry
of all kinds, were shipped by the carload each week. Loose wheat left Commiskey
by the carload at harvest time.
Arriving in carload lots
were fencing, roofing, salt, feeds, crockery, tinware and at Christmas, candies
Following the Lurton tradition, Charle's
wife, Arizona, became a constant help to him in the store and at
Family, clerks, hucksters, telegraph operators,
traveling salesmen and people awaiting trains were made comfortable at the
house, fed at all hours and often entertained overnight.
Always active in community affairs, Charles F.served as school trustee, and was
instrumental in organizing the communitiy's first bank. The Citizens Bank drew
national attention when, during the failures of 1930, it remained
In 1916, Charles F.'s health began to fail. His
son Ernest, assumed a good portion of the work, especially concentrating on sale
of farm machinery. With his brother Leland, he operated the sotre after their
father's death. Leland's death, in 1948, terminated the
While the drive-in movie seems to be a
product of recent years, it was thriving, after a fashion, at Lurton's in the
1930s, when the store brought old Western movies and Keystone Cops comedies to
Commiskey every week during the summer.
The movie screen
was a sheet stretched on a rope from a tree by the store across the street to a
Early on movie night, trucks filled with
children, heavily laden cars and a certain number of pedestrians line the town's
main street to view the movie.
This crowd brought business
to the quaint ice cream parlor which comprised a section of the store. Always,
15 to 30 varieties of ice cream were carried and, on show night, 40 to 60
gallons were sold at the price of three dips for a nickle.
In 1937, Ernest married Merylee Ogisby of
New Albany. As did the Mrs. Lurtons before her, she joined her husband in the
Lurton's store expanded to four times its original
size. New electric fixtures supplanted oil lamps and oil heaters were given the
job once relegated to the pot-bellied stove.
gondolas replaced barrels once used for kraut, mackerel, crackers and pickles.
Ladies' shorts gradually began to outsell sunbonnets and milk came in glass
bottles from the dairy instead of in metal cans from the
The store's stock came to include such varied
merchandise as hats for men and boys, suits, dresses, luggage, kerosene,
gasoline, motor oil, housewares, hardware, beauty aids, hunting and fishing
licenses, seeds, toys, yard goods, notions, baby clothes, meat, groceries and
countless other items.
As recently as 1958, Lurton's was carrying
leather horse collars, bridles and harness.
That link with
the past was discontinued when the entire stock was bought by representatives of
a Mennonite settlement in the East. Traveling in a large, semi-trailer truck,
they were visiting country stores in search of hard to find
The advent of television sets, the one in the
store is most used by late afternoon "regulars" who gather back of the store to
watch and talk. The World Series and major events attract a few more
Bringing the past to the present, Lurton's
store successfully blends the old and the new. Milk pails, wash tubs, bamboo
fishing poles and rubber boots are as important as electric appliances, zippers,
aerosol sprays and frozen foods. The pleasant profusion of items invites
customers to linger and look as they did years ago.
Following the death of her husband this spring. Merylee Lurton has continued
operating the store on its usual six days a week schedule, including hours as
late as 9 p.m.
With the traditional Lurton interest in
community affairs, she has served as president of Psi Iota XI Sorority and is a
Home Demonstration Club member. Always active in the Commiskey Baptist Church,
she taught Sunday School for 25 years and has served a longer time as church
Through the years, things have changed.
Automobiles and highways have replaced the railroad in importance, and
Indianapolis seems as near as North Vernon did in the 1890s. Located one mile
from Ind. 3, Commiskey and Lurton's sideroad supermarket have settled into a
Inevitably, some day in the future,
Merylee will retire. When she does, the door may be closed on this wonderous
collection of merchandise and the store's treasure house of memories for the
Meanwhile, in a warm atmosphere of yesteryear, the old store serves the village of today.
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