Saturday, January 24, 2009

Baynes Store

(click on photograph for larger image)

The Country Store

I began the morning talking with Mr. J. E. (Coot) Grubbs, proprietor of the Baynes Store. A feeling of nostalgia was evident when I first viewed the interior of the old store. It was truly a perfect picture of the average American’s idea of the old country store. There were tins of dried beans and corn along the floor, with shelves filled with pairs of coveralls and boxes of shoes. The old-timey cash register probably remembers the day when bacon was rung up at 30 cents a pound. The pot belly stove, setting in the middle of the store, still warms and welcomes its customers in 1972 just as it did 60 years ago.

The present store building, constructed in 1907, was named Baynes Store. A joint partnership later occurred and the store was renamed Baynes and Harrelson. Under the ownership of the late J. M. Baynes, it was then permanently named Baynes, as it stands today. For Mr. Grubbs, after 37 years with the store, it has become a way of life for him. He enjoys his work, but admits that ”things get boring and lonesome at times when no customers are around.” He added that usually during these times he busied himself putting up new stock and merchandise.

The store has seemingly not changed much over the years and Mr. Grubbs has had to do little adapting for the modern day. This is not a handicap, for people welcome the slow and carefree life of the country store as a retreat from the fast-paced world. Mr. Grubbs told that back in olden times, coffins were sold and bodies prepared in the upper level of the store. A few of the coffins still remain today in the Baynes Store attic. I assured Mr. Grubbs that I doubted not this fact and no need for a tour would be necessary. Too spooky for me!

There seems to be a family tie to the store also. Mr. and Mrs. Grubbs’ 13-year-old son, Joe, works constantly helping his dad. Daughter Joyce, a college student, spends a good deal of her time at the store also.

Yes, Baynes is the store loved by its community in yesterday’s world, today, and hopefully in our society’s future. A store of its kind is unique. It should be cared for and preserved for hundreds of years, so that my generation’s grandchildren can know the pleasures of the old country life.

Source: The Caswell Messenger (27 July 1972)

Mr. Baynes Still Active

Retirement Marks End of Era for Community

Retirement has brought no decrease in the activity of a man whose family gave its name to this community and whose life has been a part of the community for 66 years. J. M. Baynes, son of the late James Rainey and Ella Harrelson Baines, retired early this year, selling his business to his former clerk, J. E. (Cooter) Gribbs. The retirement marked the end of an era for this southern Caswell County crossroads.

Mr. Baynes had operated the store which bore his name since 1931. Before him, it had been operated by his father and uncle.

Born in 1896, Mr. Baynes attended a private school in Caswell County, completing his education in 1914. He joined his father in 1919 as a clerk in Baynes’ Store, which was then operating in a new building, constructed in 1909. The building still stands.

In the same year, he married Lucille Warren of nearby Corbett Community. “We grew up together,” he said. “In those days, there were frequent parties and dances around the countryside. We met at these, and we married.”

He has one brother, Bascom Baynes of Durham, who is also retired, and one sister, Mrs. Mattie Bet Stanfield of near Stuart, Virginia, wife of a Baptist minister.

The family was an established one. Mr. Baynes said he knows that his grandfather lived his entire life here, but does not know whether his great – grandfather was a native of the area.

At the time he entered business life, Mr. Baynes said the store which he operated for more than 30 years was known as Baynes and Harrelson. His uncle, Frank Harrelson of Atlanta, Ga., went into partnership with his father when the new building was constructed.

His uncle was the second man in Caswell County to purchase an automobile. Mr. Baynes remembers the car, and how much his uncle prized it. “If it looked like rain, “ Mr. Baynes remembers, “he wouldn’t . . . .

Source: Times-News (Burlington, North Carolina), 1962

On May 12, David Herman, the current owner of the lease to the historic Baynes General Store, 2395 Baynes Road, corner of Baynes and N.C. Highway 119, will hold an auction to sell the rights to business at the store. If it isn't sold, he plans to divide up most of the items within and put them up for sale.

"Buying the lease gets it all," he said.

A deck wrapping around most the front and an access ramp are cedar wood, built by Herman and his son Noah. Throughout the site are other upgrades they've made. He said it all will get stripped for the itemized auction if there is no sale.

According to Herman, there has been a general store at the intersection since at least the 1840s and there hasn't been a real lapse in coverage where the store wasn't open in the past 100 years.

"In 1907, they started building the place. It was called Baynes and Harrelson until 1920. Mr. Harrelson helped with the financing and when Mr. Baynes paid him back, he renamed the place Baynes General Store," said Herman.

The original store (not part of the auction) became a blacksmith's shop, where it was used until the 1960s to fit mules.

After 1920, Mr. Baynes passed the store on to his son, who then built the home across the street. Herman said the son operated until the 1960s.

"The mother lived in the home behind the store until not too recently," he said.

The surrounding homes were all lived in by the Baynes family, Harrelson family, and workers for the store. Family members still live in the area.

Herman said there used to be a baseball field in the back and a pavilion next to the son's place. People would picnic and cookout and buy supplies from the store.

"This has always been a regional meeting place," he said, "a fork in the road with nothing else around. Clubs and random groups that don't exist anymore would come here and have meetings."

The words "Town Hall" are painted above a door to the side of the main entrance as a part of an extension to the building, constructed in the 1960s during the Vietnam War.

Herman said a bailiff and judge from Caswell County would hold court at Baynes General Store once day a week. From the attic, where coffins were once made, they'd bring a podium down.

"They would hold court for the people of this area, because it was difficult to get to Yanceyville at the time with roads being unpaved and most people not having cars," said Herman. "Talk about airing your laundry out in public. Can you imagine having to face your neighbors as they walked in to get groceries?"

Artifacts included in the auction are whiskey bottles of brands no longer made, salvaged from inside the walls of the general store, a hymnal from the late 1800s, and items made from coffin wood.

"Across the street was a doctor's office, so you could get your death certificate and casket all in one shot," he said.

"People didn't have money back then like they have now - people traded. Everybody had chickens, pigs, and cows. So if they had extra milk, they'd fill it up in a big drum (like the ones to be auctioned) and bring it here. Anything they had, Mr. Baynes would assess how much they were worth and give them that much store credit. They could then use that credit to get whatever they wanted from fabric to twist tobacco to shoes," said Herman. "On the weekends, Mr. Baynes would go into Burlington, where they couldn't get the salted pork, eggs, or any of that. He'd sell all that stuff there."

Clay Bigelow, 72, one of the many store regulars hummed in agreement.

"Molasses was a big deal," he said. "Since I was about five or six years old, I've come here. I remember the gas pumps: regular and premium. He sold shoes, clothes, anything you possibly could want - if you were white."

"I remember. I'd come down one Saturday. I was 10 or 12, not 14. I wanted a Coca-cola. They came in short bottles then. He wouldn't sell to me. He would sell me a moon pie, but he wouldn't sell me Coca-cola. He said that was for 'his customers,' the white farmers and doctors," said Bigelow.

"I remember walking in one evening; I was older then. Ol' Coot Pruitt was working and I couldn't walk past the stove (where a card table and chairs are). He would ask what I wanted and he would bring it out to me, but I couldn't get it myself. We'd get mostly fatback, molasses, and bread - there wasn't bread around much then," he said.

"Somebody will pick up this lease; somebody will be glad to. I mean, this store is a legend. We were sharecroppers. We would walk from the Anderson School, the black school, and we would stop here. It's always been around. Somebody has to pick it up," he said.

Several farmers, a handyman, and a preacher stopped by. Most grabbed a drink and sat to talk before heading out.

"I was born in that house right there, in 1949," said Clem Warren. He pointed to the old Harrelson House. "We used to farm that land for years. Preacher Stanley owned it then."

"This is definitely a community center," said Ronnie Fowler, "because we all come here to find out about local politics and what's happening in the other churches. 'Town Hall' we call it." He laughed.

The men talked of agriculture and investments, trucks and bigger trucks. Herman said the life at the general store isn't one he looks forward to leaving behind. His next venture is becoming the regional manager for a retail chain. His son is still 14, homeschooled and saving up for a truck.

For more information on the auction, call 336-514-7054.

By Luke Burris, Caswell Messenger Writer
The Caswell Messenger (Yanceyville, North Carolina), 9 May 2018.


For more on the old stores of Caswell County see: Community Stores