Hopper General Store closes, leaves many fond memories
By Ruth Scrivner
Bonham Daily Favorite, February 7, 1990
The curtain has come down on an era in time with the closing of the Hopper General Store. The old store “like an old soldier” wears proudly the scars of battle, received while history was in the making.
The store was purchased from Mr. Curtis when Uncle Bob (as he was affectionately known) was a young man. Bob was born and reared in Elwood, son of John and Electra Hopper. The John Hopper (both born in the late 1830s and early 1840s) home was situated east of the Narvue bridge. If you are going east from Elwood, the directions you will receive would either be this side or the other side of the Narvue bridge.
Bob married Maude Hopper who moved to Telephone with her mother and father from Mississippi where she had been teaching school since she was 15. Maude’s father was Dr. Sam Hopper, half-brother of John Hopper. In fact, John asked Sam to move here because this area needed a doctor.
After Bob and Maude married they continued to live in Elwood; later buying the present Hopper home from Curley Forbes, a beautiful two-story house situated on a hillside. When they moved in only the first floor was finished. With a growing family of two boys “Ray and Elbert, also a daughter Lillian” the need for more room prompted Bob to expand so the second floor was completed. The house stands as a landmark with much dignity and many memories of the Hopper family and all they contributed through the years to the Elwood community.
Elwood was a thriving community, most people were farmers, cotton was their main money crop but they also raised com and livestock. People could only farm small tracts of land, just about what they, with their children (most had big families) and a team of mules could work. This was long before tractors, pesticides and all this new-fangled farm machinery.
Cotton being their main crop and transportation was a problem; they needed a cotton gin. T.H. Eller (Thomas Eller’s father) operator of a gin in Ivanhoe, seeing the need, established a gin in Elwood, just south of the Hopper store. Jim McRae who lived nearby managed the gin. His son, Hunter, was known for his strength. He could load a 500 pound bale of cotton onto a wagon bv himself.
Uncle Bob was proprietor of a general store for a number of years; later taking Ammon Elledge as a partner. The Elledge & Hopper General Store was a flourishing business at this time. If it was available they had it. They took care of the peoples’ needs, from a spool of thread, material for dresses, shoes, just all their dry goods and groceries too. The flour, sugar and many other items were kept in 55 gallon wooden barrels. This proved to be a problem at one time when the sugar started to disappear. They knew someone was stealing the sugar but couldn’t figure out just how it was being done because they were sure keeping an eye on that sugar barrel. They finally solved the mystery — someone had gone under the store “it stands pretty high off the ground”, bored a hole through the floor and the barrel thus taking sugar as needed, just plugging up the hole until next time.
Some people accidentally — on purpose would have a loose board in the floor of their house. They would then sprinkle com all around on the ground and trail it under the house, putting quite a bit under the loose board. When the neighbor's chickens
gathered under the house to eat the corn, they very quietly raised the loose board, caught a couple of chickens and had a feast of chicken and dumplings or chicken and dressing.
I guess you would call this petty thievery but then in 1929 armed gunmen robbed the Hopper General store. One man stood on the porch with a shotgun while the others used a sledge hammer and chisel to cut tivets from the lock on the safe. Turley Hopper (brother of Aunt Maude) saw all this take place from the window of his home but knew better than to interfere. They never* caught the robbers. The store was a broken into several times. Once thieves cut a hole in the floor with saws, another time they cut a panel from the door. Always taking candy, cigarettes, shotgun shells, anything to sell or eat. The old store has taken many a beating but always stood her ground. You might want to buy a new buggy and harness if you made good crop, this too could be bought it the general store.
Mrs. Lillian tells of she and her mothers driving a horse and buggy i to the Round Rock school, just about three miles south of the business section. The three-room school taught all 11 grades therefore educating the children of this district. Later they built a new school and used a part of the old building for a church which was known as the Round Rock Church. On the way to school each morning Lillian, Ray and Elbert stopped by the Big Red Store for a nickel sack of candy. This store stood in the vicinity of the present site of the Elwood Baptist Church. Joe Richards operated this store which also housed the post office, his father served as postmaster.
People took care of their sick and dying at home. My mother has helped with the sick for days at a time while Dad and the big kids kept things going at home. She also helped lay out the dead; this meant bathing and dressing them for the funeral service. People usually kept a good set of underwear and better clothes for this purpose. If someone wasn’t prepared, the ladies would get together and sew or contribute something from their own wardrobe. Friends stayed with the family, others brought food; the night before the funeral several neighbors sat up all night with the corpse at the family home. The men of the community usually got together and dug the grave; most stopped work to support the family with their presence at the funeral service. This meant hitching their team of mules to the wagon, putting the springseat on because the women folk would be going too. If you didn’t have a springseat, you rode on a board across the sideboards of the wagon with a patchwork quilt laid over the board and a thick tacked comfort in the back for the children. Whether they walked, rode their horse or came in their buggy they would be there with their love and sympathy. I believe this is the reason people refer to this time in history as the “good old days.” People really cared and supported each other.
If you couldn’t find what you wanted at the other stores you might try the Ed Patton (John Patton’s father) store. John served as the local veterinarian. He acquired his knowledge while serving in the calvary of World War I. Three generations of the Patton family were born and reared in this community. After shopping at the Ed Patton store you could go next door and get your hair cut. Earl White was the barber at this time but later Russel Hardy’s dad took him to the same barber shop when Matt Mhoon was the barber. Alongside the barber shop was the switchboard operated by Mrs. Johns (Buster John’s mother). This kept people in touch with the outside world and each other. I have been told there were quite a few telephones in operation at this time.
Rosa Blain remembers her dad taking her as a small child to a cafe operated by Robert and Mandy Blain. It was located east and across the road from the Hopper store. Rosa doesn’t remember the menu but knows for sure she got ice cream and soda pop. Russel Hardy went for ice cream when Will Rue was proprietor of this same cafe.
J.T. Hamilton’s dad told him of a saloon, located east of the Turley Hopper home, that was a part of Elwood’s earlier history. The John Hamilton family of 10 boys and one girl share a lot of good memories of the Hopper store, beginning with Uncle Bob and continuing through the years with Elbert and Lillian. The Hamilton boys were just about raised in the lap of the store.
There was also a public dipping vat where all the people brought their animals to detick and delouse them. These pests have been with us for many years and haven’t moved out yet.
Uncle Bob continued to operate the store until his death in 1938 at which time his son, Elbert, took over. With the passing of time, better roads and automobiles, most of the businesses moved on, leaving the Hopper store the hub of the community. We still had a blacksmith shop. Shorty Parker (husband of Audry Martin Parker) was very capable; he kept everyone patched up and moving on. Bill Scrivner said “Shorty really knew how to shoe a horse.” He should know because he has spent a lot of time riding horses. Will Rue would still grind your corn into meal and make your cane into I sorghum syrup at his mill. John Hamilton had a syrup mill and Albert Dodson cooked the syrup off for him. It took quite a bit of know i how to make good syrup.
The Hopper store still took care of most of our daily needs. You could h even get your oil changed. The vehicle would be driven onto a grease rack that stood high enough for part of an old barrel to catch the burnt oil. Tom Keeton was a small child when he and his granddad (Dennis Gibbs) went to the store for a visit. Tom, full of soda pop and candy, wandered outside to see what he could find of interest. What else, he fell right into the grease barrel. Gibbs wrapped him in a tow sack and delivered the wrapped package to his mom, Kathrine Keeton, who, I’m sure scrubbed him until it hurt.
On cold or rainy days when the men couldn’t work or maybe the crops were laid by, they gathered around the stove to share a bit of news or quote “The Farmers Almanac” about the weather. The benches were well-worn from the many hours spent enjoying good fellowship with friends and neighbors.
As you enter the store from the south, you will be greeted with loud talk and laughter as the men shuffle dominoes on a home-made table with seats made by Shorty Parker from pipes welded to the seats of riding cultivators. As the excitement of the game rose, tempers flared and often time there would be disputes and fights. The telephone would begin to ring “three longs and a short or whatever,” soon the news had reached everyone with quite a bit added along the way. You need to remember this was before television and there were only a few battery-operated radios, so this was part of their recreation and entertainment.
They also got their kicks from pulling pranks on each other. We still laugh remembering the day Hop came back to the store from lunch to find his cat’s tail sticking out a round hole in the door. It looked as if the cat had jumped through this small hole in the door with only his tail sticking out. Later he found his cat minus his tail and he blamed well who had done it. I’m sure Ernest Kershner was hid close by to enjoy the look on Hop’s face. Just wait — Hop will get him back another time. The cat survived but I think this must have been where the saying originated “mad as a sore-tailed cat.” I expect that was one mad cat.
On a Friday or Saturday night the air would be filled with the sounds of music and stomping of feet as the young people along with whole families enjoyed a good square dance. Someone would move the furniture from one room of their house. Most houses were old with cracks in the floors that held dust and dirt. The walls were usually one board thick so that the house itself seemed to reel and rock as they ‘dos a doed’ in the dim light of the coal oil lamp. The fiddler and guitar players tune up for a big time in the old town that night. On a still night you could hear the music, stomping of feet and the caller for quite a distance. There was always plenty of “moonshine” to keep things going. When the men got all “juiced up” they might get into a fight, sometimes breaking up a good dance. If all went well, the dim light from the smokey oil lamp revealed tired but happy people wiping sweat from their faces, blowing and picking dirt balls from their noses as they said their goodbyes. Always telling the hostess of a delightful evening because who knows—they may want to ask her to give another one next week.
The old wooden bridge still spans the Elwood Creek that runs through the center of the community. Just west of the Hopper store on the bank of the creek, men got together to roll dice for a small wager. This was serious business when they knelt on their knees and talked to the dice. As the dice left the cup, you could hear a fellow yell “Be good to me and give me a seven or a 11, my baby is at home and needs a new pair of shoes” then the crap game was on for the day. When the sun sank low and dusk was quickly approaching, one by one the men left for home, some winners — some losers.
On Sunday mornings the sounds from the creek were mingled with the singing of hymns from the Community Church that had been moved from its prior location. The church was moved closer to the store, trying to pull together and keep what remained of a once active community.
Elbert (Hop) was a special person, respected and loved by all who knew him. He was always in on the fun things of the community as well as helping those in need. As long as my dad owned a wagon and team, he and my nephew, Billy Jack Palmer, would go for the groceries. Later, when he had no way to go, Dad would send the grocery list by mail. After Elbert closed the store in the evening, he would then deliver our groceries. He knew all the children for miles around and I assure you, they knew him too. Children know when someone likes them so “Hop” was one of the first words most learned to say. Elbert died in 1964 leaving Lillian to take over the store. She and her mother (Aunt Maude) lived in the old home place and continued the family tradition as the keeper of the store. Aunt Maude died in 1966, this left Lillian to carry on alone. She arose every morning, rain or shine, sleet or snow and opened the store for business. The last years’ the biggest business was the domino games. Some of the old timers still dropped in to play a game while enjoying a cold drink and a good argument.
The store is closed now and Lillian is a resident of the Bonham Nursing Center. I’m sure Lillian has a lot of good memories as well as many friends to fill her days. I have heard they rattle the old dominoes even now. Just a different place and another time.
If our ancestors were privileged to come back they would hardly recognize the Elwood community. Little is left of the good old days except what we capture on paper. Time and progress have brought about many changes. With the good farm-to-market roads and good transportation Elwood is once again a thriving community. Agriculture and livestock are our main source of income but many travel on our good roads to nearby cities to work. New homes have been built as people retire and return to their roots. Many young people never leave, choosing to build and rear their families here.
We have a beautiful new Elwood Baptist Church that stands on a hill to welcome all who will join with us in giving thanks to a wonderful God who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Time marches on.