One-Stop Shopping

The original Duncan General Store in Egypt, Texas. Imgaes from The Heritage Society Permanent Collection.

The original Duncan General Store in Egypt, Texas. Imgaes from The Heritage Society Permanent Collection.

A LITTLE PIECE OF HISTORY | By The Heritage Society –

Life in the summer in Houston means dealing with going in and out of air-conditioned spaces as we complete our errands. By the time we return to the car, it has heated up to over 100 degrees, and there isn’t  enough time to cool off before we reach the next destination and exit again. The advent of enclosed, air-conditioned malls in the late 20th century brought some relief to overheated, frustrated Houston shoppers. More recently, the emergence of big box stores like Wal-Mart and Costco enables shoppers to get a wide variety of goods at one location.

The cash register in an old-fashioned general store.

The cash register in an old-fashioned general store.

Past generations experienced one-stop shopping at the community’s general store, a common feature of rural Texas. Patrons, predominantly farmers, came to the store to buy staples, but they also received trust, understanding and credit when needed. In the early days, business transactions often took the form of trade and barter – furs and hides for cornmeal and coffee. Since farmers did not have ready cash until they sold their crops or livestock, purchases were frequently made on credit, and the transactions were recorded by hand in ledger books.

The store was a planned space where customers had the opportunity to see, feel and taste the goods. One section of the store was for groceries, another section for dry goods and yet another for tobacco, sundries and patent medicines. In the rear of the building, there might be whiskey, kerosene and meat barrels. On the counter by the cash register were glass containers full of candy that sold for one penny. The general store was often the post office for the area and eventually became the gas station as well. Around its shin-warming, pot-bellied stove and gaming and drinking tables, country folk gathered and passed the time in a sociable and civilized fashion. The general store was the center for trade, information and social life for rural America.

Dry goods were one of many sections in a general store.

Dry goods were one of many sections in a general store.

One example of a typical Texas general store was the Duncan General Store located in Egypt, Texas. Egypt is one of the most historic towns of Wharton County. It was named by pioneers from Austin’s Colony who came to the area in the drought of 1827 seeking corn, as reflected in the biblical passage, “We are going down into Egypt for corn.” Green Cameron Duncan, a cattleman and farmer who settled in Texas after the Civil War, established the store in the 1870s, and it operated until the mid 20th century. The merchandise for the store was initially hauled in by horse and wagon from the railroad station at Hungerford until the Cane Belt Railroad came into Egypt in 1900. The store sold everything from food to coffins. A meat market was added shortly after opening, as well as a lumber yard and saddlery. In 1900, one corner of the store became the Egypt, Texas United States Post Office.

The U.S. Post Office in Egypt, Texas was located inside the Duncan General Store.

The U.S. Post Office in Egypt, Texas was located inside the Duncan General Store.

In 1983, The Heritage Society was given the entire contents of the Duncan General Store, one of the last extant 19th century general stores in Texas. These artifacts are on display in a recreated storefront in the Heritage Society Museum gallery. Visitors can marvel at the sometimes unfamiliar merchandise displayed on the shelves and in the cases. The “crocks” on the shelves are functional pieces of everyday pottery used for food storage, not the colorful rubber footwear of today. Stepping through the doors of the recreated Duncan Store provides an opportunity to imagine the hustle and bustle that would have permeated the air as the local residents did their shopping on Saturdays in 19th century Egypt, Texas.