Country Store Journals, ca. 1895
The Walle Township general store during the 1890s.
The cover of one of the logbooks kept by the owner of the general store.
In 1895, life in Walle Township, North Dakota, revolved around the town's general store. This ANTIQUES ROADSHOW video presents a group of journals, logbooks, and ledgers that were kept by the owner of this store between 1893 and 1895. These documents, now owned by the store owner's great-granddaughter, offer a window into life in a rural Midwestern town by showing us the kinds of purchases townspeople made, the amount of money they paid for their purchases, and even how they spent their leisure time. The storeowner had recently arrived in North Dakota from Scandinavia, and the journals provide insights into the immigrant experience in America, as well.
A Closer Look
- Look at the picture of the general store. What do you see? What do the details in the photograph tell you about the time period and about daily life in Walle Township? What do all the items in this collection from the Walle Township General Store reveal about daily life in a rural Midwestern town in the late 19th century? What might people have been making with the items they bought at the store? (Consider what the documents tell us about harvest season, the wedding month, and leisure time.)
- Who wrote the journals, logbooks, and ledgers? Name at least four ways in which these documents would be useful to a historian. Are these documents likely to be factually reliable? Why or why not?
- Imagine that you have been given a chance to interview the man who ran the Walle Township General Store. What questions would you ask him? Form pairs and pose some of your questions to a classmate. Can he or she predict the answers that the storeowner might give to your questions? Can you predict how the storeowner might respond to your partner's questions?
- According to the appraiserAn expert who assesses the value, quality, and authenticity of works of art or other objects., what role does geography play in determining the value of these items? Do you think this is a good reason for the value of an item to increase? Why or why not?
- Note the prices of the various items recorded in the ledger. What other data would you need in order to compare the prices of these items with current prices for similar items? (Consider hourly wage, monthly salaries, housing costs, scarcity or availability of items, origin of items, transportation costs, and so on.)
Activities and Investigations
- According to the documents presented here, how much choice did residents of Walle Township have when they were making purchases? How much choice do today's consumers have in rural and urban locations? What has changed? Discuss as a class or in small groups, noting how innovations in transportation and technology have affected consumers' choices and the way they acquire goods.
- Find a photo of your family or another family in which several generations are represented together. What clues to time, place, relationships, identity, and other factors are revealed through details in the photo?
- What do we learn about immigration in this ANTIQUES ROADSHOW video? How and when did members of your family come to North America? What kind of work did they do? Did they have a choice of occupation? Does your family have any artifactsAn object made by a human being, typically an item of historical or cultural interest. from your grandparents' or great-grandparents' lives? If so, describe them or, if possible, bring them to class to share with classmates.
For Further Exploration
"Old general store still has folks stopping by to pick up mail"
News story from the Bismarck Tribune about a general store still operating in North Dakota.
A companion site to the eight-part documentary by Ken Burns that explores the people, places, and events that helped shape the American West in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Ellis Island/New York Passenger Records Search
Interactive resource on the immigrant experience, including a feature that allows users to search for information on their own ancestors who immigrated to the U.S.
Library of Congress Immigration Exhibit
Online presentation, drawing on primary-source materials from the Library of Congress' online collection, that focuses on immigration to the U.S. during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among the topics addressed: How were immigrants received by citizens of this nation at that time? How did economic conditions affect the immigrants' experience? How did cultural heritage affect an immigrant's place of settlement?
American Country Stores
by Bruce Roberts and Ray Jones (Globe Pequot Press, 1991)
Contains photographs and historical information about American country stores.
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