Meet the General Store Keeper

Storekeeper Pam is the lead guide at the Greteman General Store and a familiar face to many museum visitors. Let’s get to know her better!

Pam at General Store

Where are you from? I am originally from a town just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. Kids in Iowa grow up learning about the Ioway tribe, pioneers, raising pigs, and harvesting corn. Kids in Massachusetts grow up learning about the Wampanoag tribe, the Pilgrims, and harvesting cranberries and lobster. I have had fun living in and learning about both states, but Iowa has the better State Fair.

When we come to the museum, where can we find you? Most of the time you will find me behind the counter at Greteman’s General Store selling lemon drops, gum drops and sarsaparilla. I think everyone in Iowa likes lemon drops and gum drops because we sure do have lots of people asking for them every summer!

I have also worked at 1700 Ioway Farm and the 1900 Horse-powered Farm. It was fun to help play a small part in putting up one of the new buildings at the new 1700 Ioway site and I was able to learn how to use the cook stove at the 1900 Farm this summer. When I am in our 1875 Town of Walnut Hill, I can sometimes be found at the Flynn Mansion, the Schoolhouse, or making brooms in the Broom Shop.

broom shop

How did you learn how to cook and make brooms and what all of those things in the store are used for? I worked with other guides who could teach me new skills they already knew. In the summer, I also read about, research, and practice those skills every day. Sometimes you have to practice a long time to master a new skill. It took me a few tries to start a fire in the cook stove without making the room all smoky. My first few brooms came out uneven on the sides. I keep trying and eventually the new skill becomes an old skill and it’s on to something new!

The hardest, but most fun part of my job is learning how to do things the way they did in the past. Cooking at 1900 Farm without a microwave or electric appliances took a while to get used to. Every chore takes longer than what you think, so I have learned to start each task early in the day and have guests help as much as possible. Our kid visitors like to help refill the wood, wash dishes, mix biscuits, sweep floors, dust shelves, and put things away. Working as a team with our staff and volunteers also makes any job easier. If I don’t know how to do something, someone else I work with probably does and can talk me through the hard parts. At the end of the day, it is very satisfying to look at a clean, stocked, dusted General Store or a well-fed 1900 Farm.


Do you like wearing your historic period clothing? I love wearing my period clothing! The dresses for the Flynn Mansion are very fancy, but all the layers make it harder to move around. The dresses for the 1900 Farm are not very fancy, but are comfortable for doing all sorts of cooking and chores. My dresses for the General Store are a good mix of pretty and practical. Each site also has a collection of bonnets and hats for the ladies to wear and it is fun to pick one out that has a ribbon or flower that matches your dress.

General Store

What kinds of things can kids do at the General Store? When kids come visit the General Store the very first thing they can do is pull up a barrel and play a game of checkers! We sometimes have special activities like weighing dry goods, using historical tools or playing typical children’s games set up at the front of the store. Kids are always welcome to ask for a broom and help me sweep the floor. We get a lot of dust and dirt in because of the dirt road outside. Some of the items in the store are sharp or fragile, so if there is something you are interested in, ask me and I will be happy to help you see the item so both it and you are safe.


Who is your favorite person in history? Favorite person in history……That is a hard question….. I have many people from history that I admire. Esther Forbes is one of them. Even though she had dyslexia, she was able to write an award-winning biography on Paul Revere. She later took all the research she had done to write the biography and turned it into one of my favorite books of all time, Johnny Tremain.



Shopping Trip

Have you been getting ready to go back to school? Do you have list of things you will need to take with you? Like paper, pencils, and crayons? Do you like to go shopping with your family? Maybe at the mall or the grocery store? Do you take a list with you when you shop or just try to remember what you need when you get there?

General Store

Where would you go shopping in 1875? You might visit stores in a town like Walnut Hill. There might be a drug store, a grocer, and certainly a general store! General stores were like Walmart or Target. They sold food, clothing, tools, books—a little bit of a lot of things!

General Store

Let’s pretend you live near a small town over 100 years ago. In your farm house, you watch your mom look around the kitchen with a pencil and paper in her hands. She is writing things down as she checks her shelves and bins for ingredients she will buy at the General Store. The list seems to be getting longer and longer: 10 pounds flour, 3 pounds brown sugar, 3 pounds white sugar, 1 pint molasses, 1 pound coffee, 2 pounds rice. She also has items on the list for her sewing projects: 1 spool black thread, shirt buttons, crochet thread, 3 yards red calico cloth. And then your dad adds some things he needs for the barn: 2 pounds nails, an ax handle. You want to add your own ideas to the list. You will be starting school soon and know that the General Store will also have some of the things you need to be ready for that first day. But Mom is in charge of the shopping list, so the things you want may not be on it.
General Store

When you get to town, you stop at the General Store first. As the screen door shuts behind you, you take a deep breath. The store sells many things and it all smells so good: freshly ground coffee, the open jar of pickles, leather from the shoe section, and the bottle of perfume sitting on the notions counter.checkers

Dad sits down and challenges his friend to a game of checkers. Mom walks over to the grocery section and hands the store owner her list.  general store clerk

Remember the items? Flour, sugar, and rice are measured out of barrels. You stand in the center of the store and carefully watch the store owner measure and weigh the flour, sugar, and coffee from the list. The store clerk picks out the items on the list while Mom waits and watches.general store clerk

Cloth has to be measured and cut from the bolt. Thread colors are chosen out of the spool cabinet.thread and fabric

Nails come in a barrel too! And Dad has to pick an axe handle from the store stock.nails

When everything has been bagged and boxed for the wagon ride home, your dad gets ready to load up, but then asks the store owner to take down the large box of children’s shoes from the top shelf…. Yes!shoes

You WILL be getting one of the items from your own wish list: new shoes for school. You try on several pairs and Mom chooses a pair that fits with a little room to grow. Mom also asks the clerk to wrap up a brand new school reader book and a writing slate to practice your penmanship.

slate and books

Almost your entire little list has made it onto the wagon!

Your family climbs into the wagon for the ride home. Before you get too far down the road, your parents have one more surprise for you. Dad slowly pulls a small paper sack out of his pocket and grinning, asks if anyone want a lemon drop.  candy Your smile stretches from ear to ear as you take one from the sack and pop it in your mouth. Somehow your parents guessed the last item on your list!

500px-Shopping_cart_with_food_clip_art_2_svgThis pretend visit to 1875 was very different than going to a store in 2015! When you shop today, you may push a grocery carts and pick out your own items off the store shelves. You might bring home your things in plastic bags instead of brown paper packages. Some things are the same though! There are still stores that carry all the general items your family needs, from groceries, to tools, to shoes and clothes, and school supplies. A list is still the best way to make sure all of your needed items make it home. And sometimes parents still have a fun surprise for kids on the ride home.

Candy! Candy! Candy!

Do you love candy? How about chocolate? Chewing gum? Lollipops? Here in Iowa, our grocery stores are starting to put Halloween candy on the shelves. In modern America, candy companies claim that we spend $7 Billion on candy every year! Wow! That’s a lot of chocolate bars and gummy bears!

Do you think kids spent money on candy a long time ago? In a town like Walnut Hill, the 1875 town at Living History Farms, you could have bought candy at the general store or at the drug store. The candy wouldn’t look quite the same as the candy you might buy today though!Candy in the General Store

In 1875, stores like the Greteman General Store sold a lot of penny candy. Kids would pay a penny and the store keeper would scoop the candy out of a jar or bin for them. Kids might get a few pieces of the small candy drops for a penny or maybe one large stick of candy for a penny. A bigger bag of candy could cost a nickel or a dime! A penny was pretty cheap, but a dime was more expensive. A farm worker might only earn one whole dollar every day. A dime was worth over an hour’s worth of work!

What did these penny candies taste like? A lot of penny candies were hard drops or sticks of sugar that kids would suck on. There were some lemon candies and peppermint candies and some other fruity flavors—like cherry drops. Most of us know what lemons taste like. Do you like the red and white striped peppermint candy?

licorice, anise and horehound
You might not have tasted some of the other flavors of candy from a long time ago. Many of the candies were flavored with herbs. Herbs are plants that are used to give things flavor. Herbs like horehound, anise, and licorice were often used in candy. Horehound tastes bitter or sour to many people. Those same herbs could also be used to disguise the harsh taste of medicines. Many early hard candies were even given as medicine! Horehound and lemon drop candies can help your sore throat feel better. Peppermint candies can help an upset stomach.

Do you like jelly beans or gummy worms? These are candies made of sugar that are sticky and chewy. In 1875, kids could buy a few chewy candies. A favorite treat was called Turkish delight. It was a small square or drop of a jelly, made from starches and flavorings. It might be lemon or orange or even flavored with rose water—which sort of tastes like vanilla. It sometimes had nuts on the inside.

gum dropsWe know that kids in the 1870s could buy gum drops and maybe even a sort of jelly bean. Ads in newspapers mention stores selling these things. A  candy-maker in Boston advertised sending jelly beans to Civil War soldiers!

We don’t know if these chewy candies were exactly like the ones we have now. The gum drops were made with different types of gelatin, the stuff that makes them gooey. So we aren’t sure if old-fashioned gum drops were as soft as the ones we eat now. Many of the gum drops were flavored with spices and herbs. Do you like black gum drops? They are licorice flavored.

When you visit the general store at Living History Farms, a candy you won’t be able to find is chocolate bars! In 1875, chocolate was not very popular as a candy. Most people drank chocolate as a hot drink, sort of like the hot cocoa we drink now. Most chocolate drinks would taste bitter compared to modern sweet hot chocolate. Some 1800s cookbooks used chocolate in frostings and a few candies. But most people did not have our modern love of chocolate a hundred years ago.

candy in the General StoreThe general store sold many things and candy was just a small part of the money that the store made. But for a child with a penny in his or her pocket in 1875, penny candy could be pretty important! As your summer comes to an end, come taste a piece of history: Enjoy some candy at the Greteman General Store!

Caregivers and parents! The General Store does not sell Turkish delight–a popular Victorian candy, but you can make it at home. There is a simple recipe for it here. Hot sugar can be dangerous in the kitchen. Kids can help you measure ingredients for this recipe, but should not handle the boiling sugar syrups.

Just a reminder, Living History Farms will be closed August 22-26 for a private rental. Beginning August 27, the museum will begin fall season hours. We are open Wednesday through Saturday from 9 am to 4 pm and Sundays, Noon to 4 pm until October 12, 2014.

Photobits and Visiting Tips

Last week we asked our history detectives to solve a photo puzzle. We gave you bits of photos and asked you to figure out where in our town of Walnut Hill those photos were taken. Let’s see if you guessed right!

Photo One:


This small picture is of nutmeg graters in the General Store! Nutmeg is the seed from a tree grown in tropical areas. Many people like to grate nutmegs into cookies, cakes and other tasty things. These tiny graters do a great job! Can you find the nutmeg graters in the big picture?


Photo Two:


This is the power wheel on our Prouty Newspaper Printing Press in The Advocate Newspaper Office. A printer would grab the handle and turn the wheel to make the machine move. He could print 10 copies or more of a newspaper every minute with this press. Can you find the power wheel in this photograph?


Photo Three:


These are gumdrops at the Greteman General Store! Gum drops were a popular candy in the 1870s. They still are a favorite with our visitors in 2014. Can you find them in the big picture? What is your favorite flavor of gum drop?


Photo Four:


This is the anvil in the Blacksmith shop. The Blacksmith uses the anvil as a sort of table to hammer metal. He will also use the round pointed end, called a horn, to bend hot metals. Where is the anvil in this picture?


Photo Five:


This one was tricky! This is the cutting area of a pill machine in the Schafer Drug Store. Druggists used these machines to cut up the sticky medicines they had mixed into individual pills.


Photos Six and Seven:


These items can be found in the Walnut Hill Broom Shop! The wire in the top photo was used to wrap broomcorn onto the handles in the bottom photo. Both handles and wire would have been made in a factory in 1875 and sent to our town by train. The handles were packaged up in big bundles and the wire was in big coils when it came from the factory. Can you find both of these items in the broom shop?


Photo Eight:


This photo is of the top bottle on a show globe in the Shafer Drug Store. Show globes were fancy bottles filled with colored water or oil. The druggist placed them in the front windows to attract attention and show off how good he was at mixing the colors.


Were you able to guess all the objects and where they could be found at the museum? Great job, history detectives!

Some Touring Advice for Caregivers: Don’t forget that Living History Farms opens to the general public for regular touring on May 1st! In May, our museum welcomes many thousand school children and their teachers. If you are visiting with a smaller group of younger children, it can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming to see all those school buses! Here’s a few tips to a successful visit in May!


–Mondays, Thursdays, and Fridays are the heaviest visitation days for schools. Touring on Wednesday afternoons or weekend days sometimes makes for a calmer visit in May. Check the museum event calendar for special activities on Saturdays!

–If you are a museum member, May is a great month to use the membership admission perks to make shorter visits more often.

–Most school classes visit the museum between 9:30 am and 2 pm. If you would like to visit without being caught up in larger group arrivals, try arriving at 1:30 pm and ride the 2 or 2:30 pm tractor cart out to see our working farms. Many Walnut Hill shops will also be finished with school presentations after 2:30 pm.DSC_6097

–If you are an early bird, arrive at 9 am and head for the tractors first. Ask the tractor driver to drop you off at the 1900 Farm. The schools sharing your 9:15 cart ride will be going to the 1700 Farm and won’t arrive at the 1900 era Farm until 10 am. You could have the 1900 Farm to yourselves for almost 45 minutes! Just remember to tell the tractor driver you want to be dropped off at 1900 Farm before you get on the cart!DSC_6309

–Most school groups in Walnut Hill town receive about a 10 minute presentation in each of the buildings they visit. If a group is already in a building when you arrive, please feel free to enter that building with them! You are welcome to sit in on the presentation and then look around more freely after the school group has departed.

–School groups generally tour at the Flynn Mansion on the ground floor only. If you have children that love to explore historic toys, the boys’ bedroom and girls’ bedroom on the second floor of the Flynn Mansion have several toys that are part of our hands-on program. It’s a great place for your family to spend some time away from the bigger groups.

DSC_6594–If there is a specific building you wish to visit the day of your tour, ask the admission desk staffer if there is a time when that historic site is free from scheduled tour presentations.

We look forward to seeing you during May!