By Elaine and Carl Seliskar
At the end of the Civil War in 1865, the pioneers of the Western Reserve had to begin to rebuild their enthusiasm for expansion and growth of their townships. After all, the war had taken many of their sons in a cause that concentrated on nation preservation. Now it was time to grow again on a local level. In Huntsburg this meant that commerce began anew and that meant new commercial ventures at the Center. These new enterprises were essential in keeping the Township a tightly knit community. So it was that in 1900 Huntsburg found itself confronted with a new “department” store. That store was created by William John Perry, the son of Thomas and Lucy Hale Perry, residents of the Township. Will, as he became known, was born in 1858 just before the war and died in 1928. Until at least 1880, Will had worked in a local harness shop. But about 1900 he got the urge to expand into his own endeavor and start a business at the Center. That business was situated on the north side of SR 322 just west of SR 528. (All that remains now is a small vacant lot.) The way Will established his business is especially interesting and gives us a glimpse into the ingenuity of that young man and, in general, of the people of the times.
In 1900 Will purchased a half acre lot for $140 next to the Disciples Church which had been built by Austin Loud in about 1850. By itself a small lot was not a very good start to forming a sustainable commercial venture, so in the same year Will also bought the Disciples Church which sat on the adjacent one-quarter acre lot next to the small half acre lot. The Church had fallen into disuse after most of the original founders had passed away. Will paid the grand sum of $250 to the only remaining Deacon of the Church, Charles Nicholas Moss, himself a Civil War veteran, for the lot and the church building. Two lots totaling about three quarters of an acre and one building for a total of $390. The Disciples Church itself was a small one level frame building which had served its original purpose for about five decades. As a church it has been embellished with scrollwork befitting a house of worship. But it was hardly enough space for a new store. At this point Will got creative and bought a small general store that lay just east of the Center and which had been run by Philander Kile (b. 1815, d. 1865) until he died. It too was a small frame building, one room wide and two stories high. Like many other small buildings of the time it was viewed as being highly mobile and Will moved it into position right next to the Disciples Church. That pair of buildings now joined together formed Will Perry’s Department Store.
The right portion with its gingerbread scroll work was never moved from its original position at the Center. The left portion is the Philander Kile store moved from its original location east of the Center – kind of like a 1900 Mutt and Jeff structure.
Will’s store sold all manner of dry goods and groceries and at various times during its operation contained a barber shop, a millinery shop, and a harness shop. A store like that tended to become a place of gathering of local families as they spread and sought out the news of the Township and beyond. Several of the items that the store carried are on display in the Huntsburg Historical Society museum.
The store was quite a success and allowed Will to eventually build a beautiful Victorian home next to it. The house still stands today and was lived in by Will and his wife Oella and later by his daughter Evelyn Perry Jolly until her death in 1986.
After Will’s death in May of 1928, the store was sold to Isaac Hardesty Owens who with his son Cara operated the store for several years until Isaac retired and moved back to Ashtabula County. By that time Cara had married Amnia Johnson daughter of Homer and Coral Johnson of Orwell. Amnia and Cara ran a general store outfitted with both wet and dry goods until 1936. In 1936 while on vacation in Ontario, Canada, Cara and Homer Johnson died in a boating accident on Lake Nipissing. Amnia then took over the store until her brother Paul Johnson came to Huntsburg to help her run the enterprise. Amnia and Paul then ran the general store until the middle of the 1970s at which time they sold the store and its goods. The building then went through a period of some use but also slow decay until a fire rendered the edifice uninhabitable. Eventually, the building was demolished leaving an empty lot of three quarters of an acre.