A few weeks ago, my wife and I were browsing through the Country Store Antiques shop and we came across the brochure The History of Country Store Antiques Bernhards Bay, NY by Kathie Bishop, Ph.D. Kathie is also the author of the novel Whistling up the Wind: The Adventures of Anna Marie Golding. I thought this would make a great post for our blog. After recreating Dr. Bishop’s text, with her approval, I’ve included a couple of photographs from the Country Store Antiques web site and a few of Stephen Cannerelli’s images from a 1981 Syracuse Herald-Journal article titled The Trading Post: notions and memories. If you’ve never visited the store, I would strongly recommend it, as it certainly maintains the feel of what was once a commerce staple of the area. Plus, they have some very nice antiques at resonable prices. — gmsc
When you step through the doors of the country store, you are transported back in time. Imagine you arrived here by a horse-drawn carriage to vote, buy supplies, attend a town event, or just to find company on a cold winter’s day. As the “soul” of the town, according to Mary Lou and Tony Ciesla, the current co-owners of the Country Store, the store has been used for multi purposes over time but has always been central to the community of Bernhards Bay.
Bernhards Bay was typical of the small towns along the north shore. Named for one of the first settlers, John and Elizabeth Bernhard, the town grew up around their homestead.
In 1847 Henry and Dennis Winn opened up a small glass works factory which continued in operation until 1895. The windows over the cash register in the Country Store are the original windows from that factory, reminding us of the skills of the men and women who were here before us.
The store was built in three sections from 1840 to 1870. The first store, under the partnership of Potter and Marsden, opened up in 1860 with a nation in turmoil from the onset of the Civil War. The original structure of the store is now the back section of the building. It was moved to the back to make room for the new section of the building that is now the front of the store as you walk in through the original doors. The newly opened Ontario Western Railroad sat in the backyard, moving supplies and finished products from the glass factories back and forth.
The store has been used for many purposes over the years serving as a telegraph office, voting place, and site for church suppers or performances on the indoor stage. It also served as the office for the president of the glass factory and as a showroom for products of the glass factory.
Another original function of the building was a company and community store for the glass factory with the laborers of the factory being paid in paper script to be redeemed for supplies at the store. This practice was common among the north shore glass factories. A very strong secret labor movement quickly grew up in some of the glass factories as the highly skilled laborers demanded fair wages and benefits even though it was against the law to organize. Frank Putney, of neighboring Cleveland, the major organizer of the secret labor movements, was visited by Samuel Gompers who it was rumored used the Oneida Lake movements as examples for his Cigar Workers Union in New York City.
Around 1900 Clayton Addison Winn assumed the ownership of the thriving business continuing to sell farm supplies, millinery goods, hardware, molasses, and barrels of fish or household commodities needed for the hardy settlers of the area. Clayton ran the Telegraph Office and the Bernhard’s Bay Post Office out of the store, making this a true community center for Bernhards Bay.
In 1921 George Davis at 24 years old was employed as a clerk. His dream was to learn the business of store management so that he could operate his own store in the future. Shortly after joining the company, he fell in love with Edna Pease, a part-time employee of the store during her summer vacations. They married in 1926. Together over the years they built a thriving business.
Edna divided her time between teaching and helping George run the business that became a partnership between the Davis couple and Charles Lord in 1929 right around the time of the Great Stock Market Crash. In spite of the crash and the Great Depression, this partnership continued to be very successful, especially as Edna was able to provide the growing “Trading Post” with cash money from her teaching in the local schools.
It should be noted that the store would not have survived all of the national and local economic hardships if it had not been for the financial help and day-to-day work provided by Edna Davis and Charles Lord’s wife Ethel.
Clayton Winn continued as Post Master of the Post Office located in the south east corner of the building (to your right as you walk past the cash register) until his retirement in 1942. Edna Pease Davis left her teaching career at that time to become the Post Mistress, a position she continued until 1975. The telegraph office had been removed in 1950 and the Post Office moved to a trailer west of the Davis and Lord business.
Tony and Mary Lou Ciesla, the current owners, did not intend to buy the store on the day they came to the auction of the contents and real estate. George Davis, one of the original owners of the building, was known for calling every male “Tony” when they came into the store. His granddaughter, Barbara Stevens, was the person who brokered the sale to the Cieslas. She halfheartedly agreed that it might be his ghost that guided this Tony to the store on the day it was being sold! Barbara and her mom, Carol Wright, ran an antique shop in the store beginning in 1996 called “Grandma’s House Antiques.”
The store was pretty much love at first sight for the Cieslas though it took over $150,000 to restore the store to a usable condition while maintaining the original architecture and windows. Combine that with the 100 mile roundtrip commute they did every day for many months demonstrated this was a labor of love and dedication. The Cieslas had been antique dealers in the Skaneateles area before selling the inventory and antique business to move permanently to the North Shore area.
Since 2007 when the Cieslas took ownership to now (2013), they have continued to grow the store back to its original legacy of a community of people. On a cold fall day you might see customers or co-op vendors standing around the wood-stove talking about the weather or the latest political problems coming out of Washington. Someone might have spotted a bear that night before or a moose winding its way out of Adirondacks to a new home along the lake or looking for a mate. If you look closely, you might see Edna and George Davis nodding their heads in agreement with one of the comments.
The store continues to remain a place that school children shop for penny candy on their way home from school. The antiques around remind us all of the history and people who came before us.
The local artistry and crafts, located in the former glass factory’s president’s office, are a tribute to the North Shore’s abundant talent.
Another popular commodity of the store was the large wheel of extra sharp cheese that was kept upstairs to age. Award-winning cheese is still being sold today.
A new addition to the store is the mini bakery. Aunt Penny’s Cookies, Grandma Tuttle’s Pies and Mamma’s Muffins are freshly baked in what was once the old telegraph office.
As in days gone by, there is something here for everyone. Enjoy your shopping experience and the opportunity to connect directly with the past of the north shore of Oneida Lake.