Country Store Served Gray, Sulphur Springs, Harmony in the 1930s-40s

Janelle Walker Warden, former area resident, shared memories of growing up in the Gray and Sulphur Springs community where her family lived from the early part of the century.

Over time, the Walker family operated several grocery stores in nearby Sulphur Springs run by J.W. Walker, Bob Walker, Maynard Walker and Herbert Walker, Janelle’s father. The competition included Lige Adams, Sid Martin, Boyd Gray, Frank Pitts and Tom Slagle.

According to Janelle: “Tuesday was the day that my dad went to Johnson City to get supplies for our first country store and to trade butter, eggs and whatever he could get. He drove his store truck around Sulphur Springs, Gray and Harmony to pick up grocery lists from residents, after which he filled their orders and delivered groceries to their homes.

“Before Daddy went off on his store route, he always got some crackers and put brown sugar and cheese on them. Yummy, what a treat that was.   

“We lived in the back of the store in an area comprised of two bedrooms and a long kitchen leading to a back porch. Out in the back yard were the outhouse and a shed.  We routinely cleaned the store floor with some type of oily material. I recall the men sitting around the store listening to Joe Lewis fights on the radio.”  

Janelle said that her father attended the 1933-34 Chicago World’s Fair, leaving his wife and young daughter behind with only $30 to run the store: “Daddy grew up on a farm on Douglas Shed Road on land acquired in 1870 from the Bacon family. He and Mother lived in the store at Sulphur Springs until about 1936.  

“As a young child, I pushed myself in a stroller up to the store’s olive shelf and helped myself to a jar. I loved olives and the juice. When I was learning to read, I read aloud in the store with customers around. It is no wonder that I later became a librarian.” 

The grocer’s daughter vaguely recalled gas pumps out front under an extended porch roof. She said her father sold gasoline there during the food and gas rationing years of World War II. She never dreamed that this would become a history-making event.

“I lived in the store when I started first grade,” said Janelle. “The school bus stopped there and several children got on for the ride to school.  Daddy would not open the store on Sunday. We had to go out on Sunday afternoons after church because people would come by wanting to buy something. 

“Daddy and Uncle Shim operated the second store that Tom Slagle later owned. It was located on Bacon Road across from Payne Meat Company. Years later, Ben McCracken, while still a teenager, drove the grocery store truck on Saturdays to pick up orders for people around Gray and Harmony.

“One of my favorite memories is dipping ice cream at our second store for the crowd who stopped by after activities at Sulphur Springs High School.  Today when I eat a cone of it, I think about the time when I learned to dip it and a smile always comes over my face. That was when cones cost a dime or a quarter.

 “Our second store had an upstairs where the McCracken and Uncle Bob and Trixie Walker families lived when they ran the store.  In the back was an icehouse that I later used for playing school with my cousins and neighboring children. I still have the ice tongs that we used for picking up ice as well as the scoop for dipping into the sugar barrel.

Janelle reflected on her life growing up in Sulphur Springs with these pining words: “It brings tears mixed with smiles. Our land, homes, furniture, utensils, recreation and work were all a part of making me what I am today.”