Old Johnson Store a Pittsburg landmark

Named for William M. Pitt, Pittsburg is a crossroads community located at the junction of sections 16, 17, 20 and 21 in Seminary Township. Originally spelled Pittsburgh, the ‘h’ was dropped from the spelling in 1889 when the post office was established.

In a letter to the editor from Walter H. Evans, published in the Jan. 31, 1974, edition of The Vandalia Leader, Evans wrote that his earliest recollections began about 1890, when he was four years old.

I remember going with my parents to trade at the Billy Pitt store, from which the name Pittsburg originated. I remember playing with the Pitts son, Don.

Later in the 1890s, there were three general stores there at one time. One operated by Jim Andrews, one by Dixon and Son and, I believe, the other was operated by Isaac Howell. Among other store operators, there were B.F. Satterlee, Amos Rhodes and Baldy Sawrey. Baldy was also a widely known auctioneer. This was all before the Johnson Store.

Since I can first remember, Pittsburg had a community physician, Dr. F.A. Gaige. He practiced there for many years, first at his home east of the village, then later he had an office built in town and practiced there until his retirement.

I remember the Simeon White blacksmith shop, where my father used to take his plow shares and other articles to be repaired. The Howell brothers, Bud and John, operated a grist mill. They did a good business making corn meal and grinding grain for feed.

There was the Tevis saw mill, and I almost forgot, the post office. It was located in one of the stores for years, and the mail was carried from Smithboro by old Peter Lingle.

The pastor of Frst Christian Church was J.E. Story. He also taught our school for three years, and later was mayor of West Frankfort.

I visited with Thelma Alton at her home in Hagarstown some time back, and she shared with me information that she had compiled about Pittsburg.

Thelma noted that Pittsburgs post office was established June 17, 1889, and disestablished April 15, 1901. In her memory, there were two stores, Johnsons Country Store and Hamiltons Grocery, and a town hall (with apartments downstairs and the hall upstairs, where community gatherings and dances were held).

There was also a doctors office, dentist’s office, dance hall, blacksmith shop (Bill Hans) and a restaurant run by Sam Tedrick.

According to Thelmas research, J.W. Dugan opened a store in Pittsburg in March 1896. The following April, Winchester Dixon was operating a store, and in March 1904, B.F. Satterlee is described in a newspaper item as a ‘Pittsburg merchant.’

Did you know Pittsburg had a telephone exchange? The Mulberry Grove Sesquicentenniel book tells that the Pittsburg Telephone Co. was purchased from the Bill Kern family in 1958 by the Mulberry Telephone Co. Both merged with Continental Telephone in 1963.

Jacob F. Johnson built the Pittsburg store building about 1906. His daughter, Marie Johnson McCracken, remembered that her father came to Pittsburg in 1904 and purchased a store building that was located south of the present structure. She said that an old building was torn down to make room for the new one, with Charlie Roedecker as head carpenter.

Mrs. McCracken remembered that they moved into the second-floor living quarters in 1910, although the store had already been in operation for a couple of years. She told how she looked forward to the salesmen, called ‘drummers’ then, who would call on her father with trunks of samples.

The Johnson Store had three departments grocery, dry goods and hardware. Since it was before the days of automobiles, and the store was located on a crossroads between several settlements and towns, it became quite a trading center.

Mrs. McCracken told that it was also a stopping place for hunters and fishermen on their way to the Kaskaskia River. On the way down, they stopped to get supplies; on the way back, they stopped again to display and weigh their catch. Sometimes their big catfish weighed 30 to 60 pounds.

Everything came in barrels beans, rice, corn, sugar, she recalled. And we had to sack it ourselves. She said that most of the work at the store was done by her older brothers and sisters.

Cash was not necessary for those who traded at the store. They took in eggs, chickens and, in the wintertime, rabbits, in exchange for groceries.

Mrs. McCracken said that her family left Pittsburg around 1916, selling the merchandise to Franzy Eakin and the store building to the Farmers Equity organization. Robert Dothager bought the building about 1951, and a half-century later it is still owned by the Dothager family.

Pittsburg has come and gone, but the landmark Johnson Store has survived. A little worse for wear, maybe, but one can tell it is the same building as shown in the 1900s photo.

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