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End of an era

Stewart Hardware

Photo by Clarke Davis
Alyse Stewart and her husband, Wayne Ferrell, have been reducing inventory at Stewart’s Hardware in preparation for closing the 125-year-old establishment. The store was started by Alyse’s stepgreat-grandfather in 1890.

 

by Clarke Davis

When Alyse Stewart turns the key in the lock for the last time it will bring to an end a hardware store that has served the community on Broadway for 125 years. It’s been the family legacy of Summerfelt and Stewart.
Gone are the days when rolls of hog wire and steel posts came into Valley Falls by the train car load and were stored in the east room of the store. Gone too are the days when they repaired buggies and had blacksmiths at work in the back room.
Stewart, 65, who grew up in the business, said the big changes started when Perry Lake displaced a lot of farm families and a decade later when small farms began to disappear more rapidly. The business also served the do-it-yourself folks who fixed things and then came the Walmart effect when broken things are thrown away and replaced with new ones.
On the counter rests a National Cash Register dating to 1912 and beside it is the scales that weighed nails and countless other items sold by the pound. Both are in perfect operating condition.
Behind the counter are upward of 75 to 100 drawers that once contained a unique bolt, lock, or key.
“When my mother became active in the business, she labeled them,” Stewart said. “Until then, the clerks had them memorized.”
Her mother, Helen, is credited with putting a handrail on the steep staircase to the upstairs. Her grandfather when asked if he had ever fallen on those stairs replied, “No, but a lot of merchandise has,” meaning he had probably tripped numerous times but had not fallen.
In the back room are the sheet metal machines for bending and cutting tin. Plumbers could thread pipe and there’s one dye large enough to thread a 6-inch cast iron pipe.
“As a child I always wanted to play with a shelf of toys but Dad would put me to work operating a tool that made a ferrule for a gutter. I thought I was playing,” she said.
As customer demand for merchandise changed, housewares and gift items filled the shelves and replaced many of the hardware items.
When Alyse’s mother was alive there was a large stock of fishing items and plenty of advice to go along with it.
“My mother’s passion was fishing,” Alyse said. There is now an annual fishing tournament in Valley Falls in Helen’s name to encourage moms and dads to take their children fishing.
The family business began in 1890 by Alyse’s stepgreat-grandfather, Ernst Summerfelt, a Prussian immigrant born in 1833. At that time it was only the smaller east portion of the current building, which he purchased in 1892.
As the business grew so did the building. The present building was constructed beginning in March 1903 and was finished by October.
Ernst Summerfelt’s son, Roy, bought the business in 1912 and operated it until his death in 1966 at age 82. He married Nellie Linton Stewart, a divorced woman with two sons, in 1922. He helped raise the boys, Vern and Noel, the latter being Alyse’s father.
Noel and Helen Stewart met at the University of Kansas and married in 1940. Noel was on a scholarship to play basketball for coach Phog Allen. Helen was a music major.
Noel went into the Air Corps in February 1942 and served through 1946. His brother, Vern, was killed in France during the war. Noel and Helen moved to Valley Falls in 1946 when Noel joined his stepfather in the hardware business. Helen became the first music teacher in the Valley Falls school in 1950.
“Mom always said that year she had a new home, a new job, and a new baby. I was the baby,” Alyse said.
Noel Stewart died in 1993 and Alyse joined her mother in operating the store in 2000. Helen passed in 2005.
Alyse followed in her mother’s footsteps, majoring in music therapy and education at Kansas University. She currently spends half days at school serving as an aide to music director A.J. Pence in teaching music in the lower grades.
Assisting with the store is Alyse’s husband, Wayne Ferrell, a local native who is retired from a career with Caterpillar.
Both unattached and caring for elderly mothers, Alyse said their first date was a double-date—with their mothers. They married in 2000.
Alyse is the middle child of three girls, Allynne, the eldest, who still has a small interest in the business, and Andrea, the youngest.
Auctioneer Andy Conser of United Country will conduct two auctions, one at the fairgrounds to sell most of the leftover merchandise and a second auction at the store that will include the antiques, personal possessions, and fixtures. Those dates will be announced soon.

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Posted by on Oct 7 2015. Filed under Featured, The Vindicator, Valley Falls. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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