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Middle Island’s Country Store

Footnotes to Long Island History

  Middle Island’s Country Store

 

by

Thomas R. Bayles

 


   When Pfeiffer’s store closed it’s doors for good on Saturday. It brought to a close a colorful history in the life of Middle Inland and vicinity.  For over 100 years this store has been operated as a typical country general store, supplying the needs of the people living for miles around.  Before that it was conducted as a tavern and stage coach stopping place for the stages that ran through the middle country road from the city to the east end villages.

      Alexander Hamilton described his stop there in July, 1744 on his trip on horseback through Long Island as follows: “We arrived at one Brewster’s (Pfeiffer’s store) at eight o’clock at night, where we put up all night, and in this house could get nothing to eat or drink, so were obliged to go to bad fasting and supperless.  I was conducted to a large room upstairs.  The people in his house seemed to be quite savage and rude.”

      The store was first operated by Briant Davis, then by Horace Randall, then by his son, Joseph Randall, who sold it to Edward Pfeiffer in 1893.  It was conducted by him until his retirement in 1943, and since that time by son, Everett, until his death last spring, except for three years from 1943 to 1946 when the writer took over the store while Everett was in the Army.  The Brewster who conducted a tavern here was a grandson of the Rev. Nathaniel Brewster, the first minister of Brookhaven town in the old town church at Setauket in 1665.

     For over 50 years the Middle Island post office has been located in this store, since 1901, when Edward Pfeiffer was appointed postmaster.

      In the days gone by before the coming of automobiles the country store was an important place in the life of the community, and served the needs of the whole family, from boots and shoes, clothing, yard goods, groceries, hardware, fee and grain and all the articles that made up the inventory of a general country store in those days.   

 The farmers from miles around came nearly every day to get their mail and supplies, brought their eggs and butter to trade for groceries, and to swap the news with their neighbors.  The store was a favorite gathering place for the men and boys of the community, and on stormy days in winter there was always a crowd around the old pot bellied stove, with their horses and wagons tied to the old hitching rain in front of the store.

      Here the news of the day was discussed and the fate of the nation argued.  Politics was a favorite topic and may of the issues of the day were settled behind the old stove.  The store was kept open during the evening and those who couldn’t make it during the day usually showed up at night.

      The old checker board was in daily use, and a game was nearly always in progress, and some of the men in the neighborhood were champion players.  The old checker board has for several years been laid away on a shelf to dream of the days when it was the center of activities in the old store.  This social center of the town was a picturesque scene in those days, with the hanging old lamps and the benches around the stove in the rear of the store..

       In the back end of the store were men’s and women’s shoes, felt and rubber boots, arctic’s and rubbers.  Also men’s clothing and women’s calico dresses.  Around the sides were the counters with the cracker and sugar barrels and boxes of tea, coffee, oatmeal, raisins, prunes, etc. as most of the groceries were weighed out in those days.  In the back room hung hams and bacon, barrels of salt pork, big old fashioned cheeses, and the vinegar and molasses barrels were located here. “New Orleans molasses” was an important item and sold for 50 cents a gallon.

        The old custom of neighbors stopping in for awhile to be sociable has gone with, rush of our modern world, and finally the old store has given up to the super markets and specialty stores.  The old country store will be missed.

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