Our Stock is Always Fresh: The Mooney-Barker Drugstore Collection at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History
by Carolyn Reno, Collections Manager and Assistant Director
In 1985, the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History was allowed to go through the contents of an old drugstore in Pettigrew (Madison County) Arkansas before it was razed to make way for a new post office building. The Mooney–Barker Drugstore opened in 1917 and was owned and operated by Arthur and Helen Mooney Barker, in partnership with Helen’s father, Dr. W. H. Mooney. Dr. Mooney kept hours out of an office off the back of the store. Arthur was the store druggist, jeweler, and pawnbroker for those who needed a little help in tough times. Helen managed the store’s soda fountain. The store closed in 1980 when Helen, who by then had run the store by herself for almost 30 years, was no longer able to keep it open. The doors were locked with all the shelves still filled with merchandise. And given that the Barkers had never thrown anything away, the store had become a time capsule of goods spanning most of the 20th Century. The Mooney-Barker Drugstore was not unlike many other stores that used to serve the small towns and rural communities that once crossed the countryside. It was a rare chance for the museum to document a way of life that has since passed out of existence.
History of Pettigrew
Pettigrew, Arkansas became a boomtown during the booming timber industry in Northwest Arkansas that began in the 1880s. The town was established in 1897 at the end of the St. Louis and San Francisco (Frisco) Railroad branch line from Fayetteville (Washington County) east into the forests of southeastern Madison County. Over the next few decades, virgin oak and other hardwood timber was logged out and shipped by rail to other parts of the United States to be used as railroad ties, in furniture and barrel production, and even as automobile floorboards. During the peak era, Pettigrew would bill itself as the “Hardwood Capital of the World.”
Named for the man who platted the town, by 1912 Pettigrew had ten sawmills in the area, general stores, hotels, restaurants, barbershops, blacksmiths, doctors, livery barns, a bank, a dentist, a millinery shop, a photo studio, and drugstores. Things went well until the 1930s. By then the timber had played out. A drought and the Great Depression also dealt blows to the town’s livelihood. In 1937 the Frisco pulled up its rail line. Pettigrew’s boom years were over and the town and population went into decline. But through good times and bad, the Mooney-Barker Drugstore served its customers.
When the time came to empty the store in the fall of 1985, Bob Besom (then Shiloh Museum’s director) spent weeks sorting through trash that the Barker heirs had intended to throw away. He then attended an auction and acquired more for the museum. This initial Mooney-Barker Collection contained over 500 cataloged items. Over the next twenty years, Helen’s grandson, Wayne Martin, would donate more material. Shiloh Museum’s Mooney-Barker Collection now consists of over 700 cataloged items and 13.5 linear feet of archival material.
The Mooney-Barker Collection contains drugstore goods of all kinds. There are bottles, bags, tins, and boxes (most but not all are empty) for manufactured health remedies, toiletries, candies, writing supplies, shoe polish, razor blades, sewing thread, jewelry, tobacco products, and more. These goods came from such brands as Anacin, Shinola, Cardui, Carter’s, Horlick, Ramon, W. H. Bull, and Dr. Le Gear. Candy brands were Mars, Hershey, Curtiss, Fleers, and Tom’s. Griffin’s, a wholesale grocery supplier out of Muskogee, Oklahoma supplied spices, peanut brittle, and orange juice. Arkansas products included Nelson’s Arkansas Port Wines out of Springdale. Customers could buy film for cameras and bring it back to the drugstore to be shipped off to any number of finishing companies including Kodak, Elko, Metropolitan, and Fox. Goods unique to certain eras are things like “talking machine needles” for early record players, Queen City Horse Nails, and packets of World War II V-mail stationery. Unusual items include banjo strings and coffin hardware. There are also new and used books that the Barkers bought and sold in trade with their customers. As Wayne Martin recalled, “In time the Mooney-Barker Store became a place where you could buy most anything, from axle grease to blasting powder.”
If it wasn’t on the shelf, a wanted item could be ordered from a catalog. Besides Sear’s, J. C. Penney’s, and Montgomery Ward catalogs, the drugstore had catalogs for hardware, home goods, electrical goods, men’s suits, and tools from suppliers out of Little Rock, St. Louis, Memphis, and Kansas City. As remote as this town in the Arkansas Ozarks may have seemed at the time, it was by no means cut off from the national marketplace.
A mainstay of the store was its soda fountain. Located to the right inside the front door, it had a long marble counter and wire-framed chairs. A large framed mirror hung on the wall behind the counter. Customers could order up sundaes, banana splits, and any number of flavored sodas. Sodas were made with ice chipped or shaved from a 100 pound block of ice. The Barkers stored their stock of ice cream at the local ice house. Bananas came as large stalks packed in crates. They were hung from a hook in the store ceiling that was lowered when needed. Although the fountain fixtures went to Har-Ber Village Museum in Grove, Oklahoma, Shiloh Museum acquired ice cream spoons, a banana crate, and advertising signs, including one for Fulbright’s Ice Cream produced in Fayetteville in the 1920s and 1930s.
Signs depicting delicious ice cream treats were not the only advertising materials acquired by the museum. There are signs for Cardui and Bull’s Herbs and Iron tonics; Remington UMC Kleanbore bullets and Winchester Air Rifle Shot; Vane Calvert, Fixall, and Wearwell paints; Foley’s Honey and Tar cough syrup and F&F Cough Lozenges; and Common Sense rat and roach killer. Tobacco advertising includes Camel, Old Gold, and Lucky Strike cigarettes; Bull Durham and Stud smoking tobacco; and Golden Rule Plug tobacco. One group of advertising items are signs and display devices to promote the book, Nursing in the Home. Interestingly, this group was found with copies of the book in a crate that was delivered to the store in 1920 but was never opened until the museum opened it in 1986. Local advertising signs include a 1930s Arkansas political campaign sign and a couple signs from the 1960s promoting wrestling matches in Elkins, Arkansas – one featuring Danny Hodge (billed as World Champion) and The Great Bolo.
One sign in the collection was nearly lost when the store was knocked down in 1986. It came from one of the Barkers sideline businesses. In the 1920s, when times were good, the Barkers ran a grist mill for grinding meal and opened a movie theater where they showed films rented from regional distributors. During this same time, Arthur Barker decided to pursue the idea of bringing a car dealership to Pettigrew. He wanted to get one from Ford but that didn’t work out. He applied to Chevrolet and succeeded. His timing proved unfortunate. The Depression hit and he never sold a car. The Chevrolet sign, two-sided enamel on metal, remained at the store but was not found during auction preparations. After the store was razed a bulldozer uncovered it while clearing the site. A little damaged, it is now part of Mooney-Barker collection at Shiloh Museum.
Besides all the goods, signs, and catalogs, a great many records were found packed into side rooms of the store. There are letters to vendors, order forms, drug prescription forms, tax records, and ledgers. Arthur Barker’s Justice of the Peace and Notary Public papers were also found. Fliers and newsletters from the Barker’s community made their way into the store as well. One of the most revealing group of records recovered is that of the Citizens Bank of Pettigrew, saved by Arthur Barker after the bank failed in 1930. The bank and its owner, Charles E. Crawford had interests in the local timber and nearby mining businesses, among other things. Letters and papers in the collection document these dealings. All the archived material in the Mooney-Barker collection fills twenty boxes.
Highlights of the Mooney-Barker collection can be seen in exhibits at the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. For access to the collection’s archived records contact the Shiloh Museum at shilohmuseum.org/contact-us.