The Country Store: Family Groceries, the Best of Brandy, and Excellent Beer

The Bavarian William Henry Thoma of Garnavillo, Clayton County, Iowa, was a businessman by the age of thirty.1 In 1859, the Clayton County Journal reported:

“William Thoma, Grocer, Main Street, Garnavillo, Iowa, keeps constantly on hand all kinds of family groceries, such as Coffee, Sugar, Tea, Milasses, ice, &c. The best of Brandy and excellent Beer is also always to be found at this establishment.”2

William must have found success as a grocer and purveyor of alcoholic beverages, as his business was apparently in operation for at least two decades. He was named a merchant in the 1860 census,3 and in the 1870 census it was noted that he was the keeper of a “country store.”4 This must have allowed him to provide a comfortable lifestyle for his wife and eleven children; in 1870, he owned real estate valued at $12,000 and personal estate valued at $3,000.5

William_Thoma_1870

1870 U.S. census, Clayton County, Iowa, population schedule, Garnavillo, p. 13 (penned), dwelling 87, family 86, Wm Toma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 April 2014), citing National Archives microfilm M593, roll 383.

After William’s death in the summer of 1876,6 his widow, Anna Margaretha (Poesch) Thoma, with a handful of young children still at home, took over as merchant. She maintained the business for a number of years, while her eldest son assisted as a clerk in the store.7

I like to wonder whether William’s store was anything like that featured at Iowa’s Living History Farms, which boasts the fictional 1875 Town of Walnut Hill. Images of the picturesque Greteman Brothers General Store can be seen here. It’s well worth a visit if you find yourself in central Iowa and have ever wondered what life was like for your Midwestern ancestors in the years following the Civil War. The impact of the Industrial Revolution on rural communities is visible, although, according to the Living History Farms, “The railroad will always be a few years away for Walnut Hill.”8

Of course, I also have to wonder whether William and Anna Margaretha (Poesch) Thoma were anything like Nels and Harriet Oleson of Little House on the Prairie. Let’s just hope that their children weren’t as spoiled as the infamous Nellie and Willie!


SOURCES
1 1860 U.S. census, Clayton County, Iowa, population schedule, Garnavillo, p. 4 (penned), dwelling 27, family 25, Wm Thoma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 April 2014), citing National Archives microfilm M653, roll 315.
2 “Iowa Old Press,” Iowa Old Press (http://www.iowaoldpress.com/IA/Clayton/1859/AUG.html : accessed 16 April 2014), entry for Clayton County Journal, August 1859.
3 1860 U.S. census, Clayton Co., Ia., pop. sch., Garnavillo, p. 4, dwell. 27, fam. 25, Wm Thoma.
4 1870 U.S. census, Clayton County, Iowa, population schedule, Garnavillo, p. 13 (penned), dwelling 87, family 86, Wm Toma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 April 2014), citing National Archives microfilm M593, roll 383.
5 1870 U.S. census, Clayton Co., Ia., pop. sch., Garnavillo, p. 13, dwell. 87, fam. 86, Wm Toma.
6 “Local and Other Matters,” The Postville (Iowa) Review, 9 August 1876, p. 1, col. 2; digital images, Newspaper Archive (http://www.newspaperarchive.com : accessed 16 April 2014).
7 1880 U.S. census, Clayton County, Iowa, population schedule, Garnavillo, Enumeration District (ED) 133, p. 21 (penned), dwelling 178, family 188, Margaretta Thoma; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 16 April 2014), citing National Archives microfilm T9, roll 333.
8 “1875 Town of Walnut Hill,” Living History Farms (http://www.lhf.org/en/visit/farm_sites/1875_town_of_walnut_hill/ : accessed 16 April 2014).

 

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4 thoughts on “The Country Store: Family Groceries, the Best of Brandy, and Excellent Beer

  1. Doug Adam

    Hi Melanie:

    I really enjoyed your latest post. Two questions, why was Thoma in the census Toma. Could Margaret have remarried a Nielson?

    Love, Grandpa

    Reply
    1. Melanie Frick Post author

      Hi Grandpa, Good questions! Thoma was probably written as “Toma” in the census because it doesn’t seem like it was common for census-takers to ask for the spelling of a name – they often just wrote what they heard, or what they thought they heard. I’ve found some really strange spellings of family names in the census. And, no, Margaret never remarried and died a Thoma – so unfortunately, no clue to the Nielson name there! Glad you enjoyed the post. :) Love, Melanie

      Reply
  2. Pingback: Tombstone Tuesday: Fred and Matilda (Hammond) Thoma | Homestead Genealogical Research

  3. Pingback: The Thoma Store: Scribner’s Favorite Trading Place | Homestead Genealogical Research

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