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A Mt. Carmel Businessman of the 19th Century

C. O. B. Goforth was a prominent businessman in Mt. Carmel for many years. I have not been able to find where he was born or when he came to Mt. Carmel but I know that he was there at least from 1852 until his death from pneumonia on New Year’s Day January 1, 1870.

My investigation of Goforth started when I decided to learn the history of the old Mt. Carmel Village/City Hall which stood at the southeast corner of Market and 3rd Streets. The lot had quite an evolution through time and Mr. Goforth owned it for many of the years in the mid 1800s.

Goforth owned a store somewhere in the business district before building  a new 2 story brick building. He announced the store opening at the new location in October 1851. So far, I have not found that old location. For many years the business locations were on South Main/Market Street, close to the river. These locations were abandoned after a succession of floods. And there were no street numbers in those days. Each business or home location was described at or near some other prominent location that everyone would know. Often the location would be described as in someone’s “old stand” which noted the former business location. In September 1859 A. C. Edgar & Co. Dealer in Groceries and Iron, Wooden-Ware, Glass, Paints etc. etc. etc. was advertised occupying Goforth’s Old Stand, Main St. Mt. Carmel. Richard H. Hudson, Justice of the Peace announced his office one door south of C.O.B. Goforth’s Store in June 1852.

Brick makers were busy in the county during this time. There were good sources of clay for bricks and farm tiles located in the area and brick homes and businesses were being built as soon as they could be afforded. On the west side of Mt. Carmel and north of 13th Street brick kilns were built for the purpose of supplying bricks and other products to local customers.

The riverfront was a prime location for warfs/warehouses for shippers and receivers of goods and for mills. The names found for the owners of the wharfs were: Parkinson, Longnecker and Russell. The mills on the Wabash were powered by the river water and not only ground various grains but also cut lumber from logs shipped down the river. C.O.B. Goforth owned a lumber and grist mill on the river. Edward V. Poole also owned a lumber mill. A great amount and variety of local timber was cut and used. A nearby shingle manufacturer made shingles out of local poplar which lasted many years. The oldest houses in Mt. Carmel were floored and built with the long-lasting poplar wood.

Goforth invited his customers to see his new stock at the new location and announced he was selling: staple and fancy dry goods, hats and caps, boots and shoes, queensware and groceries. In ads the same day in the Mt. Carmel Republican newspaper he also announced for sale: hardware, locks and latches, ladies shoes, brier sythes and brass kettles. Apparently weeds and briers were a problem which needed to be cleaned up and it was time to make apple butter. Everyone knows that apple butter is much better made in a brass kettle. Occasionally we see a brass kettle for sale these days.

These are some of the items which Mr. Goforth would buy for the highest market price or take in trade to pay a bill/account with him: flax seed, beeswax, feathers and rags in any quantity. These were announced in an ad in the newspaper of course. Ready cash (cash in hand) to pay bills was in short supply and many people had items to trade or barter. Today we seldom take anything in trade, but it was a common practice in the 1800s. Mr. Goforth kept an account book which noted how much he was owed for all his accounts and what was taken in trade to pay the bill. This was called a day-book and every store had one. In May 1853, Goforth announced he would pay fair prices for wool—either washed or unwashed, in any quantity from a single fleece upwards. Many folks in the country kept sheep at that time and processed it themselves, making it into clothing or coverlets. Although the clothing probably did not last long term, the coverlets, often made of white and blue. The blue was likely dyed from a local plant or from purchased indigo and the white was the natural color of the wool, a slightly tan color. If such a coverlet has survived from that time period, it is highly prized. The rags would have been sold to make into paper.

A high rag content paper is of a higher grade and lasts longer than that made of wood fibers. Clothing made from linen (the product of flax) would probably bring a higher price because linen paper was of the highest quality and would last many more years. Incidentally wool was spun into thread using a large spinning wheel, often called a walking wheel. Flax was spun on a flax wheel (duh) which was much smaller (about 15 inches in diameter) and was operated with a foot pedal. Flax must be soaked for a time, then the outer fibers of the tall plant are broken so they will fall off, with a flax break (which is only a large wooden bar opened and closed repeatedly over the plant fibers) and then separated into fibers with a flax hackle. The hackle resembled a large brush with iron or steel projectiles/teeth. The hackler (the origin of the name Hackler) would draw the plant stalks through the hackle repeatedly to separate the fibers into single strands called tow. The tow was spun into thread. The tow was a very light yellow color. This is the origin of the word “tow headed”, meaning a person who has very light-colored blonde hair.

An ad from September-December 1853 announced French, English and American Broad Cloths, Cassimeres, Sattinetts, Jeans, Linseys, Flannels, Silks, Satins, Bombazines, Merinos, Cashmeres, DeBejers, Alpacas, DeLatins, Ginghams, Calicos, Cambrics, and the whole run of white goods, Collars, Capes, Laces, Edgings, Ribbons, Veils, Crapes, Dejes, Bonnets, Gloves, Hosiery and all things in that connection. Shawls, Kerchiefs, Ties, Zephyr Cuffs and Ties, Comforts, Tickings, Checks, Linens, Cords, Opera and Sack Flannels and a host of other goods, besides all the small things in the Button, Thread and Trimmings Line. Wow! I certainly do not know what all these types of fabrics are, but imagine the woman of the house or her dressmaker knowing these fabrics and making her choices for new frocks/dresses.

On the November 1854 ad, Mr. Goforth acknowledged the failure of the crop and hog crops were at their lowest rates than ever before, so he will sell at prices taking that into consideration. His other ads on the same page mentioned new supplies of Rio Coffee, sugar, Young Hyson Teas (put up in packages convenient sizes for the family), water proof boots and stocking yarn in a variety of colors and qualities for sale. I am certainly glad that I do not have to knit socks for the people in my family. A similar ad mentioning the low prices paid for corn and hogs appeared in November 1855

As time passed one could see the type of goods sold in the Goforth store passed from the most basic to more sophisticated items. Better/more highly manufactured goods were available and people had more money to spend as money was more readily available and merchants, tradespeople and manufacturers came to town and offered their services. Most stores in Mt. Carmel got shipments of new goods in the spring and fall. Spring was especially a good time for new goods because goods were shipped by steamboat up the Wabash and the river ran high during the spring as the snow melt and more rain fell in the areas drained by the Wabash, White and Patoka rivers. For a time Goforth would advertise that he received new goods from Philadelphia and New Orleans. Travel was getting better as railroads came to the Midwest. By 1858, Goforth had returned from Philadelphia with goods. Incidentally, his mill, Eclipse Mills was operating on the river. Did this give him more ready cash to spend on goods at the store?

I wish I could find a photo of the Goforth store and property but I believe it was gone before photography was common in Mt. Carmel.  We do know that the site was near the corner of 3rd and Market Streets on the southeast corner.  This was a lively place at the time.  Mr. Goforth was a member of many of the organizations of the day and his name can be found in old newspaper articles about these clubs.  He helped to get other businesses started by allowing them to locate in part of his building until they could grow and eventually find a space of their own.  In July of 1865 the Excelsior Art Gallery advertised that he has “fitted up the well-known rooms over Mr. C.O.B. Goforth’s Store, and is prepared t furnish all kinds of Photographs, Ambrotypes and all pictures appertaining to the Heliographic Art.  Wish he had taken a photo of his building.

In the newspaper from July 4, 1872 the headline is “The Goforth Block in Ruins”.  When discovered the roof of the building was in flames.  (Ironically, the Mt. Carmel Fire Department was located there or nearby later.)  Mr. Phillips has a drug store in the building and was frantically trying to save his drugs and medicines.  The second floor was occupied by the Maennerchor Singing Society and they lost their books and furniture.  The cellar was the site for Johnson & Koser hub and spoke storage.  The other building (formerly also owned by Mr. Goforth) was the Burrucker marble shop and part was occupied by a widow lady.  Mr. Burrucker was one of those merchants who had been assisted by Goforth as a business start up.  He later moved to another spot near the same corner.  It is likely to be the location on the north side of the 100 block of 3rd street. John Croucher lived on the second floor.  Messrs Hill and French had some loss by rough handling of their household goods and the Taylor property adjoining was damaged and it was necessary to tear down a portion to save the rest of the building.  The Market House and a home were saved by work of the citizens fighting the fire.  Mr. Goforth was not alive at the time and the property was likely all or mostly torn down shortly after.  (I have been trying to find the exact location of the Market House for many years.)  Claudia Dant



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