Going through the episodes of the Within The Realm podcast, I noticed that many of the places I have featured or even feature prominently into stories simply don’t exist anymore. The Great American Desert and Lovely County, Arkansas Territory immediately spring to mind, but places that are no longer recognizable in their present form as compared to their heyday include Baron and Piney, both Oklahoma communities featured on the podcast.
Add to that list now Fletcher Hardware. I described Fletcher’s as a cross between a museum and a hardware store. If you needed a kaiser blade, they had it. The customer service model was a throw back to the days of old as well. Very Mayberry-like. The day I came in for the interview, it was cold and several folks were gathered around the wood burning stove. A standard hardware store would probably refer to these folks as loiterers, but Bill knew that, in time, they would make a purchase because his store was a safe harbor as much as it was a center of commerce.
But Bill is retiring and the age of the building that has stood on Division Street in Stilwell, Oklahoma for 113 years will require someone with deep pockets and gumption to update. That person is not to be found, so the business will be shuttered. No longer on the map.
Fletcher Hardware had been located prior to 1906 in the community of Mays, Indian Territory but moved to the new town because it was located on Arthur Stilwell’s new Kansas City Southern rail line. Because of the new railroad and town, Mays also became a former place itself.
I stopped in just a week or so ago in Fletcher hardware, at the end of a Saturday as Bill and Linda were closing. I looked at the trophy wall, which was half-empty, but had once been filled with trophies of several generations of Fletcher families members and others. It was a celebration of the outdoors life, a life never really far from anyone growing up in that little town. One of the previous owners, jack Fletcher, had lent his hunting dogs for the making of the family classic “Where The Red Fern Grows,” a significant brush the a wider world for some of us small town kids.
These “former places” occupy a place in history and generated stories that need to be told, that need to be kept alive. These are stories about us. The are stories that keep us grounded when we might get a little too big for our own britches. These are stories that inspire us, that let us see how far we have been able to travel, how much we have achieved. They are stories that tell the truth about ourselves, but in their way, they are always gracious.
Change always comes. I’m glad I asked Bill to do that interview. I now have part of the incredible Fletcher hardware story straight from some one who lived it. I didn’t think when I did the interview that just a few short months later it would all be different. But I don’t have to try to remember the store or the stories. Thanks to Within The Realm, we can press play and hear Bill tell the story first hand.
You may have noticed this article is littered with links to other stories. That’s part of the magic of Within The Realm; so many stories overlap. History, especially our own history, is not a collection of dates and facts. It’s a story that winds like the Kansas City to Gulf railroad or the Barren Fork Creek, connecting us to things further up or downstream.
Fletcher Hardware may be joining the ranks of those “former places,” but the effect that it had on the people in my hometown that in turn shaped me…well, it may be forgotten by some, but not by me.