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CRADLE TO COFFIN – Remembering the Country Store

Interesting reading about our most recent exhibit “Cradle to Coffin – Remembering the Country Store” –

Learn About Shopping Before Big Box Stores

Exhibit brings country store back to life

BROWNSBURG—Long before the internet, rural Americans had connections to the outside world. They called it the country store. Although local mercantile establishments have almost disappeared, at one time they symbolized the very heart of the community; places where folks of every age, race, and gender could purchase anything they needed, literally, from birth to death. 

Over the course of the last few years, the Brownsburg Museum, situated in the historic village of Brownsburg in northern Rockbridge County, has gained a reputation for hosting quality exhibits. “Cradle to Coffin: Remembering the Country Store” continues and even expands upon that tradition with a new exhibit that not only fills both rooms of the small museum, but spills out onto the front and back porches—just like the jammed-packed stores of the past. 

“Not only could Americans buy what they desired at the country store, but they could also sell products—such as eggs, butter, furs, and ginseng,” notes one of the interpretive panels of the exhibit.  But a visit to the store also meant picking up mail, hearing juicy gossip; playing checkers while discussing politics; carrying out some banking, and buying a pound of sugar, a schoolbook, a hat, a tobacco plug, or a packet of garden seeds.


Visitors to the “Cradle to Coffin” exhibit will find themselves immersed in the sensory experience of the store. The front room of the museum will have traditional museum interpretive panels explaining the rise and fall of the rural retail business, as well as displaying historic store artifacts, and photographs from area country stores. 

The country store evolved from traveling peddlers selling pins, combs, and other niceties on the frontier to settled shopkeepers. For a century and a half such stores prospered before turning into fading memories because of the automobile, the mail order catalog, and giant chain stores. A step through the door into the back room of the museum, however, will be like stepping back into time as the entire room will be a recreated store from the past. From ceiling to floor and wall to wall, visitors will observe shelves and counters jammed to overflowing; a kaleidoscope of colorful advertisements vying for attention; baskets and buckets dangling from the ceiling, and clothing fluttering from lines strung hither and yon.

[Article Credit: Nancy Sorrells]

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