Hespeler General Stores

by May 14, 2023Turner Tales0 comments

General Stores

Hespeler General Stores

by Lary Turner

When the first settlers ventured into this area in the early 1800s, the area was known as the “Queen’s Bush”. The earliest were Mennonite farmers from Pennsylvania who came by way of a small number of native trails and a few “slashed” trails into the area along the Grand and Speed Rivers. 

One “slashed” trail was created in April 1827 by John Galt on his way to found the settlement of Guelph. His party followed a native trail along the Speed River (now Queen Street West & East), onto River and Townline Roads, fording the river at the Black Bridge site. Galt’s “slashed” trail then followed the path of the later Highway #24 (now Hespeler Road) on into Guelph. A few early settlers had already located along this native trail by 1822, and our community’s first residence was built by Susanna and Michael Bergey in 1831. 

These early settlers came with wagons loaded with everything they would need to set up a homestead, but these supplies would need restocking within a short time. Almost immediately they were followed by other types of settlers; the merchants and tradespeople. Saw mills and grist mills were setup alongside the streams, blacksmith shops at a crossroad, wagonmaker nearby, shoemaker, carpenter, stone mason, etc., all in support of the farmers. 

By 1835, the fledgling settlement of Bergeytown had grown to a population of 100 residents, at which time the name was changed to New Hope. Whether you were a farmer or tradesman, you needed to buy supplies and the general store was were you shopped to get everything you needed! Food, clothes, medicines, paint, and harness were for sale. Coffee mills, cheese rolls, whiskey barrels, and floor scales were also available. The first general store in New Hope was established in 1840 by John Gingerich at the corner of Adam and Queen Streets. The aroma of kerosene oil and spices was in the air as you walked in. Fine bolts of cloth for clothes were on one counter, harness, hardware, tools and cookware hung from the walls, a showcase displayed rock-candy, mints and maple-sugar sweets. A roll of Kraft-paper, large paper cutter attached, waited for your purchase to be wrapped and tied with string brought down from a large ball at the ceiling. 

Heated by a pot belly wood stove, the general store was also often the social meeting place for the community. Greetings, news and gossip were traded almost as often as goods and merchandise by its customers. In the earliest days hard currency was very scarce and hard to come by, so much of the merchandise was bartered for; a yard of cloth bought for so many dozen eggs or so much garden produce, a metal cookpot bought for so much wheat or grain. 

Jacob Hespeler opened his general store at the corner of Queen East and Chapel St. in 1849 with John Chapman as storekeeper. Chapman later established his own store in a building he had built (26 Queen St. East). Subsequently, other Hespeler general stores were operated, over the years, by Adam Shaw, Conrad Nahrgang, Christen Karch, Aaron Panabaker, Ashbury & Fitzsimmons, Lang & Beer and Abram Hagmeier.

The general store became the hub of every community. Settlements that lacked a general store usually failed to develop!


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