Early History

A Hardware Legend

-by Kathy Hendricks, WCHS Museum Curator-

Alma, Kansas, known as the “City of Native Stone,” had its birthplace at what is today the intersection of Missouri and 3rd Streets. The county’s first courthouse, the town’s first store and its first hotel were all built near that intersection. The town itself is a mere 150 years old, as the courthouse and the Schmitz & Meyer store were both built in 1867.

mueller-corner

This real photo postcard, circa 1910, is titled C. Mueller Cor. Alma Kan., referring to the northeast corner of 3rd and Missouri Streets in Alma, Kansas. When this view of the east side of Missouri Street was taken, Conrad Mueller operated his hardware store in the two buildings at the far right in this photo. Photo courtesy Greg Hoots

The second oldest surviving building in the Alma Downtown Historic District is located at 300 Missouri Street, and, remarkably, for more than 135 years a hardware store has occupied the building! Now called Hendricks’ Hardware, the building was constructed in 1875 by Conrad Mueller.  The first business that Mueller operated in his new building was a billiard hall and saloon. Less than ten years later, Mueller constructed a two-story stone building on the north side of his saloon, and initially, a furniture store occupied the first floor of that building while the Muellers resided on the second floor.

billiard-hall

When this interior view of an unidentified Alma, Kansas billiard hall and saloon was taken in the late 1880s there were three saloons located at the intersection of Missouri Street and Main Street (3rd Street today).

In the late 1870s the temperance movement had made considerable inroads in Kansas, marked by the election in 1878 of a prohibitionist governor, John St. John. In response to Governor St. John’s position on the legality of liquor in the state, the legislature passed a constitutional amendment “prohibiting the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors”, and in November of 1880 the amendment was approved by the voters of Kansas.

saloon-kegs

Empty beer kegs and beer cases are stacked behind the saloon located at 226 Missouri Street in this view, circa 1890. Mueller’s Hardware store is visible in the background to the right. Photo courtesy Eddie Meinhardt.

The alcohol prohibition law took effect on January 1, 1881, but there were loopholes in the law and, initially, there was a widespread lack of enforcement. However, in 1884 the local law enforcement officials in Wabaunsee County decided to make a show of enforcement of the liquor laws. Five prominent Alma businessmen, Conrad Mueller, Herman Richter, X. Weiderman, R. A. Hochhaus, and Joseph Westend were all arrested for sales of intoxicating liquors, and all five men were convicted in the October 1884 term of the Wabaunsee County District Court.

mueller-ad2

This ad for the Palace Billiard Hall appeared in a January 1880 issue of the Wabaunsee County News. Notice that Conrad Mueller’s name appears as Conrad Miller, an Americanized version of the German immigrant’s name. The ad promises, “Wines and Liquors Continually On Hand.”

The conviction was enough to convince Mueller to close his billiard hall and saloon and direct his business efforts entirely to the hardware line. He purchased some stock from Schmitz & Meyer, and shortly afterward, he bought the tin and hardware stock from J. O. Jouvenal, a prominent Alma tinner and heavy hardware dealer. In 1886 the Rock Island Railway began laying tracks across Wabaunsee County, and Mueller did considerable business with the railroad.

hendricks01

Marvin Hendricks, left, and Gus Mueller are seen inside the hardware store which Hendricks purchased from Mueller in 1952. Photo courtesy Gwen Hendricks.

Conrad Mueller had one son, Gus, who was born in 1880. Once he started school, Gus was expected to come home after school and help in the store where he also worked on Saturdays.  Sometimes, Gus would be the only one in the store, even at age seven or eight.  In 1896 Gus enrolled in business school in Salina.  After graduating he returned home to run the store with his father’s help. In 1920 Conrad Mueller passed away, leaving Gus as the sole proprietor of the hardware store.  Gus ran the business until January 1, 1952, when he sold it to Marvin Hendricks.  Gus operated the store for over 50 years!

hendricks02

This night view of Hendricks Hardware in Alma, Kansas was taken in the mid-1950s by Alma photographer Armand Atkinson. Photo courtesy Gwen Hendricks

Marvin and Gwen Hendricks had moved to the Alma area from Jewell County, where their parents and grandparents farmed.  They bought a farm on South Branch, where they lived with their first two children.  When Marvin had talked to Gus Mueller about buying the store, Gus insisted that Marvin should work in the store and make sure he wanted to own the business.  Marvin spent about four months learning the trade before he and Gwen purchased the business.  Even then, the local bank was reluctant to loan the young couple the money to complete the sale, so they found a bank in Atchison, Kansas that would do so.  The sale was completed, and Gwen and Marvin were in the hardware business!

hendricks03

Gwen Hendricks stands by the merchandise counters in the hardware store that she and her husband, Marvin, purchased in 1952. This view was taken in the mid-1950s.

Hardware is a coverall term! When you consider all the “hardware” that it takes to build a house, it covers a lot of territory!  Everything from door knobs to nails to light fixtures is part of the hardware business.  That’s not all, though.  Hardware stores might carry horseshoes and the farrier’s nails.  Plumbing, faucet fixtures and toilets are part of the hardware business!  However, the business itself was not enough to support a young family.  Soon after the purchase, Marvin began his career in service work.  His services included everything from changing a furnace filter to installing the entire furnace!  He and his crew of as many as five men built houses or put on additions to existing houses.  They installed dishwashers, fixed washing machines and even dug graves.  Each part of the business supported the other.

hendricks04

This 1950s interior view of Hendricks Hardware in Alma, Kansas shows the wide variety of merchandise and builders’ supplies sold at the hardware store. Photo courtesy Gwen Hendricks

After Marvin passed away in September of 2012, the hardware business passed to his two sons, Larry and Don. Gwen continues to work at the hardware store every day. In fact, she walks to and from work every day, rarely missing a single day.

hendricks1

Gwen Hendricks, second from left, celebrates her 90th birthday with her children and many well-wishers at Hendricks’ Hardware Store in Alma, Kansas in this view from 2015. From left are Larry Hendricks, Gwen, Ann Miller, and Don Hendricks.

walking

At age 90, Gwen Hendricks still walks to and from work, daily, from her home in Alma. Photo courtesy Kathy Hendricks.

In 2015 Gwen celebrated her 90th birthday with a party at the hardware store. A Blish-Mize Hardware Company representative at the event presented Gwen with a plaque honoring her for more than 50 years in the hardware business.

hendricks2

Gwen Hendricks was presented an award from the Blish-Mize Hardware Company at her 90th birthday party in 2015, recognizing her for having been a hardware seller for over fifty years.

The hardware store still supplies everything from hammers to hand tools to cleaning supplies, and the service business is still going strong!  At the conclusion of 2016, Hendricks Hardware completed 65 years of service!

hendricks05

This interior view of Hendricks Hardware in Alma, Kansas from the 1950s shows the wide variety of merchandise the store offered, ranging from tacks to tricycles. Photo courtesy Gwen Hendricks

(Thanks to Gus Mueller’s daughter, Augusta Helen, who shared some of this history of the Mueller Hardware Store, in 1952.  Augusta was born in 1913, when the north part of the store was used for storage for heavy farm implements.  For about three years there was a furniture store in the north room, which was added to give Mr. Mueller’s brother-in-law, Fred Lutz, a job.  When the furniture store closed, Mr. Lutz went to work in the hardware store.)

Click on any image below to view all photos in a gallery or full-screen format.

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