I suppose it’s because I was so small as a child, but the most vivid memories of Germantown involve well-worn limestone thresh holds.
All the stores on Main Street were built a jillion years ago, and the limestone steps or stoops leading to them were pitted and worn with time. Slippery smoothed by the thousands of feet that had crossed them before, they lead to businesses that served the tiny berg so well.
One of those was Mr. Henry’s Clothing Store. I’m not sure if it had a ‘real’ name; we all called it Mr. Henry’s Clothing Store.
No more, no less.
That’s what it had too. Clothing. Men’s clothing.
Again, no more, no less.
I remember the ringing bell when you opened the door, the wood floors, tall ceilings, crisp shirts, shiny silky ties, and all the things a man in Germantown needed to look like a gentleman.
I remember the giant, antique cash register and the wooden chairs in the back filled with a group of older men spending their days in the cool room discussing the town, the people, and the state of the world.
I didn’t know Mr. Mr. Henry all that well. He was a respected older man who ran a business, treated everyone with respect, and seemed to me as a small boy and teen that he’d been there forever.
Maybe he had.
In researching my story, I contacted Beth Smith Genslinger and her Dad, Orion Smith. Mr. Smith was 9 months old when his mother died. Mr. Henry’s mother, Orion’s aunt, had promised Mrs. Smith that she would take care of the infant, Orion. There were four sisters as well, and Orion’s mother wasn’t so sure her husband could handle all five.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Henry were raised as siblings, so I thought he’d be my best bet!
Mr. Henry was born in 1910. His mother Edith Elizabeth Schaeffer was “old Germantown”. Edith was the oldest of eight children born to Frehling & Sariah Schaeffer.
Their roots in Germantown go way back. Mr. Henry’s mother was born 1875 in the house on E. Market St. next to the railroad while the family was building the brick house a couple of doors down.
Frehling, Mr. Henry’s grandfather, was a pharmacist in a store across the street from the ByJo. He was in business from 1860 till 1915; from the beginning of the Civil War until the beginning of the Great War.
Edith married Charles Henry; proprietor of Henry’s Clothing Store, in 1910 and Mr. Henry (Virgil) was born later that same year. The baby, Virgil, was born with a cleft palate. In spite of continued efforts by loving parents to find a remedy, and attempts to surgically correct the problem, Virgil grew UP with a speech impediment. It was 1910, the state-of-the-art and miracles we have today just weren’t there. They made several trips to Chicago and some improvements were made. In later years, as an adult, Mr. Henry could have had other corrections made, but he chose not to. He’d made it that far, and after all those years, well, it was just a part of him.
He attended school in Germantown graduating in 1928. He entered U. of Dayton that fall and signed up for a liberal arts course. During the Depression, his father died unexpectedly, and Virgil quit college to come home and begin running the family business.
When Virgil was back in Germantown, his aunt, Mary Sariah Schaeffer, married Orion Smith, Sr. in 1916 and they had five children, 4 girls & 1 boy. Mary died in 1929 of phlebitis when Orion was just 9 months old. Since all of the children were under the age of 12, Orion’s Aunt Edith, Virgil’s mother, agreed to take him and his oldest sister Catherine. Catherine was to help raise the nine month old.
Suddenly, Charles & Edith had five mouths to feed smack in the middle of the Depression.
At this point, Virgil was at the end of his Freshman year at UD. He continued his education at UD through 1929, ’30 and ’31. In late November 1931, Charles Henry, Edith, Catherine and a three year old Orion were out for a Sunday drive in 70 degree weather.
Just on the south side of the town of Blue Ball, Charles suffered a stroke and drove into the ditch. Orion said, “I was just three, but that was my first memory of anything because of receiving a bloody nose.”
In the pre-Rescue Squad days; a stranger in the car behind them took Charles to the hospital. It was too late, and he died.
He was 61.
Virgil immediately dropped out of his Senior year of college, came back to Germantown, and went to running the store.
I can only imagine the adjustments he had to make. Running a men’s clothing business in the middle of the Great Depression!
And, he was suddenly responsible to feed and clothe four people. In addition, Virgil’s father had been a very kind and generous man giving credit to anyone who asked and, consequently, leaving unpaid notes and bills.
And of course, the wholesalers he did business with wanted their money. Customers were few and far between. It’s a wonder Virgil made it through those “Grapes of Wrath” days.
Germantown was never a booming industrial center; money was tight.
While Orion was in High School, Virgil took him into the clothing store and he clerked for about 10 or 12 years. Later on, Orion’s daughter, Debbie clerked for him as well.
Mr. Henry died of a stroke at the age of 69 in 1980. Although he has been gone 32 years, people still talk about him at church or on the street. They remember what a kind, generous, loving, humble person he was. His name still comes UP in churches in the area as a true example of humility.
The store of course, is no longer there, but it was housed in the Edward James Building at the corner of Market and Main.
Even in my research on Mr. Hacker, his son Ric, told me a story of Mr. Henry telling him to come in and pick out any shirt and any tie as a graduation gift.
When I worked at B & L, John sent me to Mr. Henry’s store to pick something out for a birthday, or Christmas, and graduation.
I wondered what happened to the cash register and the chairs that had supported the men who supported the town. Beth told me her family donated the old cash register from the store to the Historical Society, and that each of the girls was given a chair to remember their Uncle.
But, many remember him, not for the shirts and ties and socks and the shiny cash register. They remember him for the man he was.
Mr. Henry wasn’t just a merchant; he was a friend, and a man who loved the town he lived in. A great listener, and a great advisor, many remember how he would counsel customers at the store, perhaps helping them to get over some rough times in their lives. He served the community and the church as a Deacon and Elder and a teacher for 40 years.
Dolores Grunwald wrote an editorial in the Germantown Press at the time of Virgil’s death, mourning his passing. The essence of her remarks was “what a wonderful gentleman” Mr. Henry was.
And he was, never a hair out of place, always shined and stylish, quick to tip his hat to a lady, ready to open the door, and most importantly, he was always kind.