Port Lavaca store holds century of memories (Video)

Frank Tilley By Frank Tilley

Oct. 31, 2013 at 5:31 a.m.
Updated Nov. 2, 2013 at 6:02 a.m.

PORT LAVACA - Entering Melcher's Hardware Store in Port Lavaca is like stepping back in time to when merchants were more than just a business; they often were a life chain to the rural community of farmers.

In 1840, in the midst of an escalating cultural divide in the German province of Prussia, John Fredrick Melcher journeyed to South Texas to a generation of German and Czech immigrants seeking a new life, said JC Melcher III, who operates the store.

Indianola was the second busiest port, right behind Galveston, which served as a destination point where immigrants would embark for growing communities in Fayette County. On weekends, young men would board "Old Salty," a rail line that brought them to the coastal communities like Port Lavaca, that offered pavilions that extended out over Lavaca Bay.

In 1902 Melcher's grandfather was one of the "boys who came down to hoop it up," Melcher said. On one such trip, Melcher met Belle Bierman, a Port Lavaca German immigrant, and they would marry.

There was always a hardware store in Port Lavaca, and eventually, the Melchers bought out the Branch Company and established Melcher's Hardware Store.

"During the Great Depression, no one had cash; everyone had a charge book. In the fall of the year when the crops came in, they would settle up," he said.

Unfortunately, cash was in short supply so merchants issued trade tokens. Melcher's Hardware had coins with their name embossed on different denominations. With a smile on his face, Melcher remarked, "We don't circulate it any longer; we might get into trouble."

The floors are hardwood, long-leaf pine planks. Old ammunition boxes serve as bins, where if so inclined, one could find obscure items such as a Heavy Steel Strap End Singletree for a team of horses or mules.

Melcher still uses rotary style telephones, although he admits it has its limitations.

The old, steel safe is still in use as well as the manual typewriters, although he has to strip the ribbons from stock supplies and rewinds them onto the spools that he still finds use in.

Melcher, who admits he is a story teller, is said to be assured he has plenty of stories that will amaze you.

Just ask him about the time when someone attempted to steal the safe and stepped on a board wired to a relay in the telephone company down the street. The operator looked out the window and spotted the would-be thief in the act.

Melcher will finish the rest of the story when you wander into his store on Main Street in Port Lavaca.



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