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Old barns, country stores have cultural story to tell

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Mike Goodman

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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Eastern North Carolina is no stranger to historic landmarks. There's plenty of history to mark, beginning with the foundations of the nation, through revolution and and civil war to all the important people who lived or did something memorable here.

We like our historical roots in the Albemarle. And it may be because of that appreciation for the events and people who have gone before that there's also a keen appreciation for the cultural residue left behind. “Cultural residue" could be described as the remnants of past generations’ habits, beliefs and work that remain in the places where we now tread. It’s around, if you know what to look for. Fortunately, the rural landscape offers plenty of clues to locations where cultural residue is thick as honey on a comb.

Ever motored down a country road and passed by a crumbling wooden barn, usually overgrown, leaning and barely recognizable? Not a very memorable image. Yet, in a past era, wooden barns dotted the landscape. Back when family farms were the engines of the economy, they depended on out-buildings -- barns -- to store equipment, house livestock, keep harvested crops and, on occasion, provide the setting for entertainment and celebration.

The barn has been a center of farming life and reminder of our cultural heritage for centuries.

Another institution of high rural utility and culture from past times is the country store. Many still continue to serve in that capacity around the Albemarle.

The Daily Advance wrote about one such establishment in last Sunday’s edition. In Camden County, and known by its modernistic name, the Shiloh Shopping Center is unique for its atmosphere, its vast inventory and its history — as well as its convenience value to the folks who live nearby.

Located down county off N.C. Highway 343, it has that basic oasis presence for being -- at least for the moment -- the primary source of items required for rural living. That would be grocery, hardware, home, garden, auto, boating, fishing, pharmaceuticals and — when asked — advice.

A friend once claimed that he was certain Shiloh Shopping Center stocked at least one of every item that could be requested in a rural environment. Most would find this hard to believe. Yet, I've found that even if the particular item requested cannot be produced at the store, some passable version of it would be.

The point is, someone made the determination long ago that Shiloh Shopping Center would make an effort to have items on hand likely to be sought out by the local clientele. Whether asking for a wooden ax handle, a copper finishing screw or a slice of fresh chocolate cake, I’ve grown confident in the assurance that I will be going home with something satisfactory to my needs.  

Those fundamentals are a big part of the experience at Shiloh Shopping Center, which also has an interesting history. The store was carved out of — or more likely inserted into — the former 1920's-built Shiloh High School. The wooden floors still have that creaking, teenagers-shuffling-to-class sound when walked on. You just can't get that on linoleum or other modern surfaces.

Family owned and operated, business is conducted in an atmosphere of respect and mutual benefit, often with a line of customers at checkout -- even complete strangers -- chatting and passing time in good spirit.

But alas, there's a cloud on the horizon. Our story in last Sunday's paper reported on the coming of more progress to Shiloh. That progress takes the form of a Dollar General opening soon just down the road. Nothing against the new convenience business; they have their place. So do old country stores.

Mike Goodman is publisher and executive editor of The Daily Advance.

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