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Elmer, Missouri - Early History
A Tradition of Family Business Was the Backbone of Elmer’s Success
(Reprinted from The Home Press, La Plata, Missouri, October 20, 1993 edition)
By Debbie Clay, Editor
Elmer has been home to a great many family owned businesses through the years. While several families were always a part of the community’s merchant list, others dabbled with different ventures off and on.
One of Elmer’s earliest business families was the James Drake family, who owned and operated a wide variety of ventures through the years. James Drake, who was the namesake for Drake Township, became Elmer’s first postmaster around 1865. As the years progressed, he and his sons, Carey and Harvey, brought several businesses to life in the community. James Drake started the first telephone company in Elmer as well as one of the earliest print shops. He and his family ran the “Little Store”, which was a general merchandise store, a wool carding mill, a feed mill, a blacksmith shop, and a poultry house. The Drakes enjoyed a full 75 years of serving the Elmer community through their businesses.
W.J. Dale and J.E. Patterson provided competition for Drake’s general merchandise business, with Dale & Patterson’s “Big Store”. The store was one of many that had transferred from Mercyville.
General merchandise stores were a big thing in Elmer’s past. Another family that had a busy hand in that particular trade was the McDavitt family, who operated in several different locations. The McDavitts also ran a grocery business, the lumberyard and owned and rented several businesses properties. T.W. McDavitt was also one of Elmer’s early postmasters.
The lumberyard was important to Elmer, and was originally built by William Agee and Luke Atteberry, in 1900. The business was ran by a couple of different proprietors, including Leonard Herrin, who ran it from the 50’s to the 70’s.
The Gunnels family also had a history in the general merchandise trade.
Another of Elmer’s respectable business families was the Doggett family, who operated a very impressive livery stable and dray business.
Jake Bailey was also a proprietor of the community’s dray business, but is perhaps most remembered for his ice vending business. Bailey sold Macon ice, while a fellow merchant, Fred Russell, sold ice from Love Lake.
Hotels and restaurants had a major presence in Elmer’s history. Countless families dabbled in the food service trade, including Tates, Lenes, Johnsons, Allens, Kogers, Grigsbys, Burris, and Simmons. Hotels were ran by several families also, including Sally Tate, who ran Elmer’s first hotel around 1889. Others were ran by John Rice, Myrtle Boyd and Vi Ward.
The Tate family, who ran the city’s meat market, was also among the many who ran saloons in Elmer. Other saloon operators were the Boyd, Coody, Pike, Lovinger, Gates, Dobbins, Gash, March, King, Cater, Herring and Lene families, among others.
One trade, which probably included the most independent proprietors through the years, was that of the blacksmith. Elmer merchants who worked as blacksmiths, harness, and livery owners were Bill Galyen, James and Carey Drake, Lewis Perry, Dan Green, George Wood, Monte Ayers, Bill Shores and Paul bailey, along with a host of others.
The hardware trade included such merchants as T.L. Freed, who ran the first such business. Other hardware families included the Baileys, McNeals, and Montgomerys.
The community’s medical needs were served by several doctors, including W.H. Gooch, F.L. Newton, and H.D. Lehr. Druggists included T.I. and C.I. Murry, A.L. Gilstrap, and F.L. Mixon.
Barbers and beauticians were also plentiful in Elmer. Men like Bill Paxton, T.F. Johnson, T.L. Flynn and Sam Parker were among the trade’s leaders.
Real estate also became an important field in Elmer, with the likes of T.L. Freed and Henry Miller heading the trade.
With more modern equipment, like cars and farm machinery, came the need for businesses who could sell and service this new technology. Automobile service stations and gas stations were ran by many families, including Hertzlers, Perrys, and Spencers. Herman and Nellie Spencer also had a hand in the farm implement trade, as did T.L. Freed before them.
The Spencer family also owned the community’s Laundromat, which operated in Elmer from 1962 through the 70’s.
Although this is just a sample of the many businesses and family operations in Elmer, it gives an impression of the great success the community enjoyed in years past. It also makes evident that Elmer has joined many rural communities who have fallen prey to hard economic times and population shifts toward urban living.