It’s always a very enjoyable experience to visit a historic building that is close to one hundred and sixty years old, and still standing. However, it’s extremely rare and twice as enjoyable to visit a one hundred and sixty year old building that is still functioning as it did one hundred and sixty years ago. The St. James General Store located within the Long Island, New York North Shore town of St. James, is the oldest functioning general store in the United States. Yes, that’s correct, the oldest original general store still open for business in the entire United States. That point alone is reason enough to plan a visit to this wonderful historic treasure.
Upon stepping into the St. James General Store, one will instantly become transported back into the late 19th century as the wooden floors and counters define a time period no longer represented in modern architecture. The interior of the St. James General Store is dimly lit as it was over one hundred years ago. As is common in many museums, the lighting is kept to a minimum to preserve the historic treasures. The lighting also plays a significant role in recreating the feel of a 19th century general store.
The St. James General Store is currently owned by the Suffolk County Parks Department. However, the store still functions as a place to buy various souvenirs, books, and most importantly, candy! Just like in the 19th century and early 20th century, the candy is still stored in large glass containers lined up perfectly is a row. Certain candies represent old school traditions like chocolate licorice, tootsie rolls, jelly beans, taffy, pixie sticks and candy dots on paper. Included in the candy row section is also a very tempting selection of fresh chocolates, chocolate covered pretzels, peanut butter cups and other various delights. The kids will go crazy when they stumble upon the colorful assortment of sweets perfectly displayed along the wooden counters.
The St. James General Store sells so much more than just their delightful assortment of candy. On the first floor there are stacks of books, dishes, jars of Potpourri, dolls, candles, toys, sodas, lamps, silverware and various other items. Most of the items somehow relate to the culture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There are also items that help promote Long Island businesses like North Fork Potato chips and other various Long Island specialties. The second floor offers a magnificent display of books, maps and Christmas items, jewelry, painting and so much more. The staircases are narrow and steep reflecting the physiological difference between people of the 19th century and modern times. Some of our favorite finds at the St James General Store were the display signs that also depicted how different life was in the 19th century for farmers and the rest of rural society.
We spoke with a women who has been working at the store for the past ten years. She informed us that while many people who visit the store are from the surrounding areas, there are also many visitors who actually come from around the world. There are New York City tours guides that bring world travelers visiting New York City out to Suffolk County to see its beautiful North Shore Towns. One of the highlights of the tours is always the St. James General Store. Travelers from all continents have stepped foot in the St James General store to experience an authentic sense of what life was like in the late 19th century in the United States.
The History Of The St. James General Store
The St. James General store was founded by Ebenezer Smith in 1857. Ebenezer Smith had just returned to Smithtown after participating in the California Gold Rush of the 1840s. Ebenezer Smith who was a known descendant of Richard Smith, had originally lived in a hamlet of Smithtown once known as Sherawogge.
In the 1860’s, there were not many people living in St. James. There were only about thirty houses located in the area. The St. James General Store as most general stores in the United States at that time, served as the center of the community. Long before the days of supermarkets, the St. James General Store supplied the town people with all the necessities of rural life. The St. James General Store also functioned as the community’s post office. The first telephone to arrive in the village of St. James was installed at the St. James General Store. With the villages only telephone, the employment of mail services and its abundance of grocery items, the St. James General Store played a significant role in the daily lives of the St. James residents.
Over time, Ebenezer Smith would pass the store onto his son Everett Smith. In 1940, Everett Smith’s father in law took over the store and ran it until he was ninety years old.
In the 1960s, the store was taken over by Andy Havrisko and his wife. The two wonderful people ran the store all throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. So many people from the Smithtown and St James area have wonderful memories of the couple. Kate DeCamp and her three older brothers worked at the St James General store during that time period. Kate DeCamp described Andy Havrisko as a wonderful man who saved the St James General Store. She said Andy Harvisko was a great storyteller. Andy and his wife worked very hard at the store. The St James General Store was the Havrisko’s passion. People who grew up in the Smithtown, St James areas always mention that one of their favorite treats they would purchase at the store during those days were the molasses pops. The rock candy was also special and the chocolate toffee pops were loved by many. These were candies you did not get at a 7 Eleven or supermarket. This was old school candy brought from far away and it made the place so special to everyone.
Kate DeCamp recalled that when customers would buy gifts at the store, Andy Harvisko and anyone else who worked at the store would wrap the gifts and always place a peppermint stick on it for reasons she can’t remember. In the end, it was probably all about the sense of community that took place at the St James General Store fueled by the Harvisko’s love for the store. That’s what a general store has always been about in U.S. History.
In the 1980’s, the St James General Store was taken over by John and Eleanor Oakley. Eventually, the Suffolk County Parks Department would purchase the store in 1990 and established the sites historic significance in order for preservation. The St. James General Store was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is now part of the Deepwells Farm County Park. However, it still exists at 516 Moriches Rd, St James, in the middle of a vibrant community.
For the past one hundred and sixty years, people have passed through the same wooden doors and purchased items from the original counters and cases that have been displaying items for both necessity and pleasure. It’s rather an extraordinary experience to browse through a store that is more historically authentic and older than any other general store in the United States. If your visiting New York, we highly recommend that you make the trip out to St James and experience this magnificent 19th century general store.
More Photographs of the St. James General Store