In 1836, Monticello had about 100 residents and the majority of them lived on farms. With such a small population, there were few businesses.
There were several local men who were carpenters but grocery stores were in short supply. The early history of the county notes that the first grocery merchant was a man named Perces.
Mr. Perces is a short story. Today there is no trail to figure out who this man was or what became of him. I have a feeling that the reference to Mr. Perces was misspelled.
In the late 1840s, there was an entrepreneur, Robert Tinsdale, who owned a mattress factory on Canal Street in Lafayette. Tinsdale was born in England in 1822. Mr. Tinsdale sold mattresses stuffed with any of the following: curled hair, Spanish moss, and prepared shucks. His shop also reupholstered furniture. His shop was part of a grocery store operated by W.H. Leet.
In the early 1850s, Tinsdale moved to Monticello and opened a small, but much needed, grocery store. The location was just north of where the Herald Journal is today. It wasn’t long before Tinsdale needed a larger store and he would move from South Main Street to the northwest corner of North Main and West Washington streets. Tinsdale was the first grocer to occupy this space.
In Monticello, everyone called Tinsdale “Bobbie.” Apparently Tinsdale’s grocery succeeded. He would partner with another grocer and bakery owner, Nathan C. Pettit; together they started a steam bakery in Logansport in 1865.
The steam bakery was sold within six months to a larger concern that apparently wanted to buy out the new competitor. It is worthy to note that Tinsdale spent the majority of his life in Monticello and he would die at Lakeview Home in 1923. He lived to be 101.
The Tinsdale grocery store location (Lot 101) on North Main is perhaps the longest location for a grocery store in the history of the county. In 1877, Benjamin O. Spencer moved to Monticello from Logansport and opened an extensive line of groceries in the old “Wild West” looking building pictured at the old Tinsdale location.
In 1884, B.O. Spencer retired and the business was continued by his son, Walter. At the same time, William Jost, commonly known in Monticello as “Billy,” was running a rival grocery two doors north of Walter. In October 1885, these rivals joined forces under the name of Spencer & Jost.
With their united capital, they would build an all-brick building. The plans for the building were drawn up R.P. Daggertt of Indianapolis. The structure was erected by John Saunders, a local Monticello carpenter and contractor. Saunders came to Monticello from Lancaster, Ohio, in 1854 and would remain in Monticello until 1905. He moved to Lake Cicott, where he died in 1912 at the age of 79.
Saunders constructed a two-story brick building with interior dimensions measuring 20-by-80 feet on each floor. The upper floor was used for offices and the ground floor displayed the Spencer Jost grocery line. Today, this this location is Deiwert Insurance.
The equipment, of course, was the most modern of that time period. Billy Jost designed a fruit bin and was given a U.S. patent on this new display. This display was used by many grocers in the U. S.
In addition, another display marketing innovation was evident in the new store. The shelving, instead of being built from the floor, was supported by iron brackets that were bolted to the brick walls. This system allowed each shelf to be adjusted to any height as well as eliminated all vertical partitions. This shelving system provided much more stability when stocking grocery items.
The new store sales boomed and in 1888 the company’s annual sales exceeded $25,000, which continued to build in the coming years. Both Spencer and Jost were ambitious in their endeavors to please the general public.
At the time when they built the new store, they were both in their prime of life. They had both learned the business through hard work and capitalized on their experience. In the grocery business this duo changed how the grocery business was conducted in Monticello.
Competing against Spencer and Jost was another progressive grocery. The competitor was Esau Bennett, also a grocery man. The Bennetts came to America from England in the late 1600s.
The Bennetts that came to White County from Pendleton County, Va. Before coming to Indiana, Bennett married Rachel Hudkins in August 1844 in Virginia. In 1850, the married couple lived in Fulton County with four young children that had been born in Virginia.
In 1866, Esau packed up his family, now 10 children and wife, and left Star City to established residence in Monticello. Esau Bennett would immediately start a grocery store in the Commercial Block.
The Commercial Block had just been built. The grocery became an instant success. Esau would capitalize on Monticello’s population boom immediately following the Civil War. Esau understood that his determination to succeed would only be achieved if his patrons were satisfied.
By 1876, his business was overflowing and he had outgrown the footprint of the current store on North Main. To handle the business, Esau would bring his two sons, Perry and Adam, into the business.
In 1882, each of the sons purchased one-third interest in the business. At this time, the firm was known as E. Bennett & Sons. Their new business location was the space just north of the Herald Journal office which was the same location where the above referenced Tinsdale grocery stood.
Esau Bennett would pass away in June 1885 at the age of 62. Esau’s sons would continue the business and, in 1886, they would build a new all-brick building on the southwest corner of Main and Broadway. They named the store the “People’s Grocery.”
For the older crowd, this is the location of the old Hively’s Drugstore. Their new building was designed to optimize the display of grocery staples. The People’s Grocery continued to prosper and by the early 1890s posted annual sales of more than $25,000.
In today’s dollars it would be just shy of $700,000.
One of the keys to their marketing success was continuous advertising in the local newspapers. The “People’s Grocery” soon became a household word.
As time moved forward, the name People’s Grocery faded away and the store became known simply as Bennett’s Grocery.
Perry would sell his stake in the People’s Grocery to his brother Adam in 1889 and Perry left Monticello and moved to Rochester, where he opened a grocery store.
In 1902, Adam Bennett was approached by Charles W. Davis, who was an existing grocery merchant in Monticello. In 1902, a buyout was executed and the ownership of the grocery was transferred to Mr. Davis.
Davis would own the grocery store at the same location until 1935. The new tenant at the corner of Main and Broadway would be the Kroger store. Prior to moving, the Kroger store was two doors west of the Davis’ grocery.
Davis, at the time of his retirement, had worked at or operated various grocery stores in Monticello for 48 years. Charles W. Davis would die in 1950 and is buried in Riverview Cemetery.
So what would become of the Bennett brothers?
In 1905, Perry was living in Cherryvale, Kan., and in 1917 was living in Waverly, Mo. Perry would move to California, where he died in 1938 at the age of 79.
Adam Bennett would leave Monticello after the sale of the Bennett Grocery to Mr. Davis. Adam would move to California and in 1910 he was employed as a bookkeeper for the Long Beach Water Works. In 1913, he kept track for over 8,000 customers. Adam would be the accountant for the water company for at least 20 years. Adam would die in Los Angeles County, Calif., in 1936 at the age of 72.
Today, it is hard to imagine a grocery store with the limited square footage that was prevalent during the late 1880s through the 1930s. Today, you can go to the Kroger store on North Main and entertain yourself for hours looking at the thousands of items stocked on the shelves.
The day of the small grocery store has long since passed.