IAGenWeb Project - Allamakee co. Misc. Historical Items
updated 05/14/12

Church Photos
Lansing twp.

Undated view of Church, Iowa - contributed by Sharyl Ferrall

Churchtown church on left and the school on right
Undated postcard showing the church on left and the school on right
~contributed by Errin Wilker

View of Churchtown in the early 1900's
View of Churchtown in the early 1900's
source: Allamakee Journal, May 1, 1991
~contributed by Errin Wilker

Churchtown Creamery, undated
Churchtown Creamery, undated
source: Allamakee Journal, Lansing, Iowa
~contributed by Errin Wilker


Ben Decker's store
Ben Decker's Big Store

Old photos of Churchtown are few and far between, but this real photo postcard is a gem.  The store sold much more than general merchanise, paints and oils, as the sign indicates.  It also serves as the Church, Iowa Post Office, according to the sign above the door.  The building no longer stands, having burned down in the 1980's.  The people standing in front of the store are not identified.
~source: 1991 Allamakee Journal newspaper clipping
~contributed by Errin Wilker

Decker's Store, Established 1898

Ma and Pa's Offers Free Trip Backward in Time
by Elnora J. Robey

Waukon - Customers at Ma and Pa's Country store in Church on highway 9, ten miles northeast of here, get a free trip backward in time. In addition to some unusual items of store equipment still in use, many of the shelves are stacked with antiques from the collection of the proprietor, Bernard Zeimet.

When Bernard and Dorothy Zeimet took over operation of the store in 1970, it was only the second time the business had changed hands since it was established in 1898. Members of the Ben Decker family had owned it since 1903, and the 1970 sale included real estate, stock, and equipment, excepting for a few items.

Five pieces of equipment are of particular interest to visitors. The scale, a product of Computing Scale Co., Dayton, Ohio, is a real old-timer. "But it's more accurate than scales made today," Dorothy Zeimet said, indicating that inspectors have tremendous respect for it.

The large brass and wood cash register, made by the National Cash Register Co., is a handsome machine. Esther Decker Marti of Church remembers that when her father bought it, the business required three clerks. "He bought a till with three drawers so that each clerk could use his own. Until then, I believe money was just kept in a box or drawer," Mrs. Marti said.

Overhead, between scale and cash register at the main counter, are dispensers for string and for paper bags. Mrs. Marti also recalls when the string apparatus arrived. "Before that, we had kept balls of cordstring in the end of the paper rack. It was exciting when the Post Toastie people gave us the string dispenser."

Even people familiar with general stores of 50 years ago may not have seen a broom holder like that in Zeimet's store. It is a sturdy black-enameled iron holder, circular in design, that displays 16 brooms and keeps them in good shape.

Mrs. Marti recalls another convenience that used to be in the store - a holder that held buggy whips by their tips. "It hung from the ceiling. Prices were on the handle where prospective buyers coud see them easily. It was just a flat metal holder. My dad sold it. Someone wanted it, and to him it was just an old thing he had no use for. He sold it for 50 cents."

A cabinet of drawers which now stands at the end of a showcase near the back of the store was used by Decker for notions - shoe strings, hooks and eyes, buttons, fuses for cars, and violin strings. (How many violin strings are sold in a rural community today?)

The whole north side of the store used to display dry goods. "Gradually people quit buying; material comes in bolts, and women didn't like to have the same thing a lot of their neighbors had," Mrs. Marti explained.

Now Zeimet uses most of that shelving for antiques, prominent among these being an array of lamps at the front of the store. He prefers collecting to selling these articles of metal, wood, glass, and earthenware, according to his wife. "Some of them can be useful," she said. "The lard press and meat grinder on the top shelf were used only two or three years ago, the lard press for removing walnut husks. She thought the charcoal iron might be used without too much trouble.

On one shelf is an array of tin cups similar to those western threshing crews used to buy by the score. In Decker's time many items like these would have been in the hardware half of the building, which is now mostly a storage area. Reached through a door at the middle of the south wall, this room has an elevator to the basement, as well as an entrance to the stirway to the upstairs apartment where the Zeimets live.

According to Herman Kerndt, Waukon, who was born two miles west of Church, the store building is substantially the same as when George Coppersmith, member of a family which has been associated with merchandizing in Dorchester in the northwestern corner of the county, sold it to Ben Decker. "My father had a partner at first, you know," said Mrs. Marti. "It was for only a short time, though."

Not even Hancock's two-volume 1913 history of the county mentions this partnership with Charles J. Riser. In fact, very little is told of Church. An unplatted settlement, it grew when Isaac Bechtel, who owned 40 acres at the top of the hill where the Lansing to Waukon raod finally leaves the valley about seven miles from Lansing, began selling some lots. It has remained comparatively stationary at its present size of a dozen homes.

The German Evangelical Congregational Society of Lansing Ridge was incorporated Oct. 1868, with Bechtel as one of the founders. In 1887 a school was built next to it. These and, later, the Calhoun Cooperative Creamery were important factors in the success of Decker's business, which was next to the church.

"We were open on Sunday mornings and opened at 6 or 6:30 in the morning - it took a while to get the fires going. At noon and after school children came to buy knick-knacks or just come," Mrs. Marti said.

"We began working when we were children ourselves. I loved it. The post office was in the northeast corner - the area is still partitioned waisthigh - and the telephone switchboard was in the southeast corner. We had a bell upstairs for night calls. Sometimes the switchboard girl stayed with us."

"Eventually we moved to the big white house across the road. My mother wanted to get us away from the store. People would tease us, and we got so we talked back. My mother never worked in the store. She like her home and like to sew and crochet."

"In early days farmers brought their own cream to the creamery. That brought people to town. Besides that, my father bough a lot of produce - eggs, chickens, turkeys, even wool. I remember there'd be several people dressing poultry. We were especially busy before Thanksgiving. We packed dressed poultry in cartons or barrels and took them to Lansing to be shipped by train, mostly to Chicago."

Mr. Kerndt remembered taking eggs and poultry to sell at Decker's. "We did most of our trading there, groceries mostly - in those days we raised most of our livestock feed ourselves. The store used to be open Sunday mornings. Sometimes we'd drive up with the horses in the evening."

After Ben Decker died in 1963 at the age of 85, Mrs. Marti and her mother took over the store. Mrs. Marti had previously worked in it at various times, particularly the two years after she finished high school before she began teaching and again after her husband's death.

Mrs. Zeimet takes care of the store most of the time, since her husband has been working in southern Iowa on construction for the past two years. Store hours now are 7-5:30 six days a week, but probably even these hours would not leave the proprietor of a Ma and Pa Country store much time for himself if he did not have a competent substitute available. The person in church has been Sis Hirth. Sis and her husband, Herbie Hirth, a nephew of Ben Decker, moved into the apartment above the store in 1947 and now live next door. Ever since then Sis has worked in the store when she was needed.

She remembered Ben Decker as a jovial man who liked to go fishing or to take little trips. He liked to visit with customers and was always generous in treating children. There are still lots of snack foods and candies in the store; an ice cream bar and coffee pot are just inside the front door.

"Uncle Ben had a plaque from Ball Brand for handling their products 59 years. He also had one from Standard Oil," Sis said.

The gasoline pumps are now at the front of the store. Hitching rails used to be there and along the south side. The old manually operated gas pump used to be in a little shed south of the store.

Ma and Pa's Country store is again listed for sale, but Mrs. Zeimet does not seem to have any driving ambition to get rid of it. Two girls, bundled against the winter cold, who shopped for snacks, then settled on one of the study wooden seats to enjoy their purchases, may be part of the reason, for they had come on horseback.

A country store might not be a bad place to live.

~Cedar Rapids Gazette, March 3, 1974
~transcribed by Sarah J. Till
~transcriber's note: The Decker Store / Ma and Pa Country Store owned by Bernard and Dorothy (O'Hara) Ziemet was totally destroyed by fire January 27, 1986

Ben Decker's Big Store, Church, Iowa - undated
Ben Decker's Big Store, Church, Iowa
Payne Photo, undated
~contributed by Diana Diedrich

above: Close up of the top photo showing the people & post office
below: Close up of the top photo showing the store on the right




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