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Clarks' Farm Market recalls valley's general stores of the past

 
 

“Farmer Bob” Clark, hand on the historic pot-belly stove from Mert Edwards' general store of Belsano, his foot on a nail keg.

 
hough this stop on your tour won't take long, you'll be rewarded for making it. Look for the sign for Clarks' Farm Market along the left side of Pennsylvania Route 271 about two and a half miles north of Belsano toward Nicktown, and drive in to sample a bit of the past. Inside the unimposing edifice you're transported to what looks like a general store of a half-century to a century ago. In fact, those who remember the Belsano of 50 years ago and longer may think they're returning to Mert Edwards' General Store, which operated on Route 422—Main Street, as it was called then, or Benjamin Franklin Highway as it's now designated for 911 call purposes—in beautiful downtown Belsano for time immemorial until the mid-1950's. Even the historic building that housed Edwards' store is gone from the town, but here you'll not only think you're seeing the pot-bellied stove that was the centerpiece at the old store, you actually are seeing it. And some of the nail kegs that Mert's regulars sat on to congitate the day's news are here, too.

Local native Bob Clark had the prescience to buy the historic artifacts for his store when Edwards' heir Larry Stiles auctioned them at the estate sale after Mert Edwards' son, Nanty Glo banker Jessie Edwards, passed on, leaving what remained of his father's estate. Though the spittoons that were de rigueur in Mert's time are no longer in use, and the coal room-heating stove is never fired up, the spirit of the old general store is much in evidence here. Even as I was visiting Clark, a local denison came in to ruminate on the topics du jour from the comfort of a stuffed chair next to the stove (the kegs being more for show, or footstools, than for sitting these days). 

With his wide-brim straw hat, shaggy beard, and bib overalls Clark may resemble his Amish-farmer neighbors (yes, you no longer have to go to Lancaster County to see horse-drawn buggies on the roads, and there are “caution—buggies” signs on the highways here, too) but his colorful shirt gives him Click for enlarged view.away. Still, he's the image of the farmer-entrepreneur. Besides the store, he and his wife operate a catering business from the farm. So, since as you're headed toward Duman Lake County Park (about two miles north) or even Prince Gallitzin State Park/Glendale Dam (c. 20 miles north) anyway, why not get a catered picnic to take along. (But be sure to call ahead: 814-749-7883.)

First, however, pick up some souvenirs, snacks and softdrinks (sorry, the seven-cent 16-ounce Pepsi's you may remember from Mert's General Store are history, of course) for your trip. Among the souvenirs available are T-shirts (part of the artwork of which is shown) commemorating a historic event occuring on what is now Clark's farm, in 1924. That's a train robbery and murder, known as the “Belsano Job,” on the Cambria and Indiana Railroad that formerly crossed just below Clarks' store en route between Vintondale and Ebensburg, via Colver. Two bandits boarded the train in Rexis, were joined by several more just west of Belsano, and had a getaway car waiting where the old Nicktown Road crossed the railroad several hundred yards from here. They killed one of the trainmen and took the safe containing a payroll for a local coal company amounting to more than $33,000. Once the Ghost Town Trail is extended over this route, no doubt a historical marker will remind trail users of the spot, shown in this computer-enhanced photo.

—JK

CLARKS FARM MARKET, 119 CLARKS LANE, BELSANO
(EBENSBURG R.D., PA 15931) 
Phone: (814) 749-9458
Email: storekeeper@peoplepc.com

Click here for additional memories of Mert Edwards' General Store in Belsano

 
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© Jon Kennedy 2000