The corner of 23 East Main has been an iconic landmark in Shawnee's historic downtown since Mammoth Department Stores opened their four story building on Oct. 11, 1907.
The Mammoth before Main and Bell....
Mammoth Dry Goods first opened on the corner of Main and Union Streets in 1895. The original name was Overstreet's and it was owned by Thomas B. and G.W. Overstreet. The store was renamed Mammoth Dry Goods a short time later.
Mammoth lasted one year under the ownership of Overstreet as he sold the business in 1896. The Overstreets sold the business to Hocker and Kendall, and the men hosted a large liquidation sale that was touted as “The Greatest Sale.” ever held in Oklahoma.
H.F. Potts had bought out Hocker and Kendall in 1897 , and moved the Mammoth store to the corner of Main and Bell Streets.
Early days at the new location....
Records at the Pottawatomie County Clerk's office indicate the land 23 East Main sits was originally owned by the Choctaw, Oklahoma and Gulf Railroad was divided up into four lots. H.F. Potts purchased lots one and two on Oct. 28, 1896 for $2,000.
Lots three and four changed hands several times before Potts purchased them Feb. 16, 1897 for $100.
Newspapers from the era credit George H. Kerfoot with taking over the the Mammoth when he moved to Shawnee in 1900.
With Kerfoot as the owner and operator, the Mammoth brand went to the next level. He and his family would travel to New York on several occasions to bring his collection of goods up to date with the latest trends.
The Aug. 22, 1904 edition of The Shawnee News reported, “George. H. Kerfoot and family have returned from an extended visit to New York. Mr. Kerfoot purchased an immense up to-date line of fall goods for the Mammoth. Mr. Kerfoot thoroughly understands purchasing goods and gets only the best.”
On several occasions the Mammoth was robbed. The first recorded instance was released in The Shawnee News in 1904.
The Sept. 10 edition reports, “In the city jail is a prisoner charged with an infraction of city ordinances, whom, it is alleged, while intoxicated, made the statement that he was the man who robbed the Mammoth and the Hub department stores of a large lot of valuable silk last winter.”
A few days later, in the Sept. 15, 1904 edition of The News, Chief Sims reported Frank and Clarence Roberts had been arrested in Mooreland, Oklahoma, and believed they were part of a gang that was involved in several robberies in Oklahoma City and possibly Shawnee.
Frank Alvin, who was arrested on Sept. 10, 1904, confessed to being affiliated with the gang who was also apprehended. In searching another member of the gang's house, several items identified as stolen stock from various stores was located.
The Shawnee News reported, “It is regarded as almost certain from words let drop by Frank Alvin that this gang is the same that robbed the stores here, including the Mammoth and the Hub. They took silks of great values here and other places.”
A year later, on Oct. 6, 1905, another robbery was reported at the Mammoth. The article states, “Someone remained hid under piles of goods when the store was closed for the night, and Thursday morning a few goods were found to be missing, and one door was open.”
The thief was not as seasoned as his predecessors. The missing items were a suitcase, four woolen shirts and a few other low cost items.
The Mammoth was always giving back to its customers. Even though the store suffered a loss earlier in the week, they ran an ad in the Shawnee News Oct. 7, 1905 offering free doll clothes to every little girl who carried her doll with her while shopping.
Santa Claus was an attraction at the Mammoth as early as 1905. The Dec. 16, 1905 edition of The Shawnee News reported that Santa made several appearances throughout that week. “The Mammoth Department Store was the mecca of the little folks, from the wee little ones accompanied by their mammas, to those of 12 years. Santa Claus, who came ahead of time for their special benefit, entertained the guests and each one was presented with an orange and a sack of candy.”
Santa also made appearances at 23 East Main when the storefront became Montgomery Ward.
The new building...
As the Mammoth began to do more and more business, the need for a larger retail space was evident. According to the United States Census Bureau ,Shawnee's population was rapidly growing, from 3,462 in 1900 to 12,474 in 1910, and if the Mammoth was to continue serving its customers, they needed to expand.
The March 16, 1907 edition of The Shawnee News first reported the Mammoth's plan for expansion. “The march of progress demands the destruction of such buildings, which in their time have well served the purposes of their occupants in the rapid and almost phenomenal development of the city and county.”
From its humble beginnings as a wooden-framed structure on the corner of Main and Union, to a 50 foot by 100 foot store on the corner of Main and Bell, G.H. Kerfoot built one of Oklahoma's finest buildings.
The newly proposed Mammoth building would be four stories with retail space of 51,000 square feet.
Local plumber Walter Newman and his company Newman Plumbing Company was awarded the plumbing contract for the new Mammoth store. The May 16, 1907 Shawnee News reported the contract to be worth $2,198.
The steel skeleton of the four-story building arrived on May 20, according to the May 21, 1907 edition of The Shawnee News.
With construction starting almost immediately after announcing the new store, Mammoth started receiving parts via train. The May 23, 1907 edition of the Shawnee News reported the arrival of two Otis Elevator Company elevators to be installed in the new four story building.
One month later, on June 15, 1907, work had already progressed to the second story. The Shawnee News reported, “As the new Mammoth building goes up, it being built to the second story now, it makes a considerable improvement in the general appearance of Main Street.”
Before the grand opening of the new Mammoth building, G.H. Kerfoot was hiring his staff to run his store.
The Aug. 31, 1907 Shawnee News reported Mrs. Belle Stiff, of McKinney Texas, was hired to run the dress making department. The paper reported, “Mrs. Stiff has about 20 years of experience and is simply qualified to give satisfaction to the trade....Mrs. Stiff has a reputation throughout the state of Texas as being the best in that state and it is for this reason the Mammoth has contracted her services.”
Records indicate the Mammoth used a small portion of storefront located at 23 East Main during the construction. On Sept. 10, 1907, The Shawnee News said Kerfoot would be moving his stock into the fully integrated building as early as Sept. 17 and it would become the largest department store in the area.
On Sept. 21, 1907, The Shawnee News announced the hiring of Mrs. Stiff's assistant. “Miss Cora Cox of Little Rock, Ark. has arrived in Shawnee to take a position with Mrs. Stiff in the dress making department. Miss Cox has a reputation as an artist in her line, and will receive a cordial welcome to Shawnee.”
Before the official opening of the new dressmaking department, Mrs. Stiff was receiving orders from several cities in Texas and a few from Oklahoma City, the Shawnee News reported.
The opening of the new Mammoth storefront was an amazing sight. Oct. 11, 1907 was a memorable day for anyone living in Shawnee.
The Oct. 12 edition of The Shawnee News reported, “Ten thousand men, women and children of Shawnee and neighboring towns crowded into the immense new building of the Mammoth Department Store on Friday...From a small beginning in 1900 with a floor space 50 by 100 feet containing stock handled by less than a dozen employees this establishment has grown to the point where its business requires nearly 100 people to handle it and the stock which is twice as large as that of any other department store in the state.”
The furniture of the new Mammoth store was built locally in Shawnee. These furnishings included 75 display cases, and countless shelves that held the stock.
“If one were to walk up one aisle and down another he would cover one half mile before he reached the end,” The Shawnee News reported.
The exterior consisted of 275 feet of plate glass.
During the opening of the store, hundreds of dollars of carnations were given to the patrons, and music and refreshments were offered to all those passing through.
The dry goods department was located on the first floor, and was managed by E. Dahlinger. His assistants were Ms. Porter Maddox, Brown, Corley, Davidson, Knowles, Woodward, Mae McKissack, Kelley Goodman, Smith Callahan, Oglesby, McKeivey, Dickey Viola Fertig, Pearl Martin, Emily Stootz, F.A. Hamerson, John Lafferty, T. Atkins and E. Vance.
Just west of the dry goods department on the main floor was the shoe department, where J. Reeves was in charge. He was assisted by T.T. Munday and W.S. McMillan. Ab Andrews maintained a shoe shining parlor where customers who wore Mammoth store shoes could have them shined for free.
West of the shoe department on the main floor was the clothing department. C.A. Holick was in charge and assisted by Earnest Cleveland. Those who wore Mammoth clothing were able to have their clothing pressed free of charge.
The ladies department occupied the entire second floor.. This department was accessible from the main floor via stairway leading up from the dry goods department, or by the elevator on the east side of the building. P.N. Stuart was in charge of the ladies suit department and had several assistants including Ms. Prarie, Wilkerson, Blankenship, Gratzer and Robbins.
In the millinery department, Ms. May Butts was the manager and had Ms. Otto, Curry, Walker and Nichols as assistants.
Mrs. Stiff ran the dressmaking department with a laundry list of assistants. Ms. Leslie, Westerman, Shock, Skaggs, Johnson, Berry and Cox.
From its opening, Several businesses operated out of the third and fourth floors, including doctors, dentists, lawyers and realtors. Many of these businesses ran advertisements in the Shawnee newspapers. No businesses occupy it today.
“In the 40s my family doctor, Dr. Roy Neale, had his office on the third floor of this building,” Perthena Latchaw said. “Patients went to his office through an elevator you entered from Bell Street. When I was five years old, in 1948, I accidentally kicked over a glass milk bottle and ran through it, requiring a bunch of stitches. Dr. Neale and about five grown men held me down while I got stitched up. He came to the office about 10 p.m. at night to perform this surgery on my foot.”
After several years of thriving business, The Mammoth Department Store opened a bargain store in the basement. Previously, the basement was used as storage. The bargain store opened Sept. 7, 1929.
In the Sept. 5, 1929 edition of the Tecumseh Oil Record it was reported that “The Mammoth Bargain Basement is really a separate store in itself, but at the same time an important and vital part of the Mammoth, and the immense power of the Mammoth will reflect itself in the value of the offerings in the basement.”
The basement offered new items at a slightly lower price than that of the main store. Items sold in the bargain store were from the previous season.
Similar items were sold there, including ladies and children's apparel, men's and boy's wear, millinery and shoes.
There were two entrances to the basement, one being from the outside on the corner of Main and Bell and an interior entrance from the main floor.
Current and former Shawnee residents remember the Montgomery Ward era...
All good things must come to an end, and on March 15, 1940, Montgomery Ward signed a 20-year lease on the four story building, for a total of $6,500 per month.
The storefront and stock was very similar to what Mammoth offered. The tailoring and custom dresses became a thing of the past, but one former customer recall the innovative products sold at Montgomery Ward.
“My uncle, Kenneth Harper, was working there in 1966 and I was 16 years old,” Karen O'Connor said. “He called our home and said we had to come to the store and see this new contraption that just arrived in the store. So mom and I went to see this new contraption that definitely had him excited and wanted to share. He sees us and greets us with his usual big smile, obviously very excited while he guided us to the appliances. He stood us in front of this white oblong looking contraption, opened the little door, placed a glass of water in the center, closed door and turned a dial, then pushed a button. Out came very hot water in only a few seconds. It was the first time I ever laid eyes on or heard about a microwave. It was an astonishing moment for 1966.”
Like many others, Nolan and Linda Spaugy said they purchased their first set of furniture from Montgomery Ward in 1965.
Neal's Home Furnishings...
Montgomery Ward had a 39-year run at 23 East Main.
In 1979, Gaines Neal and the Neal family purchased the building. According to the Pottawatomie County Clerk's office, Neal purchased the property on Jan. 19, 1979.
“Montgomery Ward was running a going out of business sale, and our family thought starting a business here made sense,” Neal said. “The building was in great condition and fortunately for us, Montgomery Ward never changed the structure, so we are blessed with a really beautiful building.”
Neal said the furniture business opened in March 1979 and continues to operate under that name to this day.