Monthly Archives: July 2013

General Store Gets A General Makeover

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So you think things change as time goes by? Maybe not so much.

In 1902, the teddy bear was introduced. Teddy Roosevelt became the first president to ride in a car. Michigan beat Stanford 49-0 in the first Rose Bowl. The first movie theatre in the USA opened. And Mark Cockrill was running a general store near Colvin Run Mill in Great Falls, Virginia.

Today, 111 years later, teddy bears and movies are ubiquitous. Presidents still ride in cars.  Michigan is still beating Stanford in football (although Stanford did spoil an undefeated Wolverine season in the 1972 Rose Bowl). And Mark Cockrill’s store is still open at Colvin Run Mill.

Maybe the events haven’t changed, but the trappings around them have. Teddy bears come in innumerable styles, presidential cars are armored, football gear has adapted, and movie theatres are plusher. And so also there are changes coming to Mark Cockrill’s store.

The Colvin Run General Store is undergoing a bit of a makeover. There are preparations under way, formally called a furnishings plan, that will help us show you what a typical general store that might have been found in the Colvin Run community looked like. In order to do this, we had to pinpoint a time period so that we can focus on accurately furnishing and interpreting the store.

We picked 1902.

That’s when Mark Cockrill operated a general store in Colvin Run and a family named Millard owned Colvin Run Mill. Cockrill was the area’s postmaster, but five more years would pass before free mail delivery would be available to rural areas like those around the mill. Hard to picture, huh? That area just a stone’s throw from Tysons used to be rural.

There are post office boxes on display now at the store, and they will stay in place so that you can learn about the store’s role in mail delivery.

You also might soon see something that many people born this century haven’t seen – a telephone. We know that the store was a hub of communication, and we have discovered that telephone lines ran right in front of the store along the Alexandria Leesburg Pike in the late 1890s. We hope to find a 1900-era phone to put on display.

Other future display items will come from Mark Cockrill’s records. His letterhead from the 1890s and just past the turn of the century, the receipts for goods that he and his father acquired, possibly for resale. Neighbors would probably have come to the general store to shop for groceries, hardware, shoes, hats, and other things that they couldn’t make or trade on their farms. We hope to have new artifacts that match those on the receipts for you to see, and those items won’t be so far above your head that you can’t get a good look. Current artifacts are on display, but high on shelves and out of reach.

The changes also mean that we will scale back on the modern items sold in the store. If you are a regular visitor, you may notice that we are not restocking the shelves after current stock is sold. Once we furnish and rearrange the store, we are going to be more selective in what we offer for purchase. We will have items similar to what you might have purchased in a 1902 general store, like the “penny candy” Mark was famous for handing out to the youngsters in the community. We will continue to offer high quality Colvin Run Mill merchandise, such as the mugs and coasters that are made in the United States. We’ll also introduce our own label McCutchen’s jams and jellies to compliment the canning memorabilia on display.

So come see the changes and come see what was. We may be changing the trappings, but Mark Cockrill’s general store is still open and is still a place to touch history.

Author Kathryn Blackwell is a historian based at Colvin Run Mill.