Wednesday, October 14, 2015


The Arcanum Wayne Trail Historical Society #5 designated site is the John Smith Co. General Store currently located at 105-107-109 West George Street in Arcanum. From Anita Short’s “The Arcanum Business Book” we find a detailed history of this building. Also in interviewing JoAnne Hill, Arcanum resident and AWTHS member, we find a lot of personal details as this was her family who settled here and started the store. JoAnne’s great grandfather was John Smith who was the son of Jesse and Christiana (Deitrich) Smith. They were natives of Adams County, PA, who settled in the Lewisburg and Preble County area. As a young man John was a schoolteacher. He joined his brother, Samuel Smith, who already was a general store merchant at Sampson which was located back in time on the west side of the corner of Jaysville –St. Johns Road and Hollansburg Sampson Road. In 1851 Samuel purchased lot 28 across from the John Smith’s store which used to be the old bakery location. John purchased lot 30 and moved across the street to the current location.

The plaque marker reads “1851” when the first building was erected at the far east end of the current building. Then the other two sections were built. Back in time the store was more of a “general store” and not a lot of groceries. Flour, coffee, and baking powder came in large barrels and was sold in smaller quantities. Also pots and pans and various other items for cooking and the home were some of the wares. As time went on, then dry goods were established along with fresh meat and vegetables and women and men’s wear. Customers came in to trade eggs and fresh vegetables for the dry goods. This was also the home of the first post office in 1852 where John was the first postmaster as well as the first bank and lender of money. The upstairs of the building was open until the depression which housed Santa land, toys, rugs, linoleum, and curtain rods. I remember in the 1970’s the men’s wear on the far east side, the middle room having the stools which you could twirl around on and buy women’s fashions and shoes and groceries on the far west end.

With the railroad going through town, the D & U brought fresh bread from Dayton to the store, per JoAnne. It was put in a large wooden box with a lock outside of the store. Instead of parking spaces, there was hitching post up and down the street for customers to tie their horses and buggies to. Saturday nights had huge crowds in town and was the biggest night of the week. The family all came to town. Men went to the pool rooms, while the women hung out in the Smiths store until the movies were over. That’s where the kids were. During Christmas the store was open until midnight on Saturday’s.

In the late 1800’s Smith’s had the largest millinery store in Darke County with five employed people to make hats on the second floor. And also the first store to have electricity. When the store closed after 144 total years being in the Smith Family, the drawers upstairs which held the contents for hat constructions such as feathers and ribbons, were brought out to sell. There were 147 hats in the auction.

Per the old newspapers, where we find a lot of information about the businesses in town, we read: Ladies, be sure to visit our new cloak department before buying your fall cloaks or furs. A big line of new up-to-date goods now on hand, not an old garment in our stock. We are receiving daily many new styles and will have an extra fine line of cloaks, furs, skirts on display all next week. Smith’s Big Store. (10-18-1906).

There was four generations of Smiths involved in the business: John Smith original owner, Milton, Mildred Smith Pleasant (Joanne’s mother) and JoAnne Pleasant Hill. Uncle Joe was also involved. The John Smith Co. General Store was in business from 1851-1985 and was the longest family held business in Ohio. The building was also listed on the Ohio Register of Historical Sites. JoAnne Hill and her late husband, Dave owned the store and business for over 40 years and from 1986-1994 which included 9 years as the Antique Mall. The AWTHS also has a binder done by Anita Short which has the John Smith and Sophia McNutt Family History there in.

I asked JoAnne about all the “Smith” houses in town. JoAnne lives at the corner of Main Street and West South Street. Her home is estimated to be built around 1860. Her Great Aunt, Anna Smith, lived in the large brick across the street from JoAnne’s and once had lovely stained glass windows. It is now the lot of Troutwines Auto Sales. We are not sure about John Smith’s original house location but his second home sits at the corner of Main Street and East George. It is presently the Troutwine’s Auto Dealership and parts department

Presently this historic site and building houses Smiths Merchants which features antiques and sewing fabric and notions. In keeping with the Smith tradition the store is very “stylish”. The west side contains The Old Arcana which specializes in breakfast and lunch entrees using fresh and local produce. Catering is available as well as the upper room rental for special occasions.

When interviewing JoAnne, the thought came to my mind of the importance of not only telling our memories and stories but writing them down for future generations. This is one of our goals of preservation at the Arcanum Wayne Trail Historical Society. Collecting, Preserving, and communicating history. Please donate your family history, stories, and house history from Southern Darke County to our society. Guidelines are on our website at or contact Annette Stewart, Reference Library Coordinator, at

Thank you
Interviewed and written by Annette Stewart

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