This is Buzzy's Country Store blog designed to keep you apprised of what's going on at the Store. Buzzy's is a general store located in St. Mary's County, Southern Maryland near Pt. Lookout State Park. Buzzy and Jean Ridgell purchased the Store from Jean's father Harry Raley in 1953. Buzzy operated it until his passing in 2009. His son J. Scott Ridgell is the current owner.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Millison's Store(s)

I've done several posts on various country stores throughout the county but have yet to discuss probably the most famous and ultimately the most successful one in St. Mary's - Hiram Millison's General Store.
Millison's Store - 1942 (Photo Courtesy of Jason Babcock)
There were actually two Millison Country Stores, one originally in Pearson (NAS Pax now) and then  a second one (above) in Jarboesville which eventually became Lexington Park.  When the Navy took over the Cedar Point property in Pearson to establish NAS, Hiram then opened a bar and grocery store just outside the Base. 

Hiram's son Larry recalled the Cedar Point store in a Slackwater interview.  Here are some excerpts from that interview: 

My father had a general store. And it was a little country store, a bar. He was a very aggressive merchant. We had the only Santa Claus in St. Mary's County. I can remember we had, we would do big promotions at Christmas. He had a mimeograph machine. Nobody had a mimeograph machine. People would come from St. Georges's Island in the Seventh District, which was forty, fifty, forty miles away. We did a lotta business with the people from Solomons Island, which was right across the river. He was, he and my mother were good merchants. I remember a big promotion at Christmas was a navel orange for a penny. That was a big thing. Nobody, not many people had seen oranges. An orange was not a native fruit, and you know, you didn't have A&Ps and Safeways and so an orange was a real delight for someone to get. And no one saw Santa Claus. We had a fella named Gene Pilkton who worked for us. He was a very large man; he didn't need any paddin to be Santa Claus. It would be comical to see Gene Pilkton, cause Gene did everything. We delivered ice to everybody. And Gene would be workin in the ice house in his Santa Claus uniform. He'd be puttin gas in people's car. You'd drive down the road and there's Santa Claus puttin gas in the car. Gene was a brilliant guy. He could fix anything. He had no education at all, but he just was one of those folks that could comprehend 'lectricity or mechanical things. Loved my father. And my father, kiddin with him one day, said, "Now, Gene, when Easter comes," says, "I've got a Easter costume for ya, and I want ya to dress as the Easter Bunny." And he [Gene] says, "No, by God, I'm not gonna, I'm not gonna do that." Said worse than that, really. And he didn't come back til about Fourth of July. He just stayed back in the woods. He lived back in the woods.....

People  enjoyed comin to the store. It was sort of a festive thing for em. They enjoyed sitting around the store, and playing cards and tellin jokes and visitin with each other. It would be not uncommon for people from St. George's Island, which is like eighteen, twenty miles away, to walk to the store. A whole family would walk. And then we had an ol pickup truck, and we would carry em back to St. George's Island for free. In those days, people made fifty cents a day, and seventy-five cents a day, and a dollar a day. So if somebody bought three or four dollars worth of groceries, that may be ten big bags of groceries. We'd put em in a large paper bag, people used to call it a poke or a sack, and when you went back to St. George's Island, maybe there'd be ten people in the back of this ol pickup truck. In those days it was customary to ... like people stopped in church-- there were two churches there [on Cedar Point]. Some folks would come in [to the store] and have a drink; some people would do what they called dealing, which was their shopping. You always gave all the children ice cream, and you always gave the mother a piece of cloth. And if the father was a drinkin man, you'd give him a pint of gover-- what we called government whiskey. That was, you see ... bootleggin was a very big industry in St. Mary's County, and particularly on Cedar Point. Even after Prohibition was repealed, where in most parts of the United States they stopped making whiskey, they still continued to make whiskey in St. Mary's County. People actually liked homemade whiskey better than what they called store-bought whiskey, or government whiskey, which was manufact-- you know, it was the popular brands of whiskeys we know today. Of course, the tax situation changed so that as time went on, the taxes on whiskey, on alcohol, got very high, which encouraged the manufacture of homemade whiskey. Homemade whiskey is still an industry in St. Mary's County. Of course, during Prohibition, you made friends with the local storekeeper, like a fellow like my father, who would discreetly supply you with sugar, which was necessary to have to make the whiskey. Sugar whiskey. And mason jars. Of course, the way of capturing, or finding out about the bootleggers was who was buying the, an unusual amount of sugar, and an unusual amount of mason jars. So, the local store merchant had to get em for you. And he also had to discreetly sell em to ya, so that it wouldn't cause anybody any attention. It was not uncommon to take your truck to Baltimore, and get a load of sugar, and a load of bottles and mason jars. And not ever unload em at the store, and load em at someone's farm, or two or three people's farms. You certainly realize that a man with two or three children, buying a ton of sugar every other week, wasn't usin it to bake pies with. Of course, at the local store-- there weren't many telephones. So people would come to the store to use the phone. And the store's-- Roy Dyson's grandmother, Congressman Dyson's, Florence Dyson, she was the telephone operator in Great Mills. She was a lovely woman. Usually the revenue agents would come in to St. Mary's County through Charles County....

After the base started? Well, my father moved. My father bought a piece of land right outside the main gate. We were very lucky. And he thought that would be a good place. And he bought thirty-five acres, which we've developed and we've added, we've bought other property since. And we've prospered as the Navy, the naval base has grown and St. Mary's County has grown.  For the rest of the Slackwater interview with Larry (click here.)

I also found this 1990 article by Ken Rossingol on how the Millison Store became the center and start of Lexington Park (click  here.)  It too discusses how Hiram was the key figure in building Lexington Park starting with his country store and bar.

The tune White Christmas was song of the year in 1942 but this Glenn Miller tune also spent several weeks at the top of the Billboard charts back then.  I bet Hiram poured a Moonlight Cocktail or two at his place back in the day:

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