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The Idiot Jam will take place in the Farmers Mercantile Hall in Garrison, Sept. 13.

A century ago, Garrison residents would gather on Saturday nights at the Farmers Mercantile Hall at 100 West Main Street to see friends, hear music and shop.

Although it's been decades since the sounds of guitars or fiddles echoed from the balcony of the historical building, area residents can now go back -- at least for one evening -- to hear their neighbors play and sing their favorite songs.

The Benton County Conservation Board and the Vinton Guild Of Fine Arts are planning a day-long fund-raiser for the library on Saturday, Sept. 13.

In addition to an Arts Festival at the Benton County Nature Center next to Rogers Park, there will be an Idiot Jam at the Mercantile Hall beginning at 7 p.m. that evening. The event is called the Idiot Jam because local guitarist Todd Frank uses the screen name Village Idiot on the guitar forums that musicians use to arrange such events.

About Farmers Mercantile Hall

Every month this year, there has been a special event in that building.

Nine summers ago, Nick Fisher and his wife, Charlotta Toth-Fisher, bought the building at an auction. Health issues had forced the previous owner, Emma Crossley, whose family had owned the mercantile for decades, to sell. In August 2005, all of the unsold goods, shelves and furniture went to the auction block. At the end of the sale, Main Street was still full of people when auctioneer Duane Johnson said "sold" to Nick's winning bid of $13,500 for the building.

Charlotta said that day nine years ago that the couple planned to "let the building tell us what to do."

What they heard inside those walls inspired them to try to recreate the aura that the Hall held for Garrison residents of the 20th Century. The couple worked on the building for years, during time off from their jobs.

"Nick is working on the upstairs and tuck-pointing when the weather is nice," said Charlotta this week. "We have had an event in it every month this year."

The building survived the July 2011 storm, which destroyed the library across the street, with just some broken windows.

"We were very lucky," says Charlotta, of how the building weathered that storm.

Charlotta adds that October is not yet booked if anyone is interested in using the Farmers Mercantil Hall for an event.

Remembering the auction; a nostalgic good-bye

The streets of Garrison were as crowded as ever that summer Saturday in 2005.

Hundreds of people filled the old Farmers Mercantile Hall, looking at the historical displays and the shelves full of items - many of which had been there for decades.

Owner Emma Crossley, who grew up in the store and inherited from her family, had to close the store in 2004, because of her failing health.

Virtually everything, including the building, was put on the auction block that August day.

And when it was time to sell the building, hundreds of people watched as Duane Johnson pointed at Nick and Charlotta Fischer and said "sold."

"This is quite a piece of history," auctioneer Duane Johnson told the crowd before the bidding began.

Johnson told the crowd then that while he normally has a general idea of what real estate he sells at his auctions is worth, but on this occasion, he said he had "no idea." Johnson also cautioned the crowd that the building was sold "as is," and that while all of the valuable items would be sold, there would be a lot of junk left in the building when the sale was over.

Bidding began at $1,000 and seemed to be about over between $9,000 and $9,500, but eventually the bidding stopped after the Fishers said yes to $13,500.

After the rural Mt. Auburn couple paid $13,500 for the historic building, Charlotta explained what the couple had in mind for its future.

"We will have to let the building tell us what to do," she said.

The couple eventually decided to try to turn the old building into a community center, a place for meetings, dances and other activities.

Challenges

On a summer day in 2008, we spoke to Nick, as he worked on the building.

That day, in contrast to the day he bought the building, the street in front of the store was virtually empty as Nick worked alone inside.

Nick said then, while working on some long tables that used to hold merchandise, that he has stopped predicting when the building will be completed.

He spends many of his weekend hours there.

Since they purchased the building, a part of the roof collapsed. In addition to completing that repair, Nick was also building two new bathrooms and beginning work on the kitchen area.

The historic interior architecture is what the Fishers loved about the building.

"I love the mezzanine -- the balcony," said Charlotta. She also said she loved the wooden windows.

Nick, who runs Vinton Counseling Services, "likes to restore old buildings in a way so they don't lose their historical value," said Charlotta.

"We are really interested in getting in there and cleaning it up and seeing where it goes from there," she said. "We will leave as much as we can the way it is."

Farmers Mercantile History

The couple's interest in the building began as soon as they learned it was for sale, Charlotta said.

The Farmers Mercantile closed in 2004. It had served customers since 1911.

Emma Crossley inherited the business from her father, James Crossley.

James Crossley began working at the store when he was still in school, and became its owner in 1948. Emma worked there all her life and eventually took over the store.

The building was built in 1911, shortly after the blaze that local historians have labeled the "Garrison Fire."

The Farmers Mercantile began as a coop and became a private enterprise in 1914.

In addition to a store, the site was also a gathering place where musicians would perform on Saturday nights and people would come to socialize.

Although it took nearly nine years, the Fishers' dreams are starting to come true; music is now echoing throughout the Hall.



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Comments (1)

nice story.glad the store was restored.my grandparents were good friends of the crossleys.always remember ther big candy case and sitting on radiators in the winter
By: Rick Christy on September 2nd 12:02pm

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