A one-time general store built more than a century ago now houses a new family business
One of the ways people try to preserve history is by turning old buildings into museums. Not so common are buildings over 100 years old that have housed viable businesses the entire time. One such building is Stamps Historical Store in Carroll County, Ark.
The postal address is Alpena, rather than the original Osage, named for the local Indian tribe and one of the town’s creeks, because the town faded over time and simply became part of Osage Township. The site, 11 miles south of Alpena, Ark., was picked for construction in 1898 for two reasons. The first is that two roads and two creeks crossed at that location. The second was imminent plans for the railroad to go through the town. While the railroad soon chose a different route because trains couldn’t make it up the western mountain, the locale had a sufficient number of residents and travelers to support a long lasting general store business. At its peak, the town had two stores, a canning factory, as well as two doctors and a school on a nearby hilltop.
Three years were spent hauling and stacking rocks for construction, using a new Springfield wagon that barely survived the process. The general store opened for business in 1901 and had several owners until Claude and Kenneth Stamp purchased it in 1911 for $2,500. The price included the general store and its contents, 2 acres of land and the storekeeper’s house.
Claude’s son Frank came home from World War II and ran the general store until his passing in 1989. One feature was a lunch counter that sold thick and thin sandwiches because the slicer did not slice evenly. Additionally, the store sold hardware, harness, dry goods and groceries of every kind.
“They sold everything but illegal whiskey,” current owner Newt Lale said.
The second part of the story involves Newt and Amy Lale.
In 1972, Newt was pursuing a degree in architecture at Texas A&M. A weekend workshop exposed him to clay, and he was hooked at once. He searched out his ceramics professor, Dr. Jim Henderson who had just paid $50 an acre for 80 acres of rock and tree strewn land in the Osage area. Newt called his professor who told him to stop at Stamps General Store and ask for directions.
“When I arrived, I saw a two-story stone building with tall ceilings and an antique pop machine that provided me with my first Mountain Dew,” Newt said. “I loved the feel of the store and the mounds of merchandise and antiques.”
Newt found Jim’s place and immediately noticed both the natural beauty and the land available-for-sale in the area. The two talked and Newt discovered that Jim’s place was not only beautiful but practical because it contained a gas pipeline, which could be used to inexpensively fire kilns. Because Newt loved the area and wanted to start his own pottery studio, he bought 40 acres along the pipeline’s route near the store. He paid $170 an acre and worked there for 10 years.
After Newt had been in Arkansas for five years, he went to a craft show in Tennessee. A young woman named Amy walked up to his booth and asked where he was from. Because Osage was so small, he simply answered rural Arkansas. Amy pushed and he told her Osage.
To Newt’s astonishment, she asked, “Does Frank Stamps still run that store?”
Further conversation revealed that Amy was from the area and a potter as well. Not done putting his foot in his mouth, he asked to see her work. She showed him a cup and saucer about the size of a penny explaining her wares were intended for dollhouses. He said, “Those are really cute, but if you learn to make real pots, you can make a living.”
The couple has now been happily married and working together for 33 years, with their daughter Jessa Lea and her husband Donald work with them.
When Frank Stamps passed away in 1989, his family was ready to sell the store.
“When the family offered me the opportunity, I tried not to drool too much,” Newt said. “We settled on a price with the understanding that I would never sell the antiques. At that time I was focused on the land and the store and had no idea of the extent of the antique collection. Now I love the antiques as much as the business and have honored that promise.”
Osage Clayworks resides inside the old general store building. The authentic aura makes the place feel well cared for and in original condition. Antiques are mostly displayed close to the high ceilings though Newt and Amy also have the original ledger for 1902 which shows what locals bought and how they paid their bills, both by cash and barter, including hundreds of eggs and a cow/calf pair.
The Lales are members of the Arkansas Craft Guild and also sell work from two other potter’s who have worked with them in the past.
“Once you’re part of the Clayworks family, that relationship continues,” Amy said.
In addition to pottery work, Osage Clayworks offers the works of other local craftsmen. Craft items such as turn bowls, wooden spoons and wooden toys are available as well as jars of jellies, hot sauces and handcrafted soap.
Whether for personal use or gifts, their stoneware is crafted with love.