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The Helena Arkansas Daily World - Helena, AR
  • The Almer Store: A family history

  • Lifelong residents of Phillips County and local history enthusiasts probably know the history of the Almer Store by heart. However, there is nothing wrong with re-telling historical events, especially if it's from a new perspective.
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  • Lifelong residents of Phillips County and local history enthusiasts probably know the history of the Almer Store by heart. However, there is nothing wrong with re-telling historical events, especially if it's from a new perspective. That's just what Mona Lauderdale Bruce wants to do. Almer Store's history dates back to the early 1870s when a young Swiss immigrant couple from Iowa built a flatboat and floated down the Mississippi River as far south as Helena. The couple lived in a three-room house on top of the flatboat as they made their trek down the river. Mr. and Mrs. Ulrich Almer lived on the boat for a while after arriving in Helena but soon moved their small home inland. The boat was dismantled and the wood was used to build the structure now known as Almer Store. Almer never officially used the small building as a store but did market his milk products. He made cheese in the back of the structure. Over the years, the store was sold to various owners, who operated it as a neighborhood grocery store. For years the store went unoccupied and fell into a state of disrepair. In fact, it was about to be torn down. Citing it as a significant local historical landmark, the Phillips County Historic Preservation Society bought the building to save it from being demolished. As recent as the 1970s, the building was restored and re-opened as an arts and crafts shop. It was listed on the National Historic Register on Oct. 18, 1974. At one time, the Almer Store was part of Ms. Bruce's family. “My grandparents, John Martin Byrd and Bertie Louise Rohrscheib Byrd, operated the neighborhood store after moving here from Heber Springs,” reported Ms. Bruce, now 80. According to Ms. Bruce, family Bible records reveal that John Martin Byrd was born Nov. 13, 1877 in Sulphur Rock (Independence County). Byrd's son, Marvin Martin Byrd, was born May 6, 1905, also at Sulphur Rock. “Local people probably remember the fresh produce he (John) sold at Byrd's Market on Highway 49 after he raised his family,” stated Ms. Bruce. The Byrd's second child, Mary Augusta Byrd, was born in April 1907 in Helena. She worked as a long-distance telephone operator for Southwestern Bell in Helena. In 1909, the Byrd's third child, Julia Mae Byrd, was born. “By this time,” said Ms. Bruce, “the living quarters (built by the Almers) behind the store were no longer large enough for the growing family.” Eventually, the family added three more children – John Maburn “Sonny” Byrd, Woodrow Wilson Byrd and Bertie Louise Byrd. Sonny, born in 1912, operated Sonny Byrd Grocery on Highway 49. Born in 1918, Woodrow Wilson Byrd spent his working years with the Corps of Engineers, except for a stint during World War II when he served aboard the submarine, the U.S. Sennett. Bertie Louise Byrd was born in 1915 and lived to be 95 years old. She was the wife of Ben Davison. Descendants of the Byrd and Rohrscheib families still reside in Phillips County today. “Before she died, my mother, Julia Mae Byrd Lauderdale drove past the Almer Store where she had lived as an infant,” recalled Ms. Bruce. “I am now 80 years old and the only child of Julia and Audry Lauderdale and I just wanted to pass this information on to readers of the Helena World.” The Almer Store has since fallen back into disarray. Perhaps someday some local historians will attempt to patch up one of the oldest standing legacies to Phillips County history before it is too late.

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