Visitors have chance to browse history at Dyer Brook General Store

Posted Sept. 20, 2012, at 5:20 p.m.
Brian McNelly of Dyer Brook plans to open the general store that his father and uncle operated in the 1940s to '60s for a special one-day event this Saturday. The event coincides with what would have been the 100th birthday of his father, Laurel
Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
Brian McNelly of Dyer Brook plans to open the general store that his father and uncle operated in the 1940s to '60s for a special one-day event this Saturday. The event coincides with what would have been the 100th birthday of his father, Laurel

DYER BROOK, Maine — Stepping into the former Dyer Brook General Store is almost like taking a step back in time. The sales counter that once greeted countless shoppers is still there and scattered about the establishment are old political posters from the 1950s.

Residents will have a rare opportunity this weekend to check out the one-time hub of Dyer Brook as Brian McNelly, son of proprietor Laurel “Jiggs” McNelly, is opening up the family building for a yard sale/open house of the facility.

“Saturday, Sept. 22, would have been dad’s 100th birthday and I thought it would be a nice way to remember him by opening up the store for folks to see,” he said. “A lot of people in the community have said to me, ‘I wish I could go in that store one more time.’”

The building will open at 8 a.m. for the day. In the afternoon, a “McNelly and friends” potluck cookout will take place for any who want to bring a dish and share some stories.

McNelly has many fond memories from growing up in the store. He said his father often put him and his brothers to work organizing shelves or packing groceries to carry out for customers.

“Dad was always great at giving kids a piece of penny candy as a treat,” he said.

From 1947 to 1969, the Dyer Brook General Store was the place to fill up the car with gas, and the pantry with supplies. But when Interstate 95 was constructed, the flow of traffic was dramatically altered, forcing the popular shop out of business.

In 1937, Jiggs built his first store, a filling station, selling gasoline and oil to the many passing motorists on Route 2. He then entered the U.S. Army, fighting in World War II with his brother Harold. Both returned home safely and decided to open a general store. The two cut all the wood and built the store themselves.

“The old general stores were the meeting place for the community,” Brian McNelly said. “This place was where everyone came to shop and tell stories. I pretty much grew up in this store. Nobody ever knew my dad as Laurel. He was Jiggs to everybody.”

The store sold groceries, clothes, toboggans and sleds in the winter, lounge chairs in the summer, and pharmaceutical needs for the community. It also became a tagging center for deer.

By 1969, the brothers decided to close the Dyer Brook General Store and open a new store closer to the interstate. That business became known as Whitey’s Market in Oakfield.

How big a role did the Dyer Brook General Store play in the community?

“I’ve talked to many families over the years who told me they wouldn’t have made it through the winter without dad loaning them credit to buy items,” McNelly said. “Dad was not overly rich working this facility, but he always was willing to help those in need.”

McNelly said he expects several friends of his father to come to Saturday’s event to tell stories about Jiggs. One story he still recalls vividly is the tale of his father being caught for “deer jacking” and going before the judge.

“He was sentenced to 30 days or $300,” McNelly said. “He had a wooden keg full of pennies that he brought and tried to give to the judge. The judge told him, ‘OK, wiseguy, 30 days in jail to count those pennies.’”

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