Exploring the Past: Ned Mercantile was town’s hub

Published 10:00 am Saturday, December 10, 2016

NEDERLAND — A historical marker at the corner of Boston Avenue and North 12th Street marks the site of Nederland’s first mercantile building.

The mercantile was a hub of activity and a common meeting place for the city’s early inhabitants. Dutch immigrant G. W. Kilsdonk Jr., an agent for the Port Arthur Land Company, worked to encourage people from his native Holland to settle in this area starting in 1809, according to the marker. He built a number of businesses including the two-story mercantile building.

And while the store was important to the young community, the second floor was also vital to the life of the town. Through the years many organizations, businesses churches and social groups had their beginnings in this second floor location, according to historical information.

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Woodmen of the World started in this location in the early 1900s and several literary and drama groups used this space for a meeting hall in this same time period.

The building was destroyed by fire, believed to be arson, in 1909.

But the town needed its mercantile, so the Wagner building, a two-story frame structure built in 1898 was moved across the street to the current location at 1166 Boston Ave., Kathy Crawford, the current owner, said.

“Logs were placed on the ground and the house was moved that way,” Crawford said. “They couldn’t turn it around so the back is the front (facing Boston Avenue) and the front is the back.”

The first floor continued on as a grocery store until 1955.

From 1905 to 1914 the business had several renters or leasees; Bradley W. Bell, J.W. McNeill, J.H. Haizlip and J.H. McNeill.

The business was operated as McNeill and Co. and Berthold Cooke was employed there. Around 1940 the business was sold to Cooke who managed it until his death n 1951. His wife took over management for several years.

The building was vacant for a short time before Ralph Thornell acquired it and it served as an auto supply business.

When he retired he sold the lots and building to James and Katherine Crawford on April 24, 1978. It was renovated and is now The Old Mercantile Antique Co-Op.

The white clapboard building holds much charm. Owner Kathy Crawford has kept some items from the original owners. A small rocking chair owned by one of the McNeills, a tobacco can used as a lunch box owned by Haizlip and a hat owned by Thornell, each hold a spot in the antique store.

Not one but two doctors housed their practice in the second floor of the building — Dr. J.H. Haizlip and Dr. Joe Stoeltje.

Dr. Haizlip is known to have owned the first brand new car in town, a 1910 Maxwell coupe.