A Page from North Quabbin History: Petersham Country Store

  • This photo of the Petersham Country Store was taken in 1899 after the North Side addition was added. Under the photo is written, “The Store” at mail time, Oct. 1899.” PHOTO COURTESY OF PETERSHAM HISTORICAL SOCIETY ARCHIVE

  • The Petersham Country Store was under the management of Charles F. Paige when this photo was taken in the 1880s. Photo courtesy of Petersham Historical Society Archives

  • The Petersham Country Store was under the management of E.L. Johnson when this photo was taken in the 1890s. PHOTO COURTESY OF PETERSHAM HISTORICAL SOCIETY ARCHIVES

Published: 4/16/2021 2:40:21 PM
Modified: 4/16/2021 2:40:18 PM

Country stores of the past evoke memories of a simpler time, providing not only a place to purchase items but a central gathering spot for the community. Country stores still dot the landscape of New England and the country.

Among the oldest country stores in the United States is in Petersham, which had its beginnings in 1839, according to Christine Mandel, of the Petersham Historical Society, when brother-in-laws Samson Wetherell and Benjamin Hamilton purchased a small piece of property on the northeast corner of Main Street and East Street, with the store opening a year later. Although, according to Mandel, their partnership soon failed, the store did not and has been in continuous operation since then with few interruptions.

Along with the changes in ownership, over the years changes were also reflected in the merchandise sold there. Among the items which once could be purchased at the store were feather mattresses and buffalo robes. At one point, the store also boasted a soda fountain and self-service go-karts.

Although these items are no longer are sold there, the Country Store still has memorabilia from the past including the original cash register, scale and butchers block. It also displays antiques from the original store throughout the current store, said Ari Pugliese who, along with his wife, Jeanneane, own the store.

“Country stores are a sum of their parts. They sell a lot of different things, which makes them fun and unique. We have a bakery, grocery store, ice cream, gifts, wine, beer and prepared foods,” said Pugliese.

They have a café as well, which is currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said the store continues to be “the hub of the community where people come to gather, get goodies and say hi.”

Pugliese is a native of Petersham and had previously managed the store for about 15 years. He then left to open the former Picassa restaurant in Barre, then returned once again with his wife as the owner of the store. Of owning the Country Store, he said, “I was always drawn to the community. It feels like the right place, to be serving the community. Throughout my childhood, this store always held a special place in my heart.”

Pugliese said, prior to his ownership in 2014, the store had fallen upon hard times and closed in 2012. However, the town was determined that this Petersham landmark would continue. Through donations and fundraisers, $400,000 was raised to reopen the store.

Among the fundraisers held, remembers Larry Buell of the Petersham Historical Society, was a townwide celebration and auction to raise money to purchase the store on July 27, 2013. Among the items auctioned were several items, including rocking chairs and small dining tables, from the historic Nichewaug Inn.

“When the Country Store was closed for many months, I felt like the heart of our community had been lost,” Buell said. The Petersham Common was but a beautiful artifact void of life. When the store came back, the heart of the community returned. Today, it is a thriving center that serves the community through challenges and opportunities — it is the fabric of our Town.”

The East Quabbin Land Trust, which usually assists farms and open spaces, realizing the farmers had no place to sell their food, purchased the building, said Pugliese. As a result, the Petersham store has been thriving for the past six years and remains a centerpiece of history and community in the town.

Carla Charter is a freelance writer from Phillipston. Her writing focuses on history with a particular interest in the history of the North Quabbin area.

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