Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Byline: Carla Charter
HUBBARDSTON - General stores conjure up images of penny candy, checkers games and the simplicity of a bygone era for many people. John Harden of Hubbardston, current owner of the Wheeler buildings, is hoping to bring some of that feeling back with his renovation of the general store on Main Street in the center of town.
"Plans for the renovated general store include selling organic and all-natural foods as well as local produce, meat and whatever else we can find over time. There will be coffee brewed in bulk, high quality tea, penny candy and even a checkerboard with a couple of chairs near a woodstove" Mr. Harden said.
He is gearing up to open the general store on a part-time basis in the fall.
In the room next to the main general store floor, Mr. Harden said he hopes to put display coolers. "Even those I am trying to make look like antiques."
Mr. Harden has bought some antiques for the store, including purchasing back the original counters that were in the store. "A lot of the shelving and some of the fixtures were left in the building," Mr. Harden said. There are no plans to put a soda fountain in the store, but he has thought about it.
Mr. Harden said he has come across old newspapers while renovating the building, including a copy of the Boston Globe published on the day of the lunar landing, and that he has found some old movie posters from around the 1940s from a Gardner Theatre in the Wheeler home next door. "Nothing that is going to pay the mortgage though." he quipped.
Mr. Harden learned about the Wheeler Brothers property while living in Lowell with his wife, Stephanie. At the time they were living in a house built in the 1880s, which he had done renovations on.
"I was looking for some investment property and was not having much luck finding something I liked," Mr. Harden said. One day, while reading the Boston Globe, he saw an auction notice for the Wheeler Brothers' building in Hubbardston. He visited the auction Web site and took a tour of the building. "It was the kind of project I always wanted to do, so I decided to go for it. My wife was excited about it too. It was her idea to reopen the general store." The original general store was closed in 1968.
The Hardens purchased the property in 2002; Mr. Harden began working on the building full-time three years ago. The property, which includes the store building as well as a house next door, were purchased for a little more than $100,000. He estimates that so far he has put several hundred thousand dollars' worth of renovations into the building as well, not including labor, much of which he has done alone.
Mr. Harden works as an independent contractor, specializing in renovation and construction.
The part of the building closest to the road was built sometime between 1820 and 1825, and gradually expanded. Mr. Harden said the facade of the store and the large windows were installed in the 1900s; he believes the building itself was fully renovated at that time and it was never done again.
"The interior of the store looks like the early 1900s," he said. "I want to try to maintain that look as much as I can."
The house next to the general store building was originally owned by the Wheelers. "The Wheelers bought the home in 1909. It was built by Abijah Clark in the 1820s. The room in front was the first barbershop in town. In the 1930s, that room was wired for electricity as was one other room; other than that, the house has never been modernized. There is no indoor plumbing, there are cast-iron sinks with hand pumps in the kitchen, no heating, electrical or phone system." Mr. Harden said.
He hopes to renovate that building as well, and make it into an antiques co-op.
The Hardens have two children, born since they came to Hubbardston. Eleanor, 5, starts kindergarten at the Center School this year and her sister, Ruth, is a year old. His wife, Stephanie, is executive director of the North Central Charter Essential School in Fitchburg.
CUTLINE: Renovations continue on the Wheeler Brothers store in Hubbardston Center.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/RICK CINCLAIR