DUTCH MILLS -- More than 200 people attended festivities Saturday to celebrate the fact that R.L. Leach Store in Dutch Mills has been named to the National Register of Historic Places.
But many of the memories shared by those who grew up in Dutch Mills focused on the kindness and generosity of Ruth Leach, who owned and operated the grocery store for many years until the late 1960s.
Bobby Braly, executive director of Historic Cane Hill, opened the celebration by giving a history of the grocery store and a history of Dutch Mills. The rest of the time was listening to some live music in between stories about the grocery store and growing up in Dutch Mills.
Kenny Bailey said Mrs. Leach would open up the store early for children waiting on the school bus. In the winter, she had a fire going so the children would be warm.
"She took care of the Bailey boys," he said. "We mowed her yard and cut her brush. She would think of work we could do to earn some money. Times were pretty tough when we were growing up."
The R.L. Leach Store was a social gathering place, Bailey said. People would sit around and talk and children were always around listening.
"It was a good time growing up in Dutch Mills."
Phyllis Reid worked in the store and she became emotional as she shared about Mrs. Leach.
Reid worked on Saturdays and when Mrs. Leach paid her, she always included a bag of groceries.
"She always told everyone you have to eat ice cream and bologna sandwiches," Reid said. "At Christmas, she always would have a little gift at the tree at the church for all the kids. Her whole family was so good to me."
In honor of Mrs. Leach's generosity to provide ice cream and bologna sandwiches for the children, the celebration included free ice cream and sandwiches for everyone. People were lined up throughout most of the event to get the food in memory of Mrs. Leach.
Mrs. Leach was like a mother to many, said Hugh Bailey.
"If there was ever a saint, Ruth Leach was one," Hugh Bailey said.
He remembers going to her house every night to watch television because his family did not have one. His mother broke her leg, and Mrs. Leach cooked breakfast for the boys one morning.
Braly told the crowd that when talking to people about the store, the most common theme was the kindness of Mrs. Leach.
"Based on many stories, it's a wonder the store didn't go broke," Braly said. "She gave out a whole lot more than she sold."
Braly read a few notes he received from people who could not attend the celebration. One message said that Mrs. Leach made "every kid of every age" feel special. Another wrote that Mrs. Leach gave away countless ice cream cones and many times would fill a nickle bag of candy with 10 cents' worth of candy.
Braly said Historic Cane Hill was thrilled to be able to get the building on the National Register and promised to "take care of its legacy."
The Leach Grocery Store is actually two buildings put together. The original store was built in 1925, and Raymond and Ruth Leach bought the store in 1931 from Johnny and Mary Jane Sparks. In 1939, the Leaches bought the Sycamore Filling Station across the road and moved the filling station to join the two buildings together.
The grocery store also served as the post office and Mrs. Leach was the postmaster for 39 years. She retired in 1967 and the post office closed one year later in 1968. The store closed a few years after that.
The building fell into disrepair and people credit Dale McReynolds of Dutch Mills with saving the building. He purchased it and did just enough to keep it standing.
Historic Cane Hill acquired the building in 2013 and restored the grocery store so that today it looks much like it would have during the time when it was the center of activity for the community of Dutch Mills.
General News on 06/13/2018
Print Headline: Crowd Celebrates Historic Dutch Mills Grocery Store