Presented by the Historical Society of Easton
A detailed look at the history of Halzack’s Country Store.
How many of today’s readers recognize the name “Tammany Corners”? I’d bet not very many, and probably because the area of Easton that bore that name did so for a relatively short span of time during the first half of the twentieth century. But it was during this time when that small area of Easton evolved into what many residents in the latter part of the century considered to be the center of the town.
It was 1780 when Daniel and Abigale Jackson purchased 65 acres of land and soon after built a house at what is now 439 Sport Hill Road. The farm they created would stay in the family until 1945. The north-south roadway that ran through their property would become known as the Jackson Highway, bearing that name until the middle years of the early twentieth century when the town officially changed the name to Sport Hill Road.
In 1907, Charles B. Tammany, a dealer in groceries and milk from Westchester County in New York, moved to Easton and into the old Jackson home after he married Sarah C. Galloway, the two-times great-grand daughter of Daniel and Abigale Jackson. Tammany soon opened a feed and grain business across the road. Within just a few years Tammany became well known enough in Easton to get elected to the State Legislature.
By the early 1920’s, the entire area had become known as “Tammany Corners”, likely more a result of Charles Tammany’s stint with the State Legislature than his moderate success as a feed and grain dealer. It was during this era that the area would begin to see a great change. While Tammany’s old feed and grain store remained in its original location for many years, the building was eventually sold and then moved to Bibbins Road where it has been restored and still stands today.
It was in the early 1880’s when Albert Van Wert moved to Easton and purchased the property to the south on the eastern side of the road across from the old Jackson homestead. He soon built a blacksmith shop on the property which he ran until he was well into his 70’s.
George Halzack was born in Bayerovch, Czechoslovakia on January 1, 1894. He emigrated to the United States in 1910 at the age of 16. On June 6, 1913, he joined the Army. While stationed at the DC. Navy Yard during WWI, George trained to become a butcher, an occupation that he would later employ to build the business he would establish in Easton after the war. Upon his discharge from the service on November 23, 1918, George returned to Bridgeport. There he met Easton native Julia Kochiss who had also found employment in the city. George married Julia on July 12, 1919. During their first years of marriage, George was employed by the Union Metallic Cartridge Company and the couple took up residence at 559 Ogden Street in Bridgeport’s North End, a neighborhood dominated by Czech immigrants and just a short walk from where George worked at UMC.
But George Halzack was eager to use his skills as a butcher and strike out on his own. It was in 1923 when the young entrepreneur struck a deal with the aging Albert Van Wert to purchase the land that held the older man’s blacksmith shop. The Hakzack’s took title to the property on September 20th of that year. There, George would open a new grocery store. Julia was happy to return to her native Easton where her parents and some of her siblings still resided. Easton would be a friendly and familiar place to raise their two young sons.
Prior to the 1920’s, stores that primarily sold groceries were usually located in cities and towns where the residents didn’t tend their own livestock or grow the majority of their own foodstuffs. Most country stores sold only a limited amount of food related items – largely spices, sugar, molasses, flour, and the like. But those stores also sold cloth, utensils, farm tools, and feed and grain for raising poultry. George and Julia Halzack’s new venture would be much more akin to the type of grocery store found in the city.
In the beginning, the couple and their two boys lived above the store. When the house directly to the south became available, they purchased it on October 17, 1925, shortly before their third son was born. Coops were built where Julia then raised chickens, some of which made their way onto George’s chopping block and then onto the dinner plates of their customers.
The early 1920’s was the beginning of the transition from farming to suburban living in Easton. The automobile was finally taking hold thanks to Henry Ford’s Model T. The T sold for only $825 when it was introduced in 1908. Ford’s initial T model was about a third the price of most automobiles that came before it. In 1913 it became the first automobile to be produced on a moving assembly line and that process along with Ford’s foresight to control manufacturing and distribution from raw materials to the finished product allowed the base runabout machine to be sold for as little as $260 by the mid-1920’s. By 1920, over 70% of the automobiles registered in Easton bore the Ford nameplate. Local farmers could finally afford to join the growing population of automobile owners.
With more automobiles came the need for more fueling stations. While most older country stores had but a single gasoline pump that sat either on their porch or alongside of their front door, George and Julia Halzack’s new store had a dedicated island with one kerosene and two gasoline pumps that wouldn’t be blocked by a horse and wagon tethered to the front stoop. That, in addition to the store being located near the intersection of two state-maintained highways – Center Road and Sport Hill, meant that Halzack’s was poised to sell a fair amount of gasoline. When the first buses ran from Bridgeport to Easton and Halzack’s became a main stop, business further increased as wives would sometimes drop off their husbands so the men could catch the bus to work in the city. George and Julia soon began selling more cigarettes and newspapers to commuters, and their inventory was altered to fit the needs of those new customers.
By the mid-1920’s, electric lines had been stung along much of Sport Hill Road. This allowed George Halzack to install a large, walk-in cooler in his family’s new store. It was large enough to hold a full side of beef that the experienced butcher could carve up and sell to his customers. There would have been very few electric refrigerators in Easton during that time, so George was kept busy cutting fresh meat for his customers that they could take home and cook for dinner that evening. That service was something that most other local country stores were unable to provide prior to the middle years Great Depression when most rural areas finally became electrified. Like all real, old-time butcher shops of the era, the rear of the store contained a large wooden chopping block, and the wooden floor was covered with sawdust to soak up the renderings produced when the meats were cut and trimmed.
Ice cream had long been a favorite treat during the summer months. Prior to widespread household refrigeration units, it had traditionally been produced at home using a hand cranked container of cream immersed in a mixture of salt and ice and then eaten before it would melt. In the 1920’s and 1930’s most commercially produced ice cream was consumed in restaurants and other establishments where the product could be kept cold until it was eaten.
Halzack’s was somewhat unique to Easton since they had the ability to keep their perishable products either cold or frozen. Having that advantage over other local country stores, George and Julia added a “soda fountain” to their establishment where they could serve fresh ice cream in addition to cold milk shakes and malts. Other than the two Blue Bird summer-only roadside stands, Halzack’s was likely the only place in Easton where those much-desired cold treats could be had and consumed on a year-round basis.
Unlike today, when most small country grocers sell mostly milk, eggs, bread, and a few canned goods, almost all those items would have taken up little space in the Halzack’s store prior to the mid-1950’s. Milk, cream, butter & eggs were usually delivered to the home by the milkman – usually a congenial fellow who either left the products on your doorstep or who walked into the kitchen and deposited them directly into your refrigerator. Bread was most often baked in the home and seldom purchased at the store. Many vegetables were still being cooked and canned (mason jars) for preservation at home until after WWII. For most, frugality in farming communities such as Easton was still more important than convenience.
Through the years, the awnings over the store’s west facing windows were changed as they faded and the ultraviolet light from the sun’s rays weakened the fabric. The wording along the edges changed to match the products that sold best as time wore on. Words like “Feed & Grain” that would have adorned the first awnings, were replaced with “Ice Cream & Soda.” As supermarkets gained in popularity in the late 1950’s, “Groceries & Meats” were switched to “Cigarettes & Cigars.” The Halzack’s changed with the times and thus continued to flourish when others failed.
Small grocers such as George & Julia Halzack offered free delivery of just about anything they carried. Most of the women in Easton didn’t have paying jobs outside of the home during the early years of George and Julia’s store, and almost none had daily access to the lone family car when their husbands were at work. While George made those deliveries, Julia would mind the store.
In the days before credit cards, small business owners like the Halzack’s would allow regular customers to run a tab and then pay their bills at the end of the month. Like most businesses of the day, in addition to the familiar cash register, there would be a daily journal where the proprietors would record those transactions their customers made on credit.
As the couple’s three boys grew older, they too would work at the store, often sweeping the floors, stocking the shelves, or dispensing gasoline or kerosene out at the pumps.
Halzack’s Country Store would become a virtual Easton landmark as it served several generations as a place to buy groceries, milk, newspapers, cigarettes, and gasoline for nearly the next 70 years.
Son’s Peter and George Jr. would eventually return to help their parents run the business. Some of the current residents who purchased candy at the store fondly remember the brothers allowing them to run a tab just as their parents had done for years.
After the passing of their parents, the brothers continued to run the store well into the 1990’s. After George Jr. retired and sold the property, it was eventually remodeled, but continued to operate as a convenience store and gas station after being reincarnated as the Easton Village Store. The EVS, as it soon became to be known, specialized in quick grab and go breakfasts, and later, in daily homemade soups at lunchtime. It fit a different set of needs for a different clientele than the Halzack family had serviced while they were in business.
This week was its final week of daily operation as the Easton Village Store. Enlarged and completely remodeled again just a few years ago, the gasoline pumps were removed this past winter. Exactly where the nearly 100-year-old store goes from here is still to be determined, but its days as a daily retail grocery enterprise where the good folks of Easton can stop by to pick up a cup of coffee and a bagel are likely over. At least for now. Perhaps its next reincarnation will serve to fill a more relevant need to a new and different set of customers. We wish whoever takes over the property well.
It was May of 1924 when the three-year old Easton Volunteer Fire Company voted to buy a 50-foot by 323-foot parcel of land on the eastern side of Sport Hill Road from Charles B. Tammany. In October of 1925, Treasurer Joseph Slady signed the note for the $4,000 mortgage on the newly constructed firehouse. It was soon after when the new firehouse replaced the old Osborn Hall – the room over the Ruman Brother’s Store (today’s Greiser’s) – as the town’s new de facto social center. When both Center and Banks Roads were reconfigured in the mid-1930’s, a .4-acre plot of triangular land was formed directly across from the firehouse and the volunteer company voted in 1937 to pay the Tammany family $3,000 to purchase it. That small plot of land then became the company’s permanent Carnival Grounds. In 1941, the company paid Sarah Tammany an additional $2,000 to purchase the 1.5-acre plot that now houses the newer firehouse on the southwest corner of Sport Hill Road and Center. The original firehouse still stands and serves as the home to the EMS. A new home is in the works for the EMS, and hopefully, the old firehouse will see an extended life if the town decides to repurpose it for another use.
Sometime in the late 1920’s another building was constructed between the Firehouse and Halzack’s. In 1930, Andrew Miller Madsen, a Danish immigrant blacksmith turned auto mechanic lived upstairs and likely repaired automobiles below. Over the years, that building would house many businesses, among them, a plumbing and electrical business. It was torn down in the latter years of the 20th century.
It was in the mid-1920’s when Benjamin Silverman was able to purchase the land just to the north of the old Jackson homestead. This is same property where his descendants still operate their thriving family farm business today. When Silverman’s Farm began its long history, it contained a cider mill where its industrious founder would press his apples for nearly 60 years. Ben built his house at 451 Sport Hill Road in 1928 and soon he and his wife Rose began selling home baked bread and canned preserves along with Ben’s cider and apple harvest from a roadside stand he built just north of the family home. Much expanded, Silverman’s operation now occupies both sides of Sport Hill Road.
Together with the old Firehouse and the original Halzack store building, these structures all represent an important part of the past hundred years of Easton’s most recent history. Hopefully, they will survive in one form or another to represent an important part of the next 100 years as well.
A special thank you goes out to Diane Rowland who provided some of the Halzack family photos along with a great deal of the information about the Halzack’s Country Store for this article.