Friday, February 02, 2007

Charlie Knight's Store

by David Parmer

When you think of the olden days of Orlando one of the first businesses you think of, if not Mike Moran, is Charlie Knight. The Charlie Knight Store was perhaps the leading general merchandise store in Orlando from around 1920 to around 1950. The store was situated well along the Baltimore & Ohio rail line, and close to the Coal and Coke rail tracks and opposite at a catty corner from the Union Depot. And situated as it were out of the flood plain, the store was free from the chronically flooding Oil Creek.

If there were a true “downtown” spot in Orlando , it would have to be the Charlie Knight Store. As is set forth in the Jan 31 entry, The Store That Became Charley Knight's the site of the store covered over half a century in the mercantile trade. But this portion of the story is devoted to the affable and well liked Charlie Knight.

Photo above was taken not long before Charlie took over the store. On porch, l-r, Bill Foster, Nathan Parmer, George Ed Bennett. In front, l-r, Coy "Frank" Henline, Charlie Skinner, Erse "Pid" Henline, E. R. "Heater" Henline.

Charlie Knight was not an Orlando native but hailed from the Centralia area, near Sutton. A railroader in his youth, Charlie suffered the loss of a leg in a railroad accident. Thus disqualified from further railroading Charlie sought another occupation.

Perhaps Charlie was familiar with Orlando from his railroading days and maybe some of the many Orlando residents who were railroaders, but in any event Charlie came to Orlando around 1921 when he bought the interest of Edna Foster, the previous owner of the store.

The Charlie Knight Store was the typical dry goods and general merchandise store common throughout West Virginia in the early part of the 20th century. Charlie’s step-granddaughter, Betty Daffron tells us that the store sold groceries, hardware, cloth, guns and ammunition, and all sorts of household goods. She also recalls an array of ladies high top buttoned shoes in the upstairs of the store building when she would visit her grandmother and Charlie in the 1940s. Betty also recalls chicks which were stocked in the back of the store.

Dale Barnett recalls that Charlie often spoke of his former home on “Poplar Ridge”, near Centralia. Dale also recalls Charlie speaking with a touch of brogue when he spoke fast or excitedly. Dale notioned that he thought perhaps Charlie’s mother or father may have been from Scotland or Ireland, hence the brogue.

Charlie married Mary (Knight) Corder. Apparently Charlie had known Mary previously since her maiden name was also Knight. Mary was married previously to the late Charles Corder of Lumberport and had three children, Dorothy, who married Blaine Gay, Kathryn who was an invalid, and a son Parker Corder. Charlie and Mary lived in the former Rush Hotel building located beside the Catholic Church. It has been said, but we don’t know how true it is, that when Mary would become upset with Charlie, she would hide his wooden leg. Of course, this tale might have been started by Uncle Zeke in his Buzzardtown News as a joke, and took on a life of its own.

Click oh the photo of Charlie in the auto to enlarge it. His wife, the former Mary (Knight) Corder of Lumberport is to the left.

The Charlie Knight Store provided some young people in Orlando with their first jobs. Paul Bennett, son of Dave and Maysell Bennett, tells us that he worked for Charlie when he was 16 or 17 years old, as did his twin sister Pauline. Because of his handicap Charlie needed someone to climb ladders for goods on the top shelves, to carry heavy loads, or to do the things he could not do. Betty Daffron, Charlie’s step granddaughter, recalls that when she visited in the summer she sometimes was asked to take a customer’s horse to water in Oil Creek. Charlie was very accommodating to his customers.

Helen Jeffries recalls one day on a visit to the store that two young Stutler brothers, got into a fight in the store, and one brother ended up taking a water dipper down from display and pounded his brother on the head with it. No one was hurt.

Those who remember the Charlie Knight Store may recall that there was a barbershop in one end of the building. In the latter days of the store, the need of a barber had ceased to exist and the barber shop sat empty for years.

After World War II, business had declined and Charlie’s health was in decline as well. Charlie is recalled by Helen Jeffries as being a kind hearted person who would never turn a customer away even though he knew he would never be paid. Charlie decided to leave the store business around the late 1940s and turned the business over to his stepdaughter Dorothy (Corder) Gay and her husband Blaine Gay and went to work for the West Virginia State Road Commission in Weston for a few years. Charlie lived in a rented house on the Goosepen Road while he worked for the State. Don Gray, son of Dorothy Corder Gay, recalls living above the store during the historic snowfall of 1951.

John Gray poses on the front porch of Charlie Knight's store in the mid '50s, shortly before Oras Stutler took it down.

Note: The baskets made by Burt Blake were purchased at Clarkie Knight's store. See entry for January '07 Burt Blake – The Basket Man

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