History of the Cooke City Store
Marking its 100th year of general merchandising on March 27, 1986, the Cooke City Store was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The property was judged to be worthy of preservation because it retains excellent historic architectural integrity and is highly unusual as an intact, historically appearing and functioning small town mercantile.
The ground on which the Cooke City Store was built was originally part of the "Cache of Ore Millsite," owned by George A. Huston, the earliest known prospector in the region. By the spring of 1886, John Savage and John Elder had purchased the site and were hauling milled lumber from the lower elevations around Cooke City to begin construction of their store. By the late 1880's Savage and Elder's was providing supplies for the community and area miners, but also had competition from Bause and French's mercantile store.
During the late 1880's the population in Cooke City varied from as many as 1,000 to as few as twenty people. By the summer of 1889, Savage and Elder had sold their store to William Nichols and Hiram Chittenden for $800. Nichols and Chittenden paid an additional $250 to Joe Keeney to prevent the estate and heirs of George Huston from claiming any ownership of the old millsite. After overextending themselves to their wholesalers, Nichols and Chittenden relinquished the store in 1893 to George L. Carey for creditors in trust. A few days later the property was transferred to the Livingston National Bank by court order, which stipulated that William Bause be the receiver of "all property of the firm of Nichols & Chittenden, including the stock of general merchandise contained in Nichols and Chittenden's store building, as well as about 30 cords of wood standing on the adjoining west lot."
Cooke City experienced slow growth in the early 1890's and in the summer of 1893 when the national mining economy suffered a major depression the store began to be used exclusively for storage. On November 14, 1895, the court authorized the sale of the store to Sophia Wetzstein for $600. She and her husband owned other property in Cooke City and were involved in the wholesale liquor business in Livingston. A boost in mining operations in 1905 occasioned by the introduction of more efficient means of ore processing improved the local economy, and several mining companies reopened their properties. One of these firms, the Cooke City Smelter, which began operating under the direction of George Allison, leased the Wetzstein's Cooke City Store in 1906 for $300 a year for use as a general store. Allison began an extensive remodeling of the building , and in the spring and summer of 1907, the renamed Cooke City Smelter was in serious financial difficulty. The store began selling goods at cost and for cash only, and when Allison's lease expired in July of 1908, Nels and Elizabeth Soderholm bought the store for $3,000 with $500 as a down payment, and $500 per year for five years at six percent interest. After relinquishing the property, Allison began constructing a new store, financed from the sheriffs sale of the Cooke City Smelter, directly across the street from the Cooke City Store. By the fall of 1908 the Allison Mercantile Company had opened with furnishing and fixtures from the Cooke City Store which Allison had removed for his new building.
Store History continued on the next page ...