Note: This article was written and previously posted before the Mitchell’s closed their hardware store in early 2020.
In the O’Shaughnessy Chronicles, Mitchell Hardware is the inspiration for Mason’s Hardware. These award-winning books are available through Amazon, the publisher Little Creek Press, Barnes and Noble and more. You can also download a sample chapters from this website today.
“He looked into Mason’s Hardware. Might as well buy those bolts. Will liked Bob Mason. He liked to shoot the breeze and talk village gossip with him. Everyone liked Bob.” – Giddyap Tin Lizzie.
In downtown Mineral Point, Wisconsin is a business that’s anchored the 200 block of High Street for over an astounding 106 years. And it’s been run that whole time by the same family.
Customers entering Mitchell True Value Hardware are still greeted by a wooden counter backed by a long, high pegboard hung thick with hand tools. In adjacent aisles, you can buy from its third-generation owners everything from a new toilet to nuts and bolts, paint, camping gear, and small kitchen appliances.
Mitchell Hardware is fictionalized as Mason’s Hardware
Mitchell Hardware is the inspiration, in my O’Shaughnessy Chronicles novels, for Mason’s Hardware. It is much more, to me, than just a place to buy penny nails and fishing tackle. The fictional character Bob Mason is based on real-life, long-time Mitchell Hardware owner Bob Mitchell. I met Bob and his Bohemian wife, Ruth, in 1949, at age eleven, when my sister, mother, and I moved to Mineral Point.
Bob and Ruth, the store’s second-generation owners, were also our across-the-street neighbors on the city’s south side. Our working-class neighborhood was populated by lots of Italians and other first-and-second-generation American immigrants. The Mitchells, then, had two little girls. Eventually they would have eleven children.
Today, Mike Mitchell, the oldest of seven boys, and his brothers Bill and Mark, run the hardware store. They also have a flooring business downtown.
Starting in 1910
Bob’s father, Clarence, began selling batteries and electrical wiring supplies out of this storefront on High Street in 1910. Clarence dropped the very first pin-and-knob electrical wiring into homes all over Mineral Point. You might still find some of his wiring work in very old local homes.
Eventually, the business grew into a general hardware store run first by Clarence and his wife Isabell.
Bob, who graduated from Mineral Point High School in 1937, became the hardware store’s owner after Clarence’s death in 1949. He and Ruth had been married the previous year. Isabell continued to live above what is now the flooring store and helped keep the books.
Mike, Bill, and Mark took over the business in 1978.
Isabell died in 1987 at age 97. In her later years, Bob took exceptional care of her, Mike recalls.
“Dad was fiercely loyal to his mother and she was fiercely loyal to him.”
Mike’s memories of his parents, grandparents, and his involvement in the store, back to stocking shelves as a kid, are nostalgic and hilarious.
His father, Mike recalls, was “incredibly funny” and a wicked prankster. Yet, he was friends with most everyone and knew how to sooth ruffled customers and how to appease those ruffled by being the butt of his jokes.
“A guy could come into the store and be so mad, and by the time he left it would all be resolved,” Mike recalls. Bob “never lost a customer,” even when he did things like posting a sign declaring, in jest, that only one Italian was allowed in the store at a time.
“He gave the Italians such a hard time,” Mike recalls with a grin.
“Quite simply the best man that I ever knew…”
Bob died in 2011, at the age of 91. Ruth passed away soon afterward, at age 84.
But Bob still commands a presence. A handwritten sign of his still hangs at the top of the store’s steep basement staircase, reminding employees to “turn out the damn lights.”
His desk still sits near the front window in a far aisle, looking out onto High Street. Faded, decades-old photos of friends and family, and other memorabilia, are still thumbtacked above and around it, a visual reminder of the passage of years.
“We’ve had a wonderful run of things here,” Mike says.
He goes on, quipping in a darkly humorous manner that his father would appreciate. “I was going to come back and help for a few years. That was 45 years ago.”
At his father’s funeral, Mike eulogized Bob Mitchell as “quite simply the best man that I ever knew,” who succeeding in convincing each of his children that they were his favorite.
Today, Mike and I retain a special connection, forged by our parents’ longtime friendship and deepened by a tragedy that occurred when our families were neighbors.
In the early 1950s, the Mitchells were one of the first families in Mineral Point to own a television set. Bob and Ruth invited me to come and watch it. What a treat! I couldn’t see anything but snow across the screen much of the time, but it was the most entertaining snow I’d ever seen. I sat in a trance watching Lucy, Desi, Gleason, Carney…
In 1952, a few months before Mike was born, his 1-year-old sister, Mary Clarice, died after being hit by a truck on the street outside their house. My mother, who was present that terrible day and had frequently babysat for Mary Clarice and her older sister, Martha, later wrote a poem about her death.
Fifty-eight years later, in 2010, Mike read that poem at my mother’s funeral.
When you spend your life running a century-old business in small-town Wisconsin, with hard work tempered by humor and a deep love of family and community, those are the kinds of forever ties you form.
I am honored to have been able to fictionalize Mitchell Hardware in my novels about early twentieth-century life in Iowa County, Wisconsin.
Mitchell Hardware is, absolutely, one of my favorite places.
Please enjoy this photo album of Mitchell Hardware and Mitchell family memories.
Mitchell Hardware is the inspiration, in my O’Shaughnessy Chronicles novels, for Mason’s Hardware. These award-winning books are available through Amazon, the publisher Little Creek Press, and many local bookstores. You can also download a sample chapters from this website today.