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A Fond Farewell To Kirk’s Hardware

It just breaks my heart that we’ve lost Kirk’s Hardware. I’ve always considered it, Smith’s Jewelers, the Uptown Cafe and Syd’s, the four pillars of downtown Noblesville because they’re the four oldest businesses on the courthouse square.

While it’s hard to imagine the square without any one of them, it’s especially difficult to process Kirk’s absence. Hardware has been sold at that location ever since George and Thomas Griffin opened Griffin Bros. hardware store in the brand new Lacy Block in January of 1889.

I believe the Griffin Bros. store lasted until sometime around 1911, but I can’t provide an exact date because we have no Noblesville newspapers from 1910 to 1912.

My guess is, Thomas Griffin’s death at the end of 1911 and George Griffin’s term as county auditor (he served from 1910 through 1913) prompted George to sell the business sometime during that period because in 1913 the Noblesville Daily Ledger reported that E. E. Polk had sold the store to a company composed of George Griffin, Chris Howell and Griffin’s son, Will.

George Griffin died two years later, leaving Will Griffin, who later went by William or W. C. Griffin, and Chris (C. W.) Howell to manage the Griffin Hardware Company.

In 1920, Griffin Hardware took over the room next door to the east to add furniture to the store’s inventory. That lasted less than three years, however, then they went back to focusing solely on hardware as “W. C. Griffin Hardware.”

Howell resigned his position in the firm in 1931, but returned to buy the store in 1934. For the next seven years it was “Howell’s Hardware,” then in 1941, Walter Sharpe purchased it from Howell’s estate and it became “Sharpe Hardware.”

Roy Kirk bought the business in 1954 and renamed it “Kirk’s Hardware” the following year.

Kirk later partnered with electrician Robert Daubenspeck and David Kingsolver, who’d worked at Kirk’s since 1957, but the store remained Kirk’s Hardware for the rest of its existence.

Kingsolver eventually bought out Kirk and Daubenspeck. He and his wife, Jane, owned Kirk’s until David’s death in 1994. At that time Jane became the sole owner.

In 2002, Jane Kingsolver sold the business to the store’s longtime manager Bill Prater, making Prater and his wife, Carrie, the last owners of Kirk’s Hardware.

I paid one final visit to Kirk’s the day they closed.

As always, the minute I crossed the threshold, it felt like I’d gone through a time portal to the days when the Sears catalog store was next door and Alexander’s was Chew’s grocery. I don’t think much, if anything, has changed in Kirk’s in all those years.

The big rolling ladders used to retrieve items from the high shelves were still there, as was the decorative tin ceiling that burglars dropped through in 1981. (According to Bill Prater, the brazen thieves used the store’s own tools to break into the safe!)

I threaded my way past jam-packed shelves and other nostalgic visitors to reach the back of the store for one last look at the old anvil that sat near the work area where Prater fixed countless screens and lamps.

My tour wound up at the register overlooked by several framed historical photos of the town square.

Carrie Prater was there helping a customer and when she finished, I asked her what was going to become of the store.

She said that hasn’t been determined yet, but she assured me the owner of the building wants to keep the store’s historical character intact.

That’s some consolation. Still, I completely understood when one customer jokingly asked, “Where am I going to get my whatchamacallits and thingamabobs now?”

Where indeed?

Kirk’s will certainly be missed.

Thanks to Nancy Massey for her research help.

– Paula Dunn’s From Time to Thyme column appears on Wednesdays in The Times. Contact her at younggardenerfriend@gmail.com