About an hour from downtown St. Louis (on I-64 or I-44), just into Franklin County, is the little town of St. Albans. It’s the proverbial wide spot in the road, that the St. Louis gentry have refashioned into Mayberry, USA. The rolling hills, well-trimmed countryside, and horses romping behind white rail fences cause you to think you’ve somehow driven into Kentucky. Like Dorothy you might look at the landscape and say, “Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in
Kansas Missouri anymore! We must be over the rainbow!”
Recently my daughter, a friend and I ambled into St. Albans while looking for an address in the area. We pulled up in front of Head’s, the old general store that had been given an update with some spiffy paint, shutters and Adirondack chairs.
A Community Icon
From a quick Google search, I learned the place was named for the owners, who had the business for more than 60 years: Mae and Clyde “Biggie” Head. (Yep, that was his nickname.) In those days, St. Albans was barely on the map and rural land sold for $30 an acre. Try putting a bunch more zeroes on that today, if you’re thinking of re-locating.
Years ago the store served as a post office, local meeting place for politicians and farmers, and a watering hole for the passengers on the Rock Island train. Today it’s more of a cross between a general store and a city tea room. Flower boxes still line the outdoor windowsills and two, old gas pumps sit alongside new signs for Pappy’s Smokehouse and Starbucks coffee.
I was surprised to see that the menu featured such a variety of sandwiches, soups, and salads, some of them reminiscent of the offering at Annie Gunn’s in Chesterfield. Reason? Thom Sehnert owns both places.
Store with a Story
Later I learned more about St. Albans from a book on the town. Turns out, it’s one of the few remaining general stores in the St. Louis area. I found, too, that Frank Nuderscher, the famous Missouri artist did the original lettering on the building, undoubtedly during a time of unemployment. The Lewis and Clark Expedition stopped at St. Albans for supplies and Meriwether Lewis nearly lost his life when he slipped down a nearby bluff.
Records show that the old store was also a local meeting place. The Beer Drinkers’ Club, a group of 15-20 guys met monthly for libations and a lively discussion of local affairs. Members of the McKinley Club, a GOP group, gathered whenever candidates for office would set up a keg of beer. Farmers of the St. Albans Club often sat around the potbellied stove as they listened to the wisdom of the county farm agent or planned a road building project.
For years, the shelves of Head’s Store had a little bit of everything needed by residents: canned goods, pet food, work gloves, vegetables, meat, dairy products. Today the inventory is a bit more targeted to the tastes of its current residents, bikers, hikers and tourists. Despite the modern makeover, Head’s Store continues to run its own credit system. Today’s customers can make a purchase and put it on the tab, just like they would at the country club.