This month, we are going to look at some recent donations to our Historical Society Archives.
As always, we plead with people to never throw out old newspaper clippings, business records, photos and family documents. So often these things fill in a missing part of our local history and are just what we were looking for!
Our item this week is a small bit of memorabilia from a business that was an integral part of Hartsville for a half-century but is now gone – Oettel’s Jewelry Store.
A little background first.
Mr. Albert Oettel was born a long way from Trousdale County: he was from Wisconsin!
In fact, it took a war to get him to the sunny South!
As America mobilized for World War II, a young Al Oettel enlisted in the United States Army. He took his basic training in California and Oklahoma. Then like so many young men in 1942, he was sent to Middle Tennessee to take part in “the maneuvers.”
The maneuvers were a very large training exercise that involved a dozen Middle Tennessee counties, including Trousdale! As young soldiers hiked, camped, learned to drive tanks and cross rivers in pontoon boats and even parachuted into local fields and farms, they also met local beauties and fell in love.
So it was that Al Oettle met and fell in love with Athalene Mai Carter. She was from Smith County originally and was working at the munitions plant in Old Hickory when they met.
After the war, which included Al’s being in the Battle of the Bulge and the taking of Ludendorf Bridge, the couple married.
Al and Athalene moved to Kansas City, where he attended the Kansas City School of Watchmaking. He also studied jewelry repair.
In 1947 Mr. and Mrs. Oettle moved to Hartsville, where Al opened up Oettle’s Jewelry, offering the latest in watches and jewelry, including wedding rings.
Most people will remember Oettel’s in its location on Broadway. For a few years it was in the downstairs of the old skating rink building and after a fire in 1984, it moved to its last location on Main Street just down from the Post Office.
Al and Athalene’s daughter, Connie, joined her father in the business, first as a helper then as a partner, and then she ran it herself after his retirement.
In 1982, Connie wrote a history of the store for The Vidette recounting how things had changed over the years. In 1945, you could buy a nice diamond ring for $500. Gold was worth $37 an ounce. And people would charge their purchases and pay their bills when their tobacco sold!
Connie recalled the funny things that men would say when trying to pick out the perfect ring for their girlfriends.
She also told the story about a man who bought his wife a diamond Bulova watch for Christmas. Around the same time, a young man bought one for his mother. And then right before the holiday, a lady came in and picked out and paid for a diamond Bulova for herself because she was sure her husband wouldn’t buy her one and she knew what she wanted for Christmas.
It turned out that all three watches were for the same person!
Refunds were made and the watches sold to other people in time for Santa, but the Oettel family got a laugh out of that shopping spree!
Which reminds us of the item we received for our archives and museum.
It is a small item, folded and colorful, with “My Wish List” on the front. Unfolded, as you see in this week’s picture, it says, “All I want for” and here the person fills in the blank with a holiday or birthday, then the word “is” followed by another blank and finished with “and I saw it at 106 West Main St., Hartsville.” At the bottom, in large letters is “Oettel’s Jewelry.”
These were handed out to potential customers, who could fill them out and lay them about the house for a spouse or parent or sweetheart to see.
Sounds like clever merchandising to me!
Today, we can go online and see if a person has a wish list at Walmart or Amazon. Al and Connie Oettel were ahead of the game there!
The competition of big-name stores and the allure of shopping at a big-city mall drove a lot of Hartsville stores into closing. Sadly, Oettel’s Jewelry was one of them.
We miss the small-town charm of shopping with your neighbors, walking from store to store during the holidays and the smiles and friendly hellos from people like Al Oettel and Connie. But their memory lingers on, thanks to this donation to our Historical Society.