Now that we have the cotton ginning taken care of, we will continue tracking the growth of Erna as a center and as I mentioned in an earlier article, Erna was the hub for travel from the Mason area, as a branch went to London, one branch went to a cut in the hill west-southwest of Erna to an intersection with a wagon road from London to Menard, one branch went up Leon creek and Muskhog bottom on to Hext and one branch went north-north east across to 10 Mile and on to Brady.
With all this wagon road access, it was only natural that retail markets sprang up with the J. A. Brewer Emporium being the first establishment to open for business, about 1900, being a store of staple goods. Then, with cotton becoming a commodity, it became necessary to have a gin to capitalize on the cotton industry, so Leon Gin and Milling Company came into existence, which was located on the southeast corner of the Frank Mogford property, whose daughter, Lela, married J. A. (Amos) Brewer.
Erna attracted the State Hwy. Dept so in approx, 1910, Highway 385 came to Erna, it being not much better than the wagon roads, as it generally followed the wagon roads thru the same bog holes and sand beds, but was a fenced ROW from Mason to Junction. However, the highway offered more advantages for business, so about 1910, Nath Johnson, whose wife was Carrie Mogford, opened for business in a wooden structure in the southeast corned of the gin lot, what was to become a package store with other items such as tins of sardines, crackers and red-rine cheese . Since Mason and Kimble Counties were DRY counties, Mr. Johnson had the traffic from both directions buying spirits of the day.
Mr. Johnson set up a picnic table, however, at that time, I guess it was only a table with benches attached outside at his back door. The gin employees would break for lunch and set at the table, being at the edge of the bale yard, along with those visiting and have maybe a brew along with a can of sardines and crackers. Of course, that became much like a barbershop, a gossip center. Mama usually made lunch for Dad and some of us would deliver to him. We had one individual in the community that was considered a sissy, as he always wore a large, floppy hat and long sleeved shirts with a canvas removable sleeve, much like a leggin. We live about a mile up the highway towards London and all had a view of the roadway. One day at lunch, someone looked up and saw someone coming with a bonnet on and he jumped up from the table and said ‘I just wish you would look at that. That is that damned Henry Stone with a bonnet on”. However, when the subject arrived, it was my Mama delivering lunch.
It seems that Mr. Frank Mogford was always a visitor at the lunch table and one day in the late fall, he was setting at the table and someone said, I believe I heard thunder. Of course everyone got quiet and another sound was heard, much like a muffled explosion. Then the third and it came from the direction Mr. Frank’s house. When he realized it was coming from his house, of course, he took off in a dead run. In those days, everyone used wood cook stoves and Alice, Frank’s wife, had a good fire in the cook stove so when Mr. Frank went to Johnson’s Table at lunch, he placed his home brew behind the stove to warn up and activate the yeast but it became too warm and started popping caps and after that third sound, he knew what the explosions were.
One day, Mama sent Cecil to the gin lot with lunch for Dad and as he got to the table, he placed the lunch in front of Dad and played on the bales of cotton in the bale yard. Of course, we all had dogs so when the lunch time was over, Cecil went to pick up the lunch bucket, his old dog got up to go and Mr. Frank said “Gad boy, you better start feeding your dog. She sure is poor”. Of course, Cecil had a come back and said “ I guess you’d be poor too if you wus suckling seven pups”. Mr. Frank jumped up and took off stating “Anybody ought to know better than talk with a kid”.
Around 1926, Mr Johnson expanded his business by building a dance hall at his back door. By this time, ice was available so all could have cold beer and enjoy Kookies soda water, which was bottled in Mason. Mr. Johnson’s life suddenly came to a halt during a robbery attempt on him in the summer of 1936. He was able to get the door closed, keeping the robbers out, but they shot thru door, hitting him in the stomach. He was found and taken to the Brady Hospital where we lived about two weeks. The killers were a father-son team from Lubbock, named Lamb, and they were apprehended and sentenced to prison. Nath’s son, James, operated the store and hall till about 1945 at which time, it was closed down for good and James went back to livestock-farming locally. The old store is nothing but a pile of rubble now and the hall is still standing but no sound of fiddle music resonates from the remains.
This was not the end of the growth of Erna, as about 1944, suspecting there would be a large number of thirsty soldiers returning from WW 2, Dee Gamel built a beer joint in the ROW of what is now the end of Tri County Road. The building was about 8 feet wide and 12 feet long. A huge operation for Erna and it lasted till the end of “45. It seems that the returnees were not as thirsty as first believed. This was almost the end of Erna and everyone thought that it was, however, it lives on.