About a month ago I wrote about the little crossroad community of Hart, in northwestern McDonald County, and its namesake, Phillip Rinehart (1833-1891).

About a month ago I wrote about the little crossroad community of Hart, in northwestern McDonald County, and its namesake, Phillip Rinehart (1833-1891).
If you missed that column, Hart gets is name from the last four letters of Rinehart's name. He was the first postmaster there. Hart sits at the corner of State Highway 43 and B Highway. It's not at all far from where I grew up in Beeman Hollow.
I had mentioned the old store building at Hart, which I believe is a residence now, but has been various businesses in the past. Not long after I wrote that column, James Lankford called to tell me the name of that store, at one point in its history at least, was Needham Grocery. It may have had other names as well. The store was still open for business at least as late as 1976 and perhaps into the 1980s.
Mr. Lankford also told me that during Southwest Missouri's strawberry boom there was a strawberry field just a bit to the northeast of Hart. During the harvest season the store there would send sandwiches and drinks down to to the pickers every day around lunchtime and, according to Mr. Lankford, the hungry and thirsty workers could pay in paper chits, which the store accepted.
In case you don't know, strawberry chits, and also tokens, were issued as payment to the pickers, who could redeem them for cash at a local participating bank. It was the banks who issued the tokens and, presumably, chits to the growers, who then used them to pay the workers. My understanding of the system's purpose was so the grower didn't have to keep a lot of cash on hand, and thus cut down on potential theft and robbery.
The US Treasury Department ultimately frowned (to put it nicely) on tokens because they were a little too close to actual currency, and the cardboard chits were used afterward. The workers were typically paid by the quantity of berries harvested, and the tokens and chits reflected denominations of so many quarts, trays, and crates. From what I've seen, the tokens had the name of the bank stamped on them, but the chits the name of the grower. I assume the chits were still issued by the banks to the individual growers, though.
The store at Hart would accept the tokens and chits as payment for food and drink, as well as other goods and groceries, Mr. Lankford told me, and then redeem them. I bet a lot of little country stores around here did the same.
The bygone strawberry industry is an interesting part of our local history. In fact, Anderson, in McDonald County, was for a time known as "the strawberry capital of the world" and had its own brand. And then, of course, in eastern Newton County we have what was once the tiny community of Aroma – as in the Aroma strawberry variety – at the intersection of what today is H Highway and Mulberry Road. Strawberries were shipped out of Neosho and Anderson and other area places by the trainload.
The Newton County Historical Museum, at 121 N. Washington St., in Neosho has a display devoted to that story, with some original strawberry tokens and chits for you to see. I encourage you to stop by.
Incidentally, I once asked one old-time grower, the late Ned Neff, what happened to the strawberry industry? Why did it decline? His answer was that the the seasonal labor pool dried up for various reasons, one of which was the burgeoning poultry industry. I'm sure there were other contributing factors as well, but Mr. Neff was in that business in the twilight of its day and that was what he told me, at least.
At any rate, stop by the Newton County Museum sometime and check out those tokens and chits. I appreciate Mr. Lankford for sharing that bit of history regarding the old Needham Grocery at Hart.

Wes Franklin writes a column for the Daily News.