By Carol Mowdy Bond
Sitting for over 120 years on the southeast corner of Main and 5th Streets, the Bass Building, 456 and 458 West Main Street, sprang to life in 1898. Bass family descendants and brothers George and Fenton Ramey have lived their entire lives in Yukon, and have their law offices in the Bass Building.
Turner Funeral Home, which is now Ingram, Smith and Turner Mortuary, 201 E. Main, actually began on the Bass Building’s top floor!
The Bass family’s history goes back to England when Samuel Bass, a relative of John Alden who came over on the Mayflower, arrived in the New World in 1630, initially living in Roxbury, then Quincy, Massachusetts.
Several generations later, Josiah Quincy Bass served in the Ohio infantry during the Civil War. A postmaster, and an Ohio legislator, Josiah operated a general store in Mulberry, Ohio.
Josiah’s sons Harry and George arrived in Yukon around 1895, and set up a mercantile store with their dad’s help.
In 1995, George Bass’s grandson Fenton Ramey said, “My grandfather [George Bass] always told me that his father [Josiah Bass], who was a merchant in Mulberry, put him and his older brother Harry in a boxcar with a $25 racehorse and sent them to Oklahoma to make the land run. George was 16 and Harry was 18 or 19. When they got down here they didn’t make a land run. They drew for property in a lottery, but they didn’t draw anything.”
J.W. Walker’s Saloon sat on the southeast corner of Main and 5th streets, and then the building became Townley Confectionery. The Bass brothers razed the building, and built their new store on the location.
George Bass’s grandson George Ramey said, “The white building, which Bass’s store first occupied, was moved out into the street and they continued to conduct business in this building, in the street, while their new brick building was being built.”
With the Bass Building completed in 1898, Harry and George began their Bass Brothers Grocery and Dry Goods, which became known as Bass Mercantile Company. Bass Mercantile was incorporated in Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory, prior to Oklahoma’s 1907 statehood.
The Bass brothers sold pretty much everything you can think of including dry goods, farm machinery, furniture, clothing, corsets, buggies, stoves, corn planters, a hog cholera cure, and wind mills. And still today, George Ramey’s childhood memories include sitting next to the store’s heating system, which was a pot belly stove in the middle of the store. For a cooling system, there were ceiling fans, several of which may still be seen on part of the ceiling.
At one point, George bought Harry’s share of the business, when Harry moved to Oklahoma City to start a furniture store that involved auctions.
George married Emma Sanger in 1901, and their three daughters were: Eunice Bass Asbill (born 1902), Ruth Bass Luder (born 1904), and Wenona Bass Ramey (born 1906). All three attended and graduated from Yukon schools. Then all three studied at Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.
Besides his mercantile store, George was one of Yukon’s first volunteer firemen. Emma performed at Spencer’s Opera House as a pianist. Prior to meeting George, she was a teacher at Springcreek School near Piedmont.
George realized he was living in a vibrant and mushrooming Czech community. So he learned some of the Czech language, especially since many of the first generation Czech wives never learned English.
Besides the brick-and-mortar store, George often loaded up his wagon with goods and headed out into the countryside to sell. When people didn’t have the money to pay, he just bartered, or carried the accounts until they hit better times. He also made regular trips into the area, buying eggs and butter from local farmers.
In 1995, Wenona, who began working in the family store at age 14, said “I’ve never worked anywhere else. My father received permission from the superintendant of Yukon Schools to let me out of school at about 11 a.m. and then I’d go to work. Many a night I would work until about 11 p.m. keeping the books of the Bass Store.”
A ramp was constructed from the ground to the building’s second floor. Furniture was moved up and down that ramp. And the building still has a cellar.
John Turner worked for Bass mercantile, and he was the only embalmer in town for awhile. He embalmed bodies on the building’s second floor, until he established his own business elsewhere, Turner Funeral Home.
Also, a midwife had an office on the building’s second floor, as did a men’s benevolence group.
The Corner Drug Store was located in the northwest corner of the Bass Building. Besides the normal drug store type wares and prescriptions, they also had a popular fountain where locals enjoyed ice cream, sodas, and sandwiches.
Wenona’s husband, Hardin Ramey, was a sign painter. He painted all the signs in the Bass Store. Wenona turned the mercantile into a department store, selling anything customers might need including sewing supplies. She later turned the store into a dress shop.
Wenona and Hardin’s sons, Fenton and George, are both former judges, and both now have their law offices in the Bass Building. Fenton’s law degree is from the University of Oklahoma. George earned his at Tulsa University. Both are married with families.
The Bass Building, which still has its original wood floors and front door, as well as the original brick interior walls, is a beautiful monument to the past that links to the present.
These days, George Ramey likes to tell jokes.
“Over and out.” “I’ll see ya when I see ya.” That’s how George ends his phone conversations.