By Carol Mowdy Bond
Built in 1904 by the Irish twins, and known as “Yukon’s Big Store,” the Mulvey Mercantile Company, 425 W. Main Street, rapidly expanded, eventually including half the buildings on the north side of Main Street. Contributing greatly to the growth of Yukon, the business was the largest retailer in Yukon until the 1930s. Some claim it was the largest retailer in Oklahoma.
When the Spencer brothers – Augustus Newton “A.N.” and Lewis Mortimer “L.M.” – founded Yukon in 1891, they didn’t waste time. They and others constructed buildings at a rapid pace, including those still on today’s Main Street. Just looking at a few buildings, on the north side of the main strip of W. Main alone, is amazing.
L.M. Spencer built 459 W. Main in 1891, as the first brick business building. The building at 451 W. Main existed as early as 1894 as a grocery store. By 1904 it was a saloon. Today co-owners Sue Leach and her daughter Angie McPherson have their business The Arrangement at that location.
Horizontal metal strips are down near the concrete sidewalk on the front exterior of both 451 and 455 1/2 W. Main. Lost Time Antiques is now located at 455 1/2. The wording on the strips says: “NS Sherman MCH’Y Co Oklahoma City, O.T.” This wording is the mark of the NS Sherman Machinery Company. In 1899, it was located at 26 E. Main in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Territory, as a home enterprise foundry and machine work business that included iron and brass castings. They also promoted their “high grade bicycles.”
Orphaned early, the Mulvey twins arrived in Oklahoma Territory as teens, and began farming. But in 1893, they moved to Yukon, only two years after the Spencer brothers founded the prairie settlement. The twins invested in a small grocery store on the south side of Main Street, and paid rent there.
The Mulvey twins opened a building at 439 W. Main Street in 1898, predating their building at 425 W. Main that is known today as their Mulvey building.
A lot has changed since the Spencer brothers created their small village on the prairie.
Today Spencer Avenue is officially Main Street. And it’s obvious that a plethora of families, and their extended family members, too many to name, were interconnected, and invested themselves in businesses on Main Street and in Yukon.
But the Grand Dame of architecture on Main Street remains the Mulvey Mercantile at 425 W. Main. Of the entire building, only 425 W. Main Street is on the U.S. National Registry of Historic Places. And sadly that part of the building sits empty and is under foreclosure.
As smaller businesses on the street lost steam, Odie and Mike expanded their line by buying them out through 1909. For example, from 1903 to 1920, 429 W. Main was part of Mulvey Mercantile. At that time, Mulvey’s extended from the east end of the Mulvey building (which is 419 W. Main) all the way to today’s Horseshoe Bar at 445 W. Main. Today, MainStreet MarketPlace is located at 429 W. Main, and is owned by Kim Stuart. But her store actually comprises three street address numbers.
Today’s 419 W. Main has a tiny street entry door with the same turn-of-the-century white tile at your feet that the larger part of the Mulvey building at 425 W. Main Street has.
Betsey’s Boutique Shop now occupies that 419 address.
What everyone knows as the Mulvey building, plus 419 W. Main Street which is the business attached on the east, were built as one seamless building. And there is an interior fire door going from one to the other. There’s also an interior door going from 425 W. Main Street to one or two buildings immediately west of 425 W. Main. As well, original Mulvey Mercantile wording may be found in the interior of other buildings on the north side of Main.
McPherson said, “My mom was the third owner of 425 W. Main Street. When Marie Kirkegard died, it was passed down to her daughter, who sold it to my mom. You can see, in several of the buildings on Main Street, especially MainStreet MarketPlace and 425 W. Main Street, where there were interior arches that used to be open. Upstairs of 425, which is considered 427 W. Main Street, was an attorney’s office in the front. And they used to have Teen Town. They would have banquets up there and there was an old shuffleboard game on the floor with long benches along the wall.”
McPherson found written memories of Teen Town, which include those of a man who said, “One of the more fun things to do on a Friday night was to go to Teen Town. Teen Town was above Mulvey’s. I learned to square dance at Teen Town in 1948. The Jitterbug was the dance. You had to be 13 years old to join Teen Town.”
There are stories about the demise of Mulvey Mercantile. One says that in 1920 or 1923, the brothers sold out because Mike was in poor health. The other story says the onset of the Great Depression caused the business to downsize, then finally close its doors in the 1930s. Yet another says that the Great Depression caused Mulvey’s to go bankrupt. Or, perhaps all three stories hold a bit of the truth. As an oil wildcatter, Odie Mulvey later migrated to South Texas and Mexico.
When the Mulvey brothers left Yukon, a new era unfolded for local entrepreneurs. Apparently upon leaving, the Mulveys sold each department of their business separately. But stories vary as to who took part or all of the store, at what location, and when and how that happened.
Odie’s daughter Allie and her husband Albert Wheatley took over part of the store. Donelda Wheatley and her husband John moved to Yukon in the early 1960s. Donelda said John’s father worked in the Mulvey building. And the brothers of John’s father owned part or all of the Mulvey building at one time. Today Donelda and John’s son, attorney Matt Wheatley, has his law office in the Wheatley building, 501 W. Main Street. Yukon founder A.N. Spencer originally constructed the building in that location, establishing the Bank of Yukon in 1892.
A black and white rodeo parade photo, circa 1940s, clearly shows today’s 425 W. Main Street. The sign hanging in front of the building says “Frigidaire,” and above that word are two initials before the last name Wheatley. The first initial is the letter J. In that picture, to the right of the Wheatley business, there is a building with a large awning out front and a round clock up high above the awning. That was John Turner’s funeral home.
It’s possible that Odie or Mike was married to a Turner. And, she was possibly related to John Turner or others in the Turner family who worked for the Mulvey brothers. John Turner said his grandfather, also named John Turner, worked for the Yukon Mulvey store, and also ran their Piedmont store. Of his grandfather, Turner said, the Mulvey brothers “sent him to Kansas City to learn how to become an embalmer.” At one point, Turner said from 425 W. Main Street, going east, the businesses in order were George Basore’s hardware store, then the funeral home of Turner’s grandfather John Turner, then the flower shop of Turner’s mother Emma Turner, then the beauty shop of Turner’s grandmother Lena Turner (wife of John Turner who owned the funeral home), then a law office, and then Dunn’s Grocery. Baker Photo & Video, 401 W. Main Street, is now in the Dunn’s Grocery location. John Turner’s funeral home eventually moved east of Main Street’s original strip of shops, and evolved into today’s Ingram, Smith & Turner Mortuary, 201 East Main Street.
George Basore married Evelyn Graham, a clerk and bookkeeper at Wheatley Hardware. In 1953, the Basores purchased that hardware store. After eight years, they liquidated the hardware stock and left.
Odie and Mike Mulvey’s family members, from back east, moved into the area to work at the their stores. Mary Ann Mulvey Whelan’s husband was Thomas Whelan, and they were from West Virginia. Their children were Julia Whelan Hadley, Bertha Specht, James A. Edward, John Vincent Whelan Sr., and Lawrence. John Vincent Whelan Sr. came to Oklahoma in 1909, joining his brothers and one sister, to clerk in the Mulvey stores in Piedmont and Yukon.
John W. Pribyl was born in Czechoslovakia, and came to the U.S. with his parents in 1892, settling in Yukon. Pribyl worked for the Mulveys from 1898 to 1923. In 1932, he and his brother Edward founded the Pribyl Mercantile Company. And at some point, the brothers had a grocery store at 429 W. Main.
In 1955, Anton “Tony” Kirkegard bought the Mulvey building. A black and white photo shows Tony Kirkegard True Value Hardware, located at 425 W. Main Street. After his death in 1977, his wife Marie stopped working at Kirkegard’s. Sue Leach then purchased 425 W. Main, which she later sold.