From a chair to a computer
Social networking looked a lot different when Jeanine Ding Kastner was growing up and her mother, Thelma Ding, was the owner and operator of the Edwards Store and Post Office.
For one thing, when people wanted to “network” they called it visiting and they didn’t need a cell phone or a computer. All they needed was a chair.
“We had a chair between the cash register and the post office,” said Kastner. “That chair was a large source communication between the community. People would catch up on the gossip and the local news through that chair. One day I asked my mother why we kept the chair cushion in the post office and she said ‘Oh that’s so people won’t stay there too long.’”
Stories like that are what made the Edwards Store such a beloved community institution. Many long-time locals have fond memories and close ties to the bygone institution and recent social networking of the 21st century type brought many of these folks together for a special gathering to reminisce.
It all started with a photo.
Today Kastner lives in Topeka, Kansas, and like millions of people she has a Facebook account. At some point she decided to post a 1962 picture of herself as a young girl, standing in front of the store. On the right side of the photo there is a blue Dodge pickup truck that belonged to Ellis Bearden, which is now on display at the Bearcat Stables in Cordillera. Vintage gas pumps, which provided the inspiration for the Edwards Gashouse restaurant name, can also be spotted.
“I started noticing that people were sharing that photo on their pages,” said Kastner. “So I started looking at Facebook and I found all these people I knew 50 years ago.”
After several months of Facebooking, the cadre of Edwards folks decided they needed some actual face time. “At the suggestion of Billy Cowden and Gary Hargrove, the group scheduled a reunion June 7. Appropriately enough, they got together at the Gashouse with the assistance of restaurant owner Andy Guy.
“We talked non-stop for three and a half hours. We had a great time,” said Kastner.
Kastner noted that her mother ran the Edwards Store and Post Office from 1957 to 1966 — a time of monumental change in Eagle County. With Vail’s creation in 1962, the valley changed forever.
“In my day, The Gashouse was a Conoco gas station and cafe owned by Chet and Wanda Ruminsi. I can remember Vail as a pastureland for sheep,” said Kastner.
She noted that the Edwards store history actually began decades before her mother took over the operation. According to Kastner, the store was actually built in 1929 by Clifford and Mary (Fenno) Thomas. The Thomas family were Beaver Creek pioneers. Through the decades, the Thomas and Eaton families would retain ownership of the land where the store sat but the commercial enterprise periodically changed hands. As a result families including the Brookses, Jacobses, Ruminiskis, Whiddens, Brocks and the Astins have a history with the place. Finally the Kemp company purchased the structure and sold plumbing supplies from the site. The building was eventually razed a few years back.
Beyond the people who actually operated the store, the site was important to the ranching families around Edwards.
“When I was a little girl at the store, I met many of the people who lived in the valley at that time,” said Kastner. “We lived upstairs in that building and we had many of the old-fashioned furnishings from the time of Mary (Fenno) Thomas. My mother started with only 35 post office boxes at the store in 1957. A few years ago, the Edwards Postmaster informed my mother that Edwards was hosting over 8,000 post office boxes.”
When the old Edwards crowd gathered last month, the crowd numbered 23 people. In addition to sharing their recollections of the Edwards Store, reunion go’ers has the opportunity to visit the historic Eaton home at the Eagle River Preserve. The house, the childhood home of Mike Eaton, was recently moved to a site just a quarter mile from the former store location.
Kastner said a common theme exists between the people who lived in Edwards in the old days.
“I think it is interesting how much Edwards changed over night with the advent of Vail – really, how much the world changed over night from the 1950’s to the 1960’s. At Edwards, I lived in a small, ranching, community where everyone knew everybody,” said Kastner. “I had not seen these people from the reunion in 50 years, yet I felt I was in the present of family.”