Abigail of Brown County | Brown County Folks Shops

Brown County Folks Shop

The Brown County Folks Shop was thought to be the oldest gift shop in town. It began in the Nashville House in 1931. At that time, the Nashville house was a hotel and had a little gift shop that needed a manager. Jack Rogers asked Portia Sperry if she would take the job. With some consternation regarding her selling abilities, she decided to take him up on it.

It was her idea to have locally made products to sell. She thought that the tourists from the city would want something different to buy. A myriad of items were sold there.

There was pottery made from mud in GnawBone Creek that became known as Brown County Pottery. There were local jams, home made candies, brown bread (by Emily Sperry, her daughter), weavings, brooms from Berea, Kentucky, baskets, buttons made from nuts, pipes made from corn cobs and sassafras, canes, bookends made from various woods, toy animals and tops for kids. Ralph Sperry made furniture including maple stools with chintz covers called a "step-up". Mr. Sperry also made doll furniture. During those early years, the Nancy Hanks doll was made by Portia but it did not sell as well as the Abigail doll that followed. The Abigail doll sold for $3.50 which was expensive for the time. Abigail was so successful that Portia was able to give $2000.00 back to the women who helped sew the doll in the first few months. The Abigail doll was sold there for 52 years. The Abigail book, published in 1938, was sold there with the doll.

After the first year, the shop made a profit for the first time ever. Jack Rogers made an offer to let them purchase the shop. In July 1934, Eleanor Roosevelt came to Nashville and visited the shop. She recognized the Abigail doll right away. It is unclear whether she bought an Abigail doll or a Nancy Hanks doll. It did make for an exciting day in small town Nashville, Indiana.

Portia Sperry and her husband ran the shop with the help of various grandchildren and their longest employee, May Monroe. Mrs. Monroe helped buy merchandise and always knew what would sell. She worked there for 42 years. In the 1960's the Sperry's daughter, Posey, bought the shop and then her daughter, Portia, took ownership.

In memory of Ralph Sperry, Portia had a brick fountain built in front of the shop. He had always wanted a place for people to be able to get a drink in town. After Portia died in 1967, her name was added to the fountain. The fountain can still be found in front of the old Brown County Folks Shop on Main Street. Their memory continues to be alive in the quaint town of Nashville in Brown County.