George Washington Pinkham and Elvira Melissa Flannagan welcomed their first child into the world on March 17, 1843 and named him Charles Hubert Pinkham. He was born in Port Huron, Michigan, where the St. Clair River flows to the great Lake Huron. George was a shoemaker and owner of George W. Pinkham & Company in downtown Port Huron. Charles and his siblings who grew beyond infancy were raised in a mercantile environment. Thus, Charles developed skills to operate a business at an early age.
In 1866, at the age of 23, Charles moved to Peoria, Illinois and there he met Luella White. Luella and Charles were married in Peoria on May 31, 1867. Their son, Charles Almon Pinkham, was born in Peoria in 1868. The young family migrated to Rock Bluff Township in Cass County, Nebraska in 1870. When the town of South Bend was starting to develop as a result of The Burlington & Missouri River Railroad constructed a line from Plattsmouth to Lincoln, Charles seized the opportunity. In 1872, he opened a general store. That same year, he was appointed as Postmaster of South Bend and operated the post office out of a corner of the general store. Tragedy struck the young family when Luella died unexpectedly on August 25, 1872 in South Bend.
In 1873, Charles purchased the grain elevator in South Bend. Then he married Helen Claira Cooley on February 14, 1874 in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. While in South Bend, Charles and Helen would have their three sons: John, James Patterson, and Frank. There was some excitement in the store when in November 1880, the store safe was blown up and a considerable amount of money stolen. Charles continued to operate the general story and remained post master. In 1879, a wagon bridge was built across the Platte River connecting South Bend with Sarpy County, which made the general store more convenient for those on the north side of the river. However, an ice jam and fire damaged the bridge in 1881 and it was abandoned. That same year, Charles sold the grain elevator, general store, and completed his term as Postmaster. This may have occurred because of the bridge and the Great Flood of 1881, which swelled the Platte River and flooded several towns. By 1885, the family lived across the Platte River in Springfield, Nebraska where Charles was working as a grain dealer. They moved to Lincoln, Nebraska around 1887. Their daughter, Hubertine C., was born in Nebraska in 1888.
The Pinkham’s left Nebraska arriving in Abilene, Kansas in 1888. Charles and his brother George owned a dry goods store named The Rescue, which was located at 318 N. Broadway (currently occupied by Hairtiques). In July 1890, The Rescue moved to a refitted storefront at 312 N. Broadway Street (current the north half of The Other Jones). Charles bought out George’s share of the business around 1894. George moved from Solomon, Kansas to Guthrie, Oklahoma shortly thereafter. Around 1896, the business was renamed C. H. Pinkham’s and moved to the northeast corner of the post office block (now addressed 311 NW. 3rd and occupied by John Purvis, Attorney). The post office block was a 3-story brick building at the southeast corner of 3rd and Cedar Streets. Charles’ son, John was going to business school and planned on work in his dad’s business. John, James, and Frank all worked in the business at different times.
In the mid-1890’s, Charles became involved with a number of fraternal and civic organizations. He was a member of the Crescent Council No. 10 of the F.A.A., the Knight of Pythias, the Commercial Club (now the Abilene Area Chamber of Commerce), and the Abilene Chess Club. Helen was active in the community and was a member of The Ladies’ Aid Society. In October 1898, the Pinkham’s purchased the house at 502 NW. 6th Street. John Pinkham worked in the post office in Cleveland, Ohio when he grew weak from consumption and could no longer work. He returned to Abilene and died at the family home on November 8, 1900.
In June 1901, Charles purchased the stock of the Benefit Store and consolidated it with Pinkham’s. The store remained at the 311 NW. 3rd Street location until the beginning of 1902, when the post office did not extend Charles’ lease and a closing out sale was held. By March, Charles secured the space at 209 N. Cedar Street just south of the post office’s Cedar Street entrance (now occupied by Xpressions Salon). This would be the last move the store would make for the next 86 years. In Aug 1904, Charles improved the showroom by adding a double decker platform to display a larger stock and the room received new wallpaper. On September 1, 1909, Charles took possession of the post office block from S. A. Cooper for $10,000. He promptly remodeled the building with a new steel ceiling, a new staircase to Central Kansas Business College, and a boiler for heat. This allowed them to double the size of their suit department. One of the notable items of the business was the large cabinet cash register, which was purchased in April of 1912.
Charles’ son, Frank, had taken an interest in the retail business and after high school moved to St. Louis, Missouri to work for a wholesale dry goods house in 1899. A couple years later he worked for a similar company in St. Joseph, Missouri. By 1904, he returned to Abilene and took a position with his father’s business as a manager and buyer. Frank was living with his parents at 502 NW. 6th Street. He married Lucile “Lucy” Gertrude Hart at the St. Andrew’s Catholic Church in Abilene on September 26, 1911. Lucy was the first woman to work at Pinkham’s in 1904. The new couple purchased the home at 514 N. Cedar Street and would have four children: Dorothy Mary and Doris A. (twins, b. 1912), Helen (b. 1913, who died in infancy), and Charles P. (b. 1917).
In 1913, parcel post was introduced at the Abilene Post Office and Pickham’s sent one of the first packages. It weighed the limit of 11 lbs, cost 25 cents in postage and insurance, and was delivered to J. W. Rumold, who lived 9 miles from Abilene. At the same time the new post office at 3rd and Buckeye was being built and since it was not complete the post office renewed their lease from Pinkham.
The post office moved to the new facility at 3rd and Buckeye Avenue in 1914 leaving the space to the north of Pinkham’s vacant. It was announced later that year that Pinkham’s would expand into the space. This would allow them to put their cloak room on the main floor and expand their offerings.
Charles enjoyed cars and often went on long road trips. This was prior to paved roads and Charles had gotten stuck more than once. In 1907, Charles and Frank left Great Bend in his Ford Runabout and arrived in Solomon 2 hours after leaving. Then a storm hit and it took two hours to arrive in Abilene having gotten stuck in mud a number of times. Later that year, Charles traveled with Hubertine to Denver and followed that up with a two month visit to the old hometown of Port Huron, Michigan. Charles purchased a new car in 1913 and drove it to Abilene after picking it up in Kansas City.
The year 1913 also saw Charles’ health turn for the worse. In March 1914, he spent time in the Swedish Hospital in Topeka, Kansas and it was determined that he had stomach cancer. He returned home, but remained weak and Frank was handling all of the day to day business of the store. Charles died at 2:30 pm on Tuesday, February 9, 1915 at the family’s home at 502 NW. 6th Street. The family knew the end was near and all of his children were bedside when he passed. James traveled in from Hartman, Colorado; Charles from Holly, Colorado; and Hubertine from El Paso, Texas. His funeral was held at the home two days later and a large contingent accompanied the body to the Abilene Cemetery for burial.
After Charles’ death, Frank continued in the business until his death in 1954. At the time his wife, Lucy, and daughter Dorothy had management roles in the business and continued. After her father’s death, Doris returning from Redwood City, California to work at Pinkham’s. Lucy died in 1974 and the twin sisters operated the business until 1988, when it was closed after 100 years of continuous service to the community. The remaining assets of the business were auctioned in 1990, including the cabinet cash register which was topped with an ornate brass plate engraved with “C. H. Pinkham & Son”.