The general store sold a little bit of everything that might be needed by residents of frontier communities, including groceries, clothing, cloth and sewing notions, shoes and boots, saddles, bridles, and other livestock equipment, farm equipment and hardware. As a community became more settled, individual stores specializing in one type of merchandise opened, offering a wider range of goods to a more sophisticated clientele.
One of the most important businesses in the burgeoning communities was the hardware store, which dealt in items used in the kitchen, the workshop, and the farm. The building trades depended on the items sold in hardware stores.
The typical hardware store of the mid-19th century manufactured many of the metal items it sold, including buckets, stove pipes, cookie cutters, pie pans, cake pans, pillboxes, candle holders, basins, and sconces (the polished fluted plates that sat behind kerosene lamps and reflected light into the room). As these products came to be manufactured in eastern factories and became available at wholesale shops, hardware stores marketed these items as well as other necessary hardware items.
The 1882 History of Pettis County describes Georgetown, a village approximately 6 miles north of Sedalia that served as the county seat of Pettis County prior to the Civil War, as “a flourishing trading place in the antebellum days.” One of the stores in Georgetown was a hardware store and tinshop owned by partners Elias Bixby and John Houx.
When the railroad came through Sedalia in the early 1860s, many of the stores in Georgetown moved their stock to Sedalia. Bixby or Houx came to Sedalia in 1862 with the exodus from Georgetown.
Elias Bixby was born in 1825 in Ohio, where he learned tinsmithing from his father. He came to Missouri in 1847, settling in St. Louis and opening a tinshop. In 1849, he married Sarah Parvey, with whom he had three children prior to her death in 1856. In 1858, he married Ellen Duncan, who died in 1876.
Bixby was an active member of the Oddfellows fraternal order and helped to establish the first lodge in Sedalia.
Bixby moved his business from St. Louis to Boonville and then to Georgetown. In 1856, he began a partnership with John Houx, who had been trained as a tinsmith when he was a youth.
Houx’s parents came from Maryland and settled in Boonville, where John was born. In 1853, he married Miss Anderson of Boonville, who died in 1855. He then married Sarah Heard, a young woman from Georgetown. The couple had four children, Edward, Frederick, Nora, and Vest.
Houx was a long-time member of the Masonic lodge.
Bixby and Houx were among the first merchants in Sedalia. The 1882 History describes Sedalia in late 1864 and early 1865, three years after they came to Sedalia, as having “no mills, no manufactories, no schools, no churches,” and a business district approximately two and a half blocks along both sides of Main Street where a “few business houses” including Bixby and Houx were located along the dirt street.
Bixby and Houx built up a fine business and were considered “one of the most prosperous businesses in Sedalia.” The men had a good reputation for the quality of their goods and services, as well as the quality of their characters.