Charles Dexter served in the Union Army in central Missouri during the Civil War. After the war, he worked for the Internal Revenue Service in small central Missouri towns, including Sedalia. While doing this, he became affiliated with a bookstore as he advanced money to a friend who was in the book and stationery business. He eventually took over the management of the business.
The 1882 History of Pettis County does not name the friend but does provide some information upon which an educated guess as to the friend’s name can be made. The 1882 History identifies John Walde as the operator of a bookstore in 1866. Dexter was in the bookstore business in 1868, according to Becky Imhauser’s “All Around Downtown,” and it is possible Walde was the friend Dexter helped. The 1870 census identifies Dexter as a bookseller.
In 1872, the Democrat reported Dexter maintained a “post office stand” on Ohio but that he quit this to concentrate on his book business.
Dexter’s first store was located on Main Street. In 1874, Dexter built a two-story building at 207 S. Ohio Ave. to house a second store. The building, according to photographs from the 19th century, had a recessed central entry flanked by large storefront windows on the first story and four segmental-arched windows.
In 1880, Dexter combined his two stores in one store in a new building he had built at 109-111 E. Second St. An early photograph of the building shows a wide building with two recessed entrances flanked by storefront windows on the first story and seven segmental-arched windows on the second story. The top of the building is accented with decorative brickwork.
Dexter’s Book Store carried a wide range of goods; an advertisement for the store carried by the Sedalia Democrat in August 1872 lists books and school textbooks as well as books of business forms such as invoices, and blank books, letter books, railroad time books, miscellaneous books, and deed forms and legal blanks. The store also sold artists’ and engineering materials such as various rulers, compasses, American Pencil Company products, and specialized papers. The store sold artworks including pictures, oil paintings, and chromolithographs, and picture frames. The store carried a large stock of wallpapers and papering supplies. In addition, Dexter’s sold organs, pianos, and music.
During the 19th century, students were expected to purchase their books; the school board selected the books students used. Dexter’s Book Store sold textbooks, a situation that could have caused a conflict of interest when he agreed in 1898 to serve on the school board.
Dexter, who went by his military title of captain, remained interested in military matters. In 1886, he was elected second vice-president of the Sedalia Light Guards, a military company in Sedalia. The various military companies in Sedalia formed the basis for what would later become the Missouri National Guard. In 1898, Dexter was involved in raising money for a fund for Companies D and I, 2nd Regular Military Volunteers, a company of soldiers stationed at Chickamauga.
Charles Dexter was described by the Democrat as being “as popular as he is well-known.”