Wednesday, October 16, 2019

J. P. Keeth: A Story of Grit

J. P. Keeth store in Plain Dealing on South Cotton Belt St. c. 1906.
Bryce Turnley Collection: 1997.062.105.
James Pleasant Keeth, born Oct. 30, 1854, was a natural-born businessman. He began working at the age of 10 as a mail carrier from Collinsburg to Shreveport, a distance of about 26 miles. Then at the age of 14, J. P. Keeth began clerking for Bill Marks on the Red River near Collinsburg. Keeth wisely saved his money and entered the Fillmore Academy, where he remained until he ran out of funds to pay for his education. During that time, Bossier Parish did not have public schools and only those that could afford to pay received a formal education.

After J. P. Keeth ran out of money for school, he left Fillmore Academy and began working as a clerk for Sentell & Nattin, a mercantile store in the Collinsburg area. By the time Plain Dealing was chartered in 1890, J. P. Keeth was already an established merchant in the area. He owned a general mercantile store in downtown Plain Dealing. Over the years, his store was in four different buildings.

The first two J. P. Keeth storehouses were located on East Cotton Belt, but they were both destroyed by fire. The first fire occurred on Dec. 19, 1902, destroying eleven of the principal businesses of Plain Dealing, which was almost all the business portion of the town. The storehouse was valued at $800 and was filled with $8,000 worth of inventory, of which $2,000 worth was saved. Insurance covered only $2,950 of the loss, leaving the company with a $3,850 loss on its books.

The second fire happened on May 22, 1906, and again destroying a large portion of the business section of the town. This fire was believed to have been started by robbers that robbed the Kelly Bros. store and then set fire to it. This time J. P. Keeth had $5,000 in inventory that was destroyed, and the value of the storehouse was $1,000. Again, insurance covered a small part of the loss paying $2,000 and leaving the company with a $4,000 loss.

The third location of the J. P. Keeth merchandise store was located on the west side of the railroad tracks. The building was said to be Plain Dealing’s first hotel and had a sign outside of the building that read “Hotel and Feed Stable.” This location was not ideal as it often flooded, leaving the store surrounded by water.
The J. P. Keeth store in Plain Dealing. The building was built 1888 and housed the first hotel in Plain Dealing. This picture was taken in 1906 and the flooding shown here in the downtown area was a common occurrence until 1961 when the three dams were constructed. Bryce Turnley Collection: 1997.062.013.
On Nov. 7, 1907, it was announced in The Bossier Banner that “Mr. J. P. Keeth has contracted with Mr. John Hill for the erection of an eighty foot brick store just in the rear of the one just finished for Mr. S. H. Cochran. The store will face on Palmetto Avenue. Verily our little town is putting on city airs.” In 1908 he moved into its fourth location, where he continued to serve the community as one of its leading merchants.
J. P. Keeth store, c. 1910s, in Plain Dealing located on the southwest corner of S. Lynch Street and E. Palmetto Ave. (Left to Right) Ben Keeth, J. P. Keeth, Johnnie Nuckolls, and T. Benton Bixler.  Bryce Turnley Collection: 1997.062.102.
Keeth ran an ad in The Bossier Banner on July 26, 1917, to announce the expansion of his mercantile business. According to this advertisement, J. P. Keeth now had three stores and one warehouse. He was currently leasing “the two Purcell Brick Stores, just across the street and next to the Plain Dealing Bank, and have opened their doors to the thrifty buying public. The old stand will be devoted to the display of my mammoth stock of Dry Goods, Shoes, Hats, Notions, etc. In one of the new stores my customers will find a full stock of Groceries and Feed Stuffs, and in the other Furniture.”

Less than a month later, J. P. Keeth died suddenly on Aug. 14, 1917, at his home shortly after his evening meal. His nephew, James Benjamin Keeth, succeeded him in the family business and J. P. Keeth’s mercantile store began operating under the name of J. P. Keeth Estate Store. In 1919 the Grocery and Furniture stores were sold to a new firm, Harrison, Purcell & Company.

On Jan. 8, 1920, an announcement in The Bossier Banner that the J.P. Keeth Estate Store was reorganized and began operating “under the name of The Keeth Company, with Mr. C. R. Keeth of Hosston, as President; Mr. J. B. Keeth, of Plain Dealing, Vice-president and Manager, and Mrs. Mollie S. Keeth, of Plain Dealing, Secretary and Treasurer.”

The exact year that the Keeth mercantile company closed is not clear. However, according to James B. Keeth in his book Benjamin Franklin Keeth: A Family History, “the store lost money, and it was eventually sold to the bank.”

To learn more about the Keeth family or Plain Dealing history, visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center, 2206 Beckett St., Bossier City.

By: Amy Robertson

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