Major Dundee’s 1890’s Mercantile Store

By: qwerty53

Jun 22 2009

Category: Uncategorized

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Ron Holly is a self-admitted man of visions and most of his visions revolve around the potential of our town of Helena, AL.

Born in Birmingham, he spent the early part of his youth in Minnesota, where his father was from, before returning to the south in 1955 and settling in Shelby County in 1974.

‘The Civil War began early at our house,” he says, “as Mother and I represented the Rebel cause, being southern by birth. My brother and two sisters were born in Yankee territory.”

For thirty-three and one-half years, to be exact, Ron worked as a yard switchman for the L&N Railroad. During twenty years concurrent with this day job, he was also a sheriff’s department volunteer.

As part of this effort, he conducted clinics teaching gun use and safety to the public. Not surprising then, is his persona during Civil War re-enactments, Private Ron Holly, a member of the artillery unit in charge of shooting the canons.

In 1994, he was one of ten original members of the Alabama Rangers, an affiliate of SASS—Single Action Shooting Society. His mother, Aneita Holly, aka Ma Dundee, was issued honorary Badge #1. Today’s members, dressed in cowboy attire, still meet at nearby sites such as Brierfield Ironworks Historical State Park and Steel City to target shoot with authentic or reproduction guns.

Ron and wife, Peggy, who will celebrate their 40th anniversary this fall, have continuing personas as Major Dundee and Sweet Scarlett at these events. Indeed, Major Dundee may be the only name some newcomers know for Ron during his latest incarnation at the Old Town Caboose/Chamber of Commerce where he daily greets visitors and provides local information to tourists.

In 1998 he came to Helena to “live the American Dream” — that of owning his own business. Called Major Dundee’s 1890’s Mercantile, it was housed in today’s Big Mountain Coffee location. Promoted as ‘1890’s shopping with 1990’s style,’ the store merchandised western goods, Civil War attire, including hand-sewn period women’s gowns, and accessories, such as hats, boots, blankets, ponchos and pocket watches with the flavor of the era. Ron’s mother spent happy times in her last years dressed in bustled hoop skirts assisting and charming customers.

During his time as an Old Town ‘Proprietor’ he implemented Old Helena Wild West Trade Days, a festival that populated Second Avenue with booths from local businesses and artisans and strolling costumed characters. Bank robberies and shoot-outs were staged with the children being deputized to help capture the ‘bad guys.’

During the emporium’s grand opening in November, 1998, a large ‘Wanted’ advertisement sought an audience for the appearance of James Dunham, Quick Draw and Fancy Gun Handler. Dunham, a nationally known frontier historian, has since appeared in several episodes of the ‘Tales of The Gun’ series on the History Channel.

In 2000, you could find Major Dundee on the porch of the store in his director’s chair, smoking his cigar and waving at passing cars. Later hours would find him gathered at the poker table in the rear of the stores with an assortment of other ‘cowboy’ regulars. Major Dundee’s once sponsored a 24-hour poker tournament and also a treasure hunt to bring visitors and commerce to Old Town, in its heyday back in 2000.

Ron Holly’s vision was, and is, to see Old Town become a destination, reflecting the charm of its innate historical heritage. An integral part of the Buck Creek Festival Committee since its inception, Ron brings a sincere spirit of small-town volunteerism and a wealth of event experience to his appointment as director of Helena Farmer’s Market Days.


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