Two, three storey buildings on the Main Street and almost facing one another were the tallest trading centres in the Town prior to the building of Mooneys. One was Stranaghans and the other the American House. The house was an emporium owned by the Stewarts and it stood on the site now occupied by the Ulster Bank. One man and his wife, Trusdales, worked there and they canbe seen, in the photo, in the rear seat of Willie Skillen's car. About 1924 the American House was cleared away and by 1926 the Town had a new Ulster Bank. This was also built on the corner from Native Granite by the Builders, Flynn and McNeill from Dundrum. The Stewarts who had lived in the American House, moved to the Oak Hall and were hardly settled in when both the parents died - Mrs Stewart on the 29th and her husband on the 30th March 1927, leaving two sons Bertie and John. Those men immediately sold the Oak Hall complete with Business to Henry McCracken and moved to Newcastle.
To minimize the waste of Assistant's time, the larger stores installed a network of fine steel wires suspended about a foot above head height. They all led to the office which was usually at the rear of the shop. When an article was sold at a distant counter the cash and docket were placed in a small round wooden container, called a shuttle, and hooked on one of the wires. The flick of a lever sent the shuttle skimming along to the office. The receipt was returned by the same method.
Willie Skillen started business, on his own account, in Castlewellan in 1907, having served five years non-paid apprenticeship and two years as an improver at half a crown a week, 25P. At the present address he sold and repaired watches, clocks and jewellery. In the course of his work the Watchmaker became skilled at making any required part and was so proud of his workmanship, would etch his name and date of the repairs he had carried out on any time piece.
It is noticable that in that period Watchmakers all turned their attention to the Bicycle Trade. It is thought that the reason for this was the way the bicycles came from the Bicycle Firms in those days. They came in small pieces, lengths of tubing with spokes and screws all to be cut to the required lengths and brazed up to form a frame.
When the wheels and all the other parts were assembled the whole lot had to be hand painted, and only somebody like Watchmakers had the knowhow to do all this.
Willie Skillen's business progressed with the times, from bicycles to motorcycles and then to motor car repairs. Soon Willie needed two or three Mechanics and employed two men from Murland's Mills, Hugh Dumigan from Annsborough and a man called Dick ("Yankee") Green from Ballybannon and Teddy McCartan from Ballylough. Those men also drove Skillen's taxi while Willie was working in the shop. When Jack and Ernie, Willie Skillen's two eldest sons, were old enough, they took over the Garage. Dumigan and McCartan bought a taxi each and stood on the Lower Square at the Hotel. Dick Green then went to America. Skillen's later employed Seamus Cardwell, from the Town, as an Apprentice Mechanic and when the war started both the Skillens and Cardwell went to work in an Aircraft Factory in Belfast and eventually settled there. This finished the car repairs, but Pat O'Hare and later Martin Burns, both from the Circular Road, worked at the cycles until Willie died in 1947 at which time that end of the business closed as well. Mrs Martha Skillen continued with the Jewellery Shop for a further 20 years and on her retirement handed over to her son George's wife,Mrs Iris Skillen, around 1967. This shop was owned by Dick Russell in 1906 and at that time was also a Watchmakers.
The modern Drapery on the Main Street belonging to Tom Bingham has seen many changes in it's lifetime. Tom has an old billhead which clearly states that this place Skillens w~s a Spirit Store in 1845 and as well
as being the birth place of Jim Wilson, the Auctioneer, was one of the leading Delph Shops in the country, owned by Thompson about the 1900s. Around about 1920 it became a Drapers run by three sisters McCartans who in turn sold it to Sam McConnell to remain the same with a side line selling the Belfast Telegraph and Newsletter. In 1951 it changed hands again and the new owner was John Truesdale who came from the Ballyward area, and had served his time in McCrackens in the Town. John operated there for twenty two years before selling in 1973 to a Newcastle man, Tom Bingham the present occupant.