Louise “Pete” Clarke, the owner of a popular antiques store who fought to maintain the quaintness of her hometown, died in her sleep Dec. 6 at the Upper Falls farm where she lived by herself. The cause of death was undetermined. She was 94.
The daughter of Frank R. Hammond, a real estate entrepreneur, and Madeline Bennett Hammond, a homemaker, grew up an only child in Upper Falls. Her father wanted a son, but instead gave his daughter the nickname “Pete” as a sort of consolation.
Mrs. Clarke was close to her father and generations of extended family who grew up in their small rural town.
She left Upper Falls only to attend college, first at Washington College and later Ohio State, where she earned a master’s degree in social work. She married Albert Clarke, who was a Baltimore native, but owned a construction company in her hometown.
“I never really thought of living anywhere else,” she said in a 2000 Baltimore Sun story about the town. “I went away to college and to graduate school, but I just like the simplicity you find here. I like the country. And it really hasn’t changed that much.”
She worked short stints as an administrator for the Girl Scouts and as a marriage counselor. She also ran a store with a cousin. But she wanted to go out on her own and opened Pete’s Pickins in the 1950s.
The store was wildly popular in the early days, said her daughter, Ledley “L.B.” Boyce. Dealers would come from as far away as Texas and other states to fill their trucks with goods from her store. Mrs. Clarke had a knack for finding rare antiques, her daughter said. She once sold a Victorian-style horse-drawn hearse.
“The more unusual and quirky the better,” Mrs. Boyce said.
While the antiques business isn’t as robust as it once was, the store was still a popular place for people from the region to come, Mrs. Boyce said.
When she wasn’t running her shop, Mrs. Clarke was active around town. She along with other residents helped push for renovations of The Historic Jerusalem Mill Village in nearby Kingsville after it sat vacant for 25 years. Once used for grinding grain, it is now an historical attraction and event space, including offering blacksmith demonstrations. Mrs. Clarke was also on the board of the Helping Hands Food Pantry in Upper Falls.
Mrs. Clarke had a giving heart, those who knew her said.
When her church hosted dinner theater productions, Mrs. Clarke would let them use items, such as pictures for the walls, from the antique shop.
“She would say, ‘take what you want,’” said Judy Jones, family ministries coordinator at Salem United Methodist Church in Upper Falls. “If I ever needed anything she would help me.”
Upper Falls is known for being rustic and close-knit. The town has been able to fend off major development in part because it is not part of the public water and sewer system. Mrs. Clarke was outspoken about preserving and protecting the small-town nature of the place she called home.
“The community was very special to her because not only did we live there, but all her family lived there and had for generations,” Mrs. Boyce said. “She had very deep roots that went back for generations and she just had no desire to leave.”
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Mrs. Clarke recently came up with the idea of doing a living history of Upper Falls. With the help of people from the community and her church, Salem United Methodist Church, several longtime residents were interviewed about their life living in the town. The film was shown at a night of remembrance held at the church in June of 2016.
“That was all her idea,” Ms. Jones said. “She did not want those stories to be forgotten. Pete was a beautiful soul and servant. She was the backbone of the Upper Falls and Kingsville community.”
The weekend before she died, Mrs. Clarke held her annual Christmas open house at Pete’s Pickins. Like she did every year, Mrs. Clarke served holiday cookies and egg nog, and a bluegrass band played. Mrs. Boyce said her mother thrived on interacting with others. People of all ages were drawn to her, Mrs. Boyce said.
“She would spend the time and talk to anyone,” she said.
A memorial service will be held on Wednesday at 2 p.m. at the Salem United Methodist Church, 7901 Bradshaw Road in Upper Falls. In lieu of flowers the family suggests donations be made to Salem United Methodist Church.