February Business History: Hotel Davenport

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A postcard shows the Hotel Davenport in Copenhagen in its heyday during the mid-to late 20th century.

A postcard shows the Hotel Davenport in Copenhagen in its heyday during the mid-to late 20th century.

Hotel Davenport played role in shaping Copenhagen

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E.H. Thompson Co., a ‘landmark’ store – January 2015 Business History

The staff of E.H. Thompson Store, Watertown, is ready to wait on customers during "Ketchup Week" in 1917. Each week, Thompson's featured one item to entice customers to shop. The previous week, the store had "magnificent oranges on sale for 25 cents." || Photo from "Images of America: Watertown" by Donna M. Dutton

The staff of E.H. Thompson Store, Watertown, is ready to wait on customers during “Ketchup Week” in 1917. Each week, Thompson’s featured one item to entice customers to shop. The previous week, the store had “magnificent oranges on sale for 25 cents.” || Photo from “Images of America: Watertown” by Donna M. Dutton

If Edward Hulbert Thompson had possessed better eyesight, the history of the grocery industry in Watertown would have been a completely different landscape.

Mr. Thompson, the founder of E. H. Thompson & Company, moved to Watertown in 1859 at the age of 23, after he had to abandon his first passion of portrait painting due to “defective eyesight,” according to a Watertown Daily Times article from February 1919. Once he got settled in the city, he entered into a partnership with J. B. Tyler that lasted seven years. Mr. Thompson had barely any money of his own to invest, starting into business with Mr. Tyler with only $1,200 of borrowed capital.

The partnership opened for business in October 1859, with Mr. Tyler’s feed business on one side of the building at 59 Washington Hall building, and Mr. Thompson’s grocery on the other, according to a Watertown Daily Times article from 1943. The original name of Mr. Thompson’s store was ‘The Sign of the Live Yankee,’ and his company became known as E. H. Thompson & Company.

During the initial years, the company did large wholesale and retail business in maple sugar and syrup, along with the regular line of groceries, shipping to nearly every state in the nation, according to a Watertown Daily Times article from December 1919.

In 1866, Mr. Thompson purchased his partner’s interest and Mr. Tyler retired. Mr. Thompson then ran the company on his own until 1892, when he began a partnership with two of his clerks, J. W. Van Camp and L. J. McDonald.

This marked the expansion of the company was well. As reported in a Times article from that year, the company bought the store of Charles A. Hungerford. E. H. Thompson & Company then moved their store into Mr. Hungerford’s old space, using the adjoining store as well, which had previously been Charles E. Palmiter’s jewelry store. Mr. Palmiter then moved to E. H. Thompson & Company’s previous location. The exact addresses of these stores are not listed. According to the article, this arrangement was carried out mostly by Messrs. Van Camp and McDonald, as Mr. Thompson had been confined to his home by illness.

In 1898, Mr. Thompson sold his interest to his partners and retired from active business.

The two partners ran the business together until May of 1901, when it was announced Mr. Van Camp would retire after nearly a quarter century in the grocery business. It was reported by the Times that Mr. McDonald consented to the dissolution of the firm and became the sole proprietor.

The company switched hands again in 1908, this time back to Mr. Van Camp. After the death of Mr. McDonald, Mr. Van Camp came back to the business, this time taking sole control of the company. He later added his sons, Charles and Edward, into his partnership.

In 1913, the store moved to 200-202 Franklin St. in the Solar building to make way for the Y.M.C.A. building in Washington Hall.

The original owner, Mr. Thompson, passed away in February 1919, and the name of the company was changed to E. H. Thompson Company. According to the Times obituary honoring his life, he was “one of the pioneer grocery merchants.” After he had retired, he continued to live at his home on Winthrop Street, and brought his focus back to portrait painting. He left no immediate relatives after his death. When the Times article was published in 1919, the staff of E.H. Thompson Company was comprised of large corps of clerks and up until shortly before that time, the company was known for having one of the largest delivery organizations in Northern New York.

The eventual demise of E. H. Thompson Company came in late 1943, when Charles Van Camp was president. At this time, the store employed six people, a small number compared to the upwards of 14 people the company had employed in the past. A Watertown Daily Times piece from December of that year reported that Mr. Van Camp announced the closing was due to war conditions. The article reads that “among its problems have been the inability to purchase stock and to make deliveries, a policy of long-standing.” The store – named by the Times as “a landmark … [which] has written a long and valuable interesting chapter in the business life of the community” – had been open in one form or another for over 84 years.

 

By Lorna Oppedisano, NNY Magazines staff writer

Business History: Braman Manufacturing Co., A sweeping success

A look at the property of Braman’s Manufacturing Company, Carthage in early fall, 1966. Watertown Daily Times Archives

A look at the property of Braman’s Manufacturing Company, Carthage in early fall, 1966. Watertown Daily Times Archives

A sweeping success: Braman Manufacturing Co. employed dozens at its peak

One of the largest wood turning and lumber mills found in Northern New York in the early 1920s was the Braman Manufacturing Company, which operated in Carthage. [Read more…]

Bye-bye buggy

Auto killed the carriage industry at turn of 20th century [Read more…]

A bootlegging brewery

Despite Prohibition, sales no problem for Consumer’s Brewing Co. [Read more…]

Little-known chair factory lead industry in its day

The A.N. Brittan & Son factory near the lower dam in Theresa, ca. 1860s. Courtesy  Theresa  public library

The A.N. Brittan & Son factory near the lower dam in Theresa, ca. 1860s. Courtesy Theresa public library

A. N. Brittan’s chair factory stood near the lower dam in Theresa, on the left bank and south side of Indian River High Falls. [Read more…]

A paddle through time: Canton man crafted celebrated light-weight canoes

Mr. Rushton’s son, Henry, stands atop a canvas-covered Indian Girl model canoe outside the Canton shop. The Indian Girl was a mainstay of the shop after 1900. Courtesy St. Lawrence County Historical Association

Mr. Rushton’s son, Henry, stands atop a canvas-covered Indian Girl model canoe outside the Canton shop. The Indian Girl was a mainstay of the shop after 1900. Courtesy St. Lawrence County Historical Association

In the last few decades of the 19th Century, as reconstruction from the Civil War wound down, an interest in recreation sports like boating swept the nation. Among the many eager businesspeople to tap into the trend was J. Henry Rushton, who from 1873 until his death in 1906 made what would become renowned and coveted canoes in a Canton shop and inspired a prestigious annual canoe race that had its 52nd paddling in the town this spring.

In a 1968 Watertown Daily Times article about the book Rushton and His Times in American Canoeing by Atwood Manley, published by the Syracuse University Press, Mr. Rushton, who was born in Edwards, is described as a “tiny, frail man” with a cough. He allegedly built his first boat for the woods after reading Adirondack Murray’s “Adventures in the Wilderness.” His Canton friend Milt Packard purchased the boat, and another friend, Canton’s shoeman Joe Ellsworth, for whom Mr. Rushton first worked as a clerk upon moving to Canton in 1869, supposedly saw it and spoke the dictum that launched Mr. Rushton into business: “Build me a damned sight better one.”

He built his factory at the corner of State and Water streets (now Riverside Drive) in 1881 and his catalogs grew from eight pages to over 80 in the early 1900s. He also forged a relationship with the magazine Field & Stream, his primary national advertising medium, in 1876, which was the same year he sent two cedar canoes to the Philadelphia Centennial.

Though canoes were his “staple product,” Mr. Rushton also made rowboats and guideboats, and even steam and electric-powered craft in the later years of his career. [Read more…]

One-stop shopping: Empsall’s once reigned supreme in elegance, service

Empsall’s Department Store had 50 departments at its peak, but succumbed to a lack of financing and closed its doors for good in 1993. The Brighton Apartments make up floors two through eight today. Courtesy Watertown Daily Times Archives.

Empsall’s Department Store had 50 departments at its peak, but succumbed to a lack of financing and closed its doors for good in 1993. The Brighton Apartments make up floors two through eight today. Courtesy Watertown Daily Times Archives.

Empsall’s Department Store, a Watertown icon for 86 years, was like a cat with nine lives, enduring seemingly insurmountable obstacles: the opening of Salmon Run Mall built outside the city in 1986, the evolution of casual everyday style, the proliferation of catalog shopping, floods.

But the beloved and prestigious store, which had 50 departments at its peak and was the cornerstone of downtown Watertown commerce, succumbed to a lack of financing after the February 1993 collapse of Jefferson National Bank; the owners unsuccessfully sought alternate sources of financing and Empsall’s doors at 122 Court St. closed for good in 1993, the once vibrant hub taken over by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

The Santee and Roth building that became known as Empsall’s opened in 1904 and was a commanding eight-story structure made of 600 tons of steel and 6,000 bricks and described in newspaper articles at the time as “almost a village,” where one could sleep, eat and shop all in the same place. Indian limestone and white, glazed brick with terra cotta trimmings made up the outside, while large plate glass windows made up the first and second stories and red birch mahogany contributed to the inside’s regal atmosphere. A balcony with easy chairs and cradles for mothers with babies enabled leisurely shoppers to rest. [Read more…]

A pretzel dynasty: Mennonites continue to twist out winning pretzels

Martin’s Pretzels in the town of Theresa is staffed by Mennonites who often sing religious hymns to pass the time while hand-twisting the award-winning pretzels, which have garnered national acclaim, including an eight-minute segment on “Food Finds” that aired in 2003. Photo courtesy Watertown Daily Times Archives.

Most people likely associate the pretzel industry with Philadelphia, Pa., not the rural north country town of the same name. But since 1991, the Martins, a Mennonite family from Lancaster County, Pa., has been hand-twisting its pretzels inside a small, yet nationally known factory on state Route 26 in the town of Philadelphia.

Lloyd B. Martin, owner of the pretzel bakery, originally a schoolteacher and carpenter, became a full-time pretzel maker in 1974 when his uncle decided to sell his Akron, Pa.-based pretzel business, which he had operated since the 1930s. Mr. Martin ran the business in Akron for 10 years, but a desire to strike out as a dairy farmer led him to move with his wife and 10 children to a farm on Elm Ridge Road in Philadelphia, selling the business to his brother Clarence. [Read more…]

The day the music died: No gambling at the Clayton Casino, just a place for good fun, dancing

The Clayton Casino, once a vibrant nightclub, was demolished in May 2008 to serve as a parking lot for the Hotel St. Laurents, which never came to fruition. Norm Johnston/ NNY Business

Touted as the “biggest nightclub between Montreal and Chicago,” by Clayton resident Marilyn Hutchinson in a 2008 Watertown Daily Times article, the Clayton Casino hosted numerous popular musicians, including Timmy and Jimmy Dorsey, Glenn Miller and Paul Whiteman, in its heyday in the 1930s. It was “seven-days-a-week live entertainment,” Ms. Hutchinson said.

The popular nightclub, which was never a gambling sight, only enjoyed six to seven years of business before closing permanently in 1942 as traffic declined during World War II. The building, which was demolished in May 2008 with the idea that it would serve as a parking lot for a hotel that never came to fruition, originally housed Clayton Ship & Boat Building Corp., which manufactured 110-foot-long submarine chasers during World War I. It later became Frye and Denny Boatworks. In 1934, just after the 21st Amendment ended 13 years of Prohibition, Stewart and Mary Ormsby, of Belleville, and Westman LaLonde purchased the building and transformed it into the casino. [Read more…]