Some say there was a trading post for exchange of goods between Swedish settlers and local Indians along a trail to the Susquehanna River that became the road to Lancaster (now Montgomery Avenue). Welsh Quakers and others began to arrive in 1682-3 and could buy venison and fowl from the Indians in their dooryards once they had house, door and yard. Taverns, the gathering places, began almost immediately, some even in the early “caves” in Philadelphia. But the yoemen farmer and his wife grew the raw material and processed it or trained a hired-hand to do the work…or did without.
Stores, as we know them, were slow to appear in Philadelphia because merchants and artisans were limited to selling in stalls in the city market at High (Market) and Front streets, and after 1693, at Second Street. Market days were Wednesdays and Sundays, though some vendors sold there all week long. Tailors, tanners, chandlers, pewterers, goldsmiths, weavers, coopers…on and on goes the list…made a living. Ready made shoes were evidently nonexistent, and the cordwainers (shoemakers), who had their favored customers, were early to organize but were tried at court for “conspiring to raise their wages.” Gradually in colonial Philadelphia luxury goods came into the port and ladies flocked to milliners, glove makers, stylish fabric merchants…but still farm wives would not or could not show interest.
There were not many wagons in use until the Revolution, and horses transported food and raw materials to town and carried items for farm wives…possibly coffee, tea, household items…back to the farms.
Most commerce was carried on near the wharves. Diarist Joseph Price, a carpenter and builder, but also a farmer with a scholarly bent, had to go into Philadelphia to buy boards, screws, window glass, nails, paint, glue, varnish, hardware. For the household, he purchased a coffee mill, sugar, salt…for the farm, a plow… and for his own education, books (and eyeglasses).
Cloverseed he was able to buy at the Buck Inn. Farmers hereabouts slaughtered their own hogs, bought produce from each other, brought flour from the local mills, and were fairly self-sufficient.
Fifty years later, toward the end of the 19th century, changes came thick and fast. Communities had coalesced, usually around a tavern, and blacksmiths picked locations on principal roads. With the advent of more wagon traffic, the wheelwright set up shop, sometimes side by side with the blacksmith. One hundred years ago, more or less, Lower Merion Township had two restaurants, one grocery, two confectionery shops, one provisioner, three flour and feed stores, three drug stores, 14 general stores, and a dozen assorted other emporia, two coalyards among them. We may smile at so few shopping opportunities, but in those days Lower Merion had nine hotels. Today? None.
Fare and Transport
Among businesses listed by William J. Buck in 1884, food and transportation with their adjunct services accounted for most of our commerce. Sometimes the two categories coincided.
For many years and into the post-World War II era, the well-to-do sent their butlers or maids to the railroad station in the morning to hand up a list of needs…principally groceries…to the conductor, and in the afternoon, came back to collect the bags and baskets of provisions at the station.
Savvy shopkeepers then stepped in to supply and deliver telephone orders; roving meat, butter and eggs, bread, and milk men made the rounds to homes. Such service ended by the 1960s, bowing to the inevitable…the supermarkets.
Modes of locomotion fascinated the first photographers as our collection of pictures show. And closely behind transportation came gastronomy. ‘Twas ever thus. ‘Tis ever so.