Saturday, May 8, 2010

Meinzen Confectionery

This little German-American man is Henry Carl Meinzen, my great-grandfather. He came to the United States in 1866 when he was 28 years old. It seems that he spent the rest of his life in and around Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio. He married Elizabeth Armitage in 1870, and they had 15 children.

Though a carpenter and wagon-maker by trade, Henry didn't allow that to limit his employment. Census records and city directories list him not only as carpenter but also as railroad worker, laborer, gardener, and grocer.

In August 1902 Henry bought a building at 306 & 308 S. Third Street (previously S. High Street) and opened a store. My mother called it a tobacco shop, but the city directories of the time list it as a confectionery and/or a grocery. For the next 16 years, Henry was a shopkeeper. In 1917, Elizabeth was diagnosed with cancer of the face, and in 1918 Henry sold the property. In the place where the building stood during Henry's time now stands a gas station.

To the right is a copy of a poor photograph - the only one available - of the inside of the store. However poor it is, I'm grateful to have it because it tells me something about my grandparents. For a time Henry's family lived in both sides of the building - Henry and Elizabeth on the store side and several of their young adult children on the other side. It seems that later, when their children were gone, they used one side for their home and the other side for the store.

I assume, possibly wrongly, that the top photo, above, is of the outside of the shop. If that's so, then the building probably had two storefronts and one became an "apartment."

In looking at this photo, I notice

  • the length and narrowness of the shop. Henry was not taller than 5' 5" and probably shorter. That would make this room about 10 to 12 feet wide, and much longer.
  • the wallpaper with its large print. It seems like the shelves on the right are open at the back because the wallpaper shows through.
  • the matching wallpaper border along the tops of the two walls.
  • the tidiness of the room, especially behind the curtain. Look at that shiny linoleum in the living area.
  • the curtain with its tassels dividing the shop from the living area.
  • the rocker facing the front of the building. Did Henry take his ease there when no customers were in the store?
  • the cold air grate on the left side of the floor. Was the building's heat from a coal furnace?
  • what appears to be a calendar on the front left side of the photo. It looks like the kind with a large number for each day. I can see a "4" but not month or year.
I wish the photograph were clear enough to see labels on the items on the shelves and in the cases. I wish someone had saved Henry's books and ledgers. I wish I could personally look at the items he had for sale. And what I wish most is that I could jump back in time for just a day so I could walk into his store, look around, and visit with him and my g-grandmother for a while.

If I could do that, what would I find and learn? Would the store smell of fresh pipe tobacco? Was there penny candy for sale, since it was a confectionery? What other items did he sell? What hours was the shop open? Who were his customers? Did he greet his customers with a smile? Did he give credit? I have a lot of questions for my g-grandfather when I finally meet him!

Do you have an ancestor who was a shopkeeper or store owner? If so, what do you know about the shop or store?

I invite you to view others' Sepia Saturday posts.


  1. Old family photographs can be so tantalising, can't they? They nearly always pose more questions than they yield answers.

    My 3 x great grandfather had a grocery shop and dairy in the Dorset hamlet of Warmwell, in the mid-late 1800s. To date, I haven't researched this very much. It's on my ever increasing list.

  2. It is surprising when we consider how much smaller our ancestors were. No shop keepers that I can recall, but my research is showing all sorts of things that I didn't know or forgot. Like you I have many wishes about what I could have known....enjoyed this post.

  3. Interesting how old photographs lead to more questions than they answer.

    We have no store keepers in the family, but a lot of photos with backgrounds that leave us mystified.

  4. All very interesting...but I couldn't get over the 15 kids!

  5. It looks like one thing on the shelf in the background is "Prince Albert in the Can", which I think is tobacco.
    When we were kids, and at our most bratty, we would call up a store and ask if they had Prince Albert in the can and if they did we'd die laughing as we said- "well, let him out". I think this was a joke from my father's childhood. Not very funny !
    I enjoyed meeting your great grandfather.

  6. What a wonderful post! And those photos are treasures. Between them and your stories, it almost feels like being there.

  7. Very great photos. I wish I could travel back in time with you! Looking back on the top photo of him, he reminds me a little bit of the blacksmith that used to work at the Ohio Village...

  8. I have a similar photo of my husband's great grandfather, who owned a general store in Kansas City. I love to see all the interesting items on the shelves and in the cases.

    Hey, I'm a buckeye transplant, now in Dublin.

  9. If ever there was an object lesson on how much information you can squeeze out of a photograph that must be it. Wonderfully deductive and thus making a fascinating post.

  10. Thank you, all, for your kind comments.

    Martin - Yes, tantalising! I wish I could bring the photos to life - or jump into them. Always and forever more questions than answers.

    Pat in MN - Isn't it amazing what we find as we research!

    Barry - Don't you wish there was someone to explain where the photos were taken and the "story" behind them? No older living relatives around?

    Betsy - Yes, 15! I have another ggrandmother who had 16! I think that's the most. I don't know how they managed with little ones around open fires or even cast iron stoves! Hey, I think you're only about 2 hours west of me in Ohio.

    Barbara of Barbara and Nancy -
    I remember that Prince Albert joke. We only managed to do it a few times when neither of our parents were home! Funny the things that seem funny to kids....

    Willow - I hope you'll post your photo sometimes. Do you love living in Ireland? Do you miss anything from Ohio?

    Alan - I wish the photo were clear enough that we could tell more. I love looking at the details of photos to learn about the environments of our ancestors - and sometimes personality, and sometimes in group photos we can guess who felt close to whom.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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