I LOVE trade cards. I once worked in a library at Harvard that had a marvelous trade card collection. If you are unfamiliar with the term, dear reader, trade cards are small, paper advertisements that were widely distributed by businesses in the nineteenth century. They were often beautifully colored and illustrated, and became popular keepsakes collected by the general public. As a consequence, many have survived, including this little gem from a furniture store that operated in Wellington in the 1880s and 1890s. Researching the company has raised several interesting questions for me, even while it has apparently resolved one of my outstanding mysteries.
Norton G. Hoyt and David J. Peters were brothers-in-law; Norton was married to David’s sister, Hannah. The two families were apparently quite close. In addition to being business associates, the two vacationed together and at one point even shared a residence. What is unclear to me is of precisely what nature their working partnership was, and how it evolved over time.
The first evidence I find linking Hoyt and Peters professionally appears in an Enterprise notice from 1884. “Hoyt & Peters, and E. S. Tripp, have put new iron roo[f]s, on what was the warerooms, and wood and paint shop; painted the outside, and fitted up the interior in good style. Hoyt & Woolley, will be installed in their new quarters, in a few days. Mr. Tripp has already arranged his carriages in his former wood shop, making a fine display. He is also making extensive additions and repairs on his dwelling” (7-16-1884, pg. 5). I have written before about the Tripp carriage works and the uncertain fate of its westernmost building. I believe Hoyt and Peters purchased that building and renovated it to serve as a furniture store and undertaking business, when Edward Tripp “downsized” into his smaller, eastern building (still standing today at 129 East Herrick Avenue.) But the furniture shop that opened in 1884 was not Hoyt & Peters, but rather Hoyt & Woolley.
Printed advertisements from that period indicate that Hoyt & Woolley were in operation for about two years. During that time, “Mr. D. Peters” was also advertising that he was the exclusive agent selling something called the “Delaware County Creamer, a full size sample of which may be seen at Hoyt & Woolley’s Cabinet rooms” (Enterprise, 1-14-1885, pg. 5). By 1886, W. B. Woolley publicly announced his own retirement and the dissolution of the partnership.
In the spring of 1886, regular advertisements began appearing for “Hoyt & Peters, Successors to Hoyt & Woolley.” Unfortunately, several issues of the newspaper do not survive from that crucial moment of transition, so we do not have the benefit of a published announcement explicitly stating who the new partners were and the nature of their business relationship. We can tell from the ads that the new furniture business continued to operate “at the old stand on the north side of Mechanic Street,” namely the former Tripp carriage depot. The year 1886 was also the only time I ever saw specific ads indicating that Hoyt & Peters sold “Pioneer Prepared Paints,” the product featured in the trade card above. This is why I am conjecturing that the trade card dates to that year.
Three years later, a lengthy business description was published about “HOYT & BENSCHOTEN, FURNITURE AND UNDERTAKING. This firm is composed of N. G. Hoyt and J. M. Benschoten, who entered into partnership in 1886. The large three story brick structure used for their business stands on Mechanic street, near the north-east corner of the square…This is one of the old established business enter prises [sic] of the town, Mr. Hoyt having been in business in Wellington since 1860” (6-5-1889, pg. 8). What exactly was the connection between Hoyt & Benschoten and Hoyt & Peters? The ultimate fate of the Tripp building offers us a clue.
Just four months after the article above was printed, a news item appeared describing a rather extraordinary sequence of events. A man called C. H. Horton began the excavation process necessary to erect a new building on Mechanics Street. His adjacent neighbor was “the building formerly owned by E. S. Tripp, but now by Hoyt & Peters.” Very soon after the digging began, it became apparent that the former carriage depot was “giving way” and likely to fall down entirely. Earth removal was halted immediately and the workmen were redirected to shore up the endangered structure, but to no avail. “[I]ndications were that the north end would fall before many hours.” It seemed prudent to evacuate the building, so “Messrs. Hoyt & Benschoten decided to remove their furniture to a more secure place.” A group of volunteers relocated the entire stock to any available storage spaces around the village, including the basement of the nearby American House hotel. “This is quite a hard blow to Hoyt & Peters and Hoyt & Benschoten, as their building is not only unfitted for further use, but it disarranges their furniture and undertaking business” (Enterprise, 10-16-1889, pg. 5). Early the next week, the decision was made to demolish the former carriage depot and rebuild a modern structure on the same location.
I noted in my earlier post on the Tripp building that I had located a notice marking its apparent demolition in October 1889. The same piece mentioned that the foundation for C. H. Horton’s building had been laid. My hypothesis that Horton was the owner of the Tripp building, and the builder of its successor, was incorrect. Horton was, in fact, the unwitting author of its destruction. But the erectors and owners of the subsequent occupant of that land, currently 121-123 East Herrick Avenue, were Norton Hoyt and David Peters.
So what was the precise nature of this business relationship between Hoyt and Peters? Certainly they owned property in common. Was Peters also a stand-by partner for the furniture business when no other option was available? In 1891, two small advertisements were printed side-by-side in the Enterprise. The notice on the left indicated that if anyone wished to purchase fifty bushels of hand-picked beans, they ought to “enquire of D. J. Peters, at N. Hoyt’s furniture store.” The notice on the right was placed by Hoyt, offering to sell his residence and “the entire stock of furniture, and undertaking business of Hoyt & Benschoten, on very liberal terms.” His stated reason for wishing to sell was “the continued illness of Mrs. Hoyt” (2-25-1891, pg. 5). Norton does not appear to have been successful in his offer, but perhaps Hannah’s sickness was the cause of the two families deciding to cohabitate, which they were doing by at least 1893.
In the summer of 1895, Hoyt and Peters officially announced that they were (re)forming their store partnership. But that arrangement was short-lived. By the time a lengthy description of the operation was published in the Enterprise in June 1897, the brothers-in-law had already sold the shop. The description is worth quoting at some length: “HOYT & PETERS. Monday last I visited the furniture store of Hoyt & Peters. This in my judgment, is the leading furniture establishment of Wellington. The building is one of the finest business structures in the town and is centrally located on Main street [Mechanics Street was later called “East Main”], nearly fronting the beautiful square. N. G. Hoyt of the firm has been in business here in Wellington for forty years and two years ago associated with himself D. J. Peters…The establishment has two stories and the stock is arranged so that every article in both warerooms can be examined advantageously by the customer…This business has been sold to H. W. Bennett, who will succeed the old firm of Hoyt & Peters, and also add the undertaking business” (6-30-1897, pg. 7).
The furniture shop had included an undertaking component since its earliest days. (Couch’s furniture shop on South Main Street also performed funerary services; coffins had, after all, been made of wood until quite recently.) In fact, J. M. Benschoten was a graduate of Clark’s School of Embalming in Cleveland. “[H]e is prepared to guarantee that bodies embalmed by the process he uses may be kept for any length of time without regard to the condition of the weather” (6-5-1889, pg. 8). David Peters apparently did not share an aptitude for all things mortuary; when he took over the partnership, a Wellington man named Leander R. Porter was contracted to manage that side of the operation.
After nearly four decades as a Wellington businessman, Norton Hoyt relocated his family to Norwalk, Ohio in 1897. I found several notices of the Hoyts returning to the village on visits; they were always reported to be staying with the Peters family. The two men apparently decided to make their association, dare I say, eternal. They are interred in adjacent plots in Wellington’s Greenwood Cemetery.