Thursday, February 17, 2011

Department Store Building of the ... Pottstown, Part II

Thanks to the two people in western Montgomery County who liked seeing Pottstown's old New York Store mentioned. Although Pottstown had a branch of Pomeroy's, the big Reading-based store, into the 1920s, the other store most people would associate with the city is Ellis Mills of Pottstown Inc., 223 High St., shown here as the white-brick five-bay building at center.

Ellis Mills first appears in Pottstown directories as a dry goods and department store around 1900, although the Montgomery County Historical Society indicates that it was in business far before that. Boston's Jordan Marsh Co. was named for the last names of two men, but Ellis Mills was named for a man named Ellis Mills, a British immigrant.  He had two sons, Charles and William, who took over the business, which also had a location in Reading at 647 Penn St., just east of Pomeroy's main store. (He also had two daughters.) William ran things in Pottstown, and Charles was in charge in Reading. Although Pottstown is officially in suburban Philadelphia, it is closer to Reading and has long been in its orbit. (The tyranny of county boundaries.) The Reading store, separately organized as Ellis Mills of Reading Inc., petered out in the Depression.

Pottstown's Ellis Mills continued on as the upscale department store in town, and became financially associated with Harry F. Armstrong, a now-obscure department store investor based in Schenectady, N.Y. In the 1920s and 1930s there were capitalists -- Earl Knox in Detroit is another -- who backed fledgling department store owners through an interest in their stores, without actually moving to a new city to take charge of them. Armstrong also reorganized a store in Oil City, Pa., into Armstrong-Collier Inc., and was involved at one point in the large network of western Pennsylvania stores in which Sankey Metzler of Uniontown, Pa., had an interest. (It appears his descendants still live in the Capital District. Perhaps one will read this and tell more about this man.) But it remained in the hands of the Mills family -- Roberta Mills was its president for many years -- and closed in 1980.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ellis Mills was my great-grandfather and Charles (his son) my grandfather. He lost the store just after the Depression due to poor investments gone bad. His son Charles Jr. was my father. He remembered being in the store having been born in 1917. Both my father and his sister (the only grown children of Charles) are now deceased. Much of the Mills genealogy is available from a man named Robert Lawrence. Kathryn Mills Woodsum, Maine

Davisull said...

Presumably the son of William G. Lawrence, president of Ellis Mills in Pottstown in the late 1960s? From city directories it appears he lived next door to Roberta Mills, so I assume he was her son-in-law.

Kathryn said...

Yes, Robert is William's son. I have to get out my genealogy to check on Roberta. I will be in Pottstown this June visiting cousins and learning all about the Mills Dept Store and the Hendel family who manufactured hats (the other side of my fathers lineage). I am willing to share all I learn with you. But, the amazing coincidence here, is that I grew up in Moorestown, lived there for 18 years. I think we are destined to communicate. Kathryn

R Lawrence said...

I happened across this blog. I am the Robert Lawrence, referenced and have done a fair amount of research off and on over the years on Ellis Mills (my great, grandfather). If you would like mote details, please feel free to contact me.