Sunday, January 11, 2009

Department Store Building of the Week, Vol. 23

People in their 30s on up who grew up in the small cities of western Pennsylvania will probably remember The Troutman Co. Troutman's had stores in Butler, Connellsville, Greensburg, Indiana, Latrobe, New Castle and Washington, and there may have been later mall stores elsewhere. It was part of the Allied Stores chain and was historically linked in Connellsville to the group of stores in Uniontown and Warren run by the Wright brothers and Sankey Metzler.

The building at the right is the Butler store at 202 S. Main St., which as far as I can tell was the original Troutman operation, founded in the 1800s by Adam Troutman. At this point, records thin out and I am not sure what happened next, but the Troutman family in Butler kept control of that store, known as the A.E. Troutman Co., and Greensburg became home to the main Troutman business that people around Pittsburgh will remember, The Troutman Co., run by another Adam Troutman and the entertainingly named J. Lacosse Cote. In the 1940s, the Butler Troutman's was reunited with the Greensburg Troutman's and was operated as a branch thereafter. If anyone is reading this who knows from the history of Butler and Westmoreland Counties exactly what went down, please enlighten.

Pennsylvania lent itself to these early regional chain department stores -- ones before the mall era. It had a large number of medium-size cities within close proximity to each other, making it easy to supervise stores in the era of trains and interurbans as well as autos. But the same was true in southern Michigan and most of Indiana, and there each city had its own independent stores. It may just have been a matter of the aspirations of the owners. The Globe Warehouses from Scranton, Pomeroy's and Bowman's in the eastern part of the state, the waxing and waning Bon-Ton operation from York, even the Danks Co. in and around State College were all regional chains in Pennsylvania; the Bon-Ton survives even today.
The building at the left was a Montgomery Ward store, and its French-chateau facade may be familiar to people elsewhere. I have seen the same storefront in Meadville, I believe, and I know also somewhere else, where it had a brief other life as a Carroll House in the Interstate chain, but I can't put my finger on that one. And I suspect I have seen it elsewhere before I started to put together that this was a generic Ward's design. It's an odd design for a department store.

No comments: