Josiah Dives, George Strickland Pomeroy, and Johh Stewart, cofounders of Dives, Pomeroy & Stewart Dept. Store, forerunner of Pomeroy's

2014-01-25
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About 138 years ago, three young men, salesmen for Brown, Thomson and McWhirter, at Hartford, Conn., had a dream. They dreamed the dream of every ambitious youth that of owning a business establishment of which they might be proud of. They had only a few years of experience in retail trade, practically no resources or financial backing but plenty of confidence and undaunted courage.

The oldest of the trio was Josiah Dives. He was born in historic Canterbury, England and educated in the schools of the town and Cross academy. The death of his father when he was 13 led him to seek his fortune in London where he became a salesman at Debenham and Freebody. It was here that Mr. Thomson of Hartford met him and persuaded him to cross the Atlantic.

The second and youngest of the trio was George Strickland Pomeroy. George Strickland Pomeroy, was born on July 10, 1853, in the city of Hartford, Connecticut. He was the son of Joseph and Mary Wadsworth Pomeroy. His family ancestors were Colonial and Continental. In the paternal line his ancestor, Joseph Pomeroy, was one of the Minute Men of Connecticut who rallied to the support of Massachusetts during the Lexington alarm, in April, 1775. In the maternal line, Thomas Wadsworth was a sergeant and his wife the daughter of John Arnold, of Col. Israel Putnam's Connecticut men, who stood by their guns at Bunker Hill until the last round of ammunition was fired, and then crossed bayonets with the storming veterans of King George IV.

Mr. Pomeroy illustrated in his life the highest qualities of a self-made man. He sprang from a line of noted merchants of Bristol, England, who came to America during the earliest decades of colonization in Massachusetts Bay. He had the childhood and youthful guidance and training of exemplary parents. He was carefully educated in the public and later in a private school in his native city, and finished his course of intellectual equipment under Rev. Mr. Noble at his school for boys at Brookfield. He was fond of music. He also indulged in the usual sports of baseball and other youthful athletic diversions.

An early desire to feel independence of paternal care and support led him, when still young, to a window notice, "Boy wanted," in the establishment of Brown, Thomson, and McWhirter. In this field young Pomeroy was not slow in exhibiting his exceptional qualifications. As a reward of merit he was soon placed at the head of a department. At this time he was 23 years old. While there he met his future partners, Josiah Dives, of Canterbury, England, and John Stewart, of Edinburgh, Scotland.

Outside of his daily duties at the store George Pomeroy was a thoughtful and helpful son and brother, a characteristic which grew and strengthened with his manhood. He also became interested in good works for society in general. For some years, until he left the city of his birth to seek his fortune, he was an active usher in the Church of the Good Shepherd and was Librarian in the Sabbath-school.

The third of the associates was Johh Stewart, born in Edinburgh, Scotland on the 22d of June, 1852. He sprang from the best blood of Perthshire, the region which divides the highlands and lowlands of Scotland. His father, George Robert Stewart, was the son of Donald Stewart, of the Stewarts of Garth and Drumacharry, and Elizabeth Robertson, the daughter of Neil Robertson, nephew of Robertson of Struan. Both families were of remote lineage and famous in scenes of peace and war. In the majestic Grampians, one of the three major mountain ranges in Scotland, occupying a considerable portion of the Scottish Highlands in northeast Scotland, they fed their flocks of sheep amid their herds of black cattle in the luxuriant valleys. He, too had sailed shortly after reaching his maturity, to Hartford where many of his countrymen had located. He was then 24 years old.

Dives, Pomeroy, and Stewart had become acquainted in the course of their daily duties and it was not long before they cherished a common desire for developing a business of their own. The determination was there, only a location must now be settled.

A Hartford merchant had mentioned to Mr. Pomeroy that a small town in Pennsylvania named Reading offered a promising outlook to progressive merchants. Mr. Dives and Mr. Pomeroy came to Reading to make a study of the situation. What they saw was a small city of about 40,000, but so closely connected with it that one could fairly include it was the settled part of the county which brought the available field to practically 112,000 people.

On April 1, 1876, Dives, Pomeroy and Stewart (Josiah Dives, George Strickland Pomeroy and John Stewart) purchased the business of B. F. Schwartz, located in the Globe Building, 533 Penn Street, and opened the first Dives, Pomeroy & Stewart store with $4,500 worth of stock. Early offerings included linens, dress goods, hosiery, dusters and parasols.

The first store was a modest establishment. The room in which it was located was 20 by 120 feet in dimensions.The three members of the firm applied themselves diligently to their business, beginning work at 5 am and often remaining at the store as late as 1 or 2 am. Within a few months after the establishment of the business, the firm hired its first employee, William H. Bennethum.

Dives, Pomeroy and Stewart were great believers in publicity. As members of the firm often said, they spent all the money they could for the publicity of the printed page, but from the very start insisted that what they said should be lived up to.

In 1876 there was no display type and whatever was to be emphasized was done so by repeating the same line several times. There was no ad writer, of course, members of the firm prepared the copy as they found time and rushed it to the paper at the last minute.

In 1876 Reading was thriving. As the town grew, so did the store. The force of helpers gradually grew, so that the executive work soon had to be divided. Mr. Stewart did the employing, Mr. Dives the buying, while Mr. Pomeroy was manager. All three set their force quickly with an enthusiasm that was hard to resist. They were often oh the job from 6:30 am to 10 pm, and continued after the store closed attending to the details for the next day's business.

The firm found business so good that in 1878, after surveying the selling territory, it decided Harrisburg was a fertile field for Dives, Pomeroy and Stewart store methods. John Stewart was selected as the manager of the first branch store, and on September 28 of that year, the usual single room beginning of another great business was opened at Harrisburg. In a few years a building 50x126 feet and 4 stories high was erected. In 1884 a branch was established in Altoona, PA, in 1886 at Pottstown, PA, in 1887 at Pottsville, PA and in 1927 at Wilkes-Barre, PA. Years later other branches were established in Levittown, Camp Hill, Lebanon, Easton, Willingboro, NJ, and Wilmington, DE.

By 1880 the store room at 533 Penn St., that had seemed so commodious, was now too small to accommodate the business. Greater space was found in two rooms at 442-444 Penn St., the lower end of what would later become the C. K. Whitner Company store.The window at the new location displayed a card saying "we have a telephone. Come in and see it."

Dives, Pomeroy, and Stewart, 442-444 Penn Street,
the lower end of what would later become the
C. K. Whitner Company store
~Click Image to Enlarge~

The expansion of the next two years again was of such proportions that the firm once more was obliged to seek larger quarters. In 1882 the business was moved to the Aulenbach building, 606-612 Penn street. This was a four-story building with a frontage of 60 feet and a depth of 270 feet. The store occupied the first floor, the remainder of the building being rented out.

Dives, Pomeroy, and Stewart, 606-612 Penn Street
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In 1888 the firm took over the upper floors of the building, occupying it in its entirety, and extended the rear 100 feet. A six-story annex was erected in the rear on Cherry Street in 1892 and in 1901 the seven-story building on the corner of Sixth and Penn streets was reared. It was one of the few buildings of that height in the city at that time.

Meanwhile, the city of Reading had developed and grown with the same rapid strides which made it necessary for the leading department store to anticipate community growth and needs. In 1920 the firm started the erection of a big seven-story annex from Penn to Cherry and later built up the center portion of the Penn street frontage to a height of seven stories. These additions practically doubled the store's floor space. A feature of the big store plant was the power house which was erected at Cherry and Plum streets to furnish light, heat and power for the establishment.

Pomeroy's, 6th and Penn Streets
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In November, 1885, in the prime of life and in the dawn of a most successful business career, John Stewart passed away.  Mr. Stewart possessed a mind which reached beyond the scope of his immediate surroundings. He took a deep interest in public questions and closely followed them during the discussions of political contests. He was good-natured in manner, pleasing in conversation, and refined in his tastes. He was a kind husband and considerate father, a companionable friend, and a useful citizen. His death was a sad blow to his associates. As a recognition of his worth and high qualities his associates retained his name in the firm.

On June 10, 1886, George Pomeroy married Miss Lillie C. Koenig, of Reading, of one of the early German families of Berks County, the wedding taking place in Christ Episcopal Cathedral. The bride, who was an accomplished musician, had for some time enriched the solemn ritual of the church by the melody of her voice in the choir of which she was a member, and the groom had interested himself in the lay work of the church and Sabbath-school.

On September 21, 1922, Josiah Dives, oldest member of the Dives, Pomeroy & Stewart store, passed away at the age of 71. Funeral services were held at his late residence, 1220 Hill road, and were conducted by Rev. R. M, Blackburn. He was buried on September 23, Saturday morning in Charles Evans cemetery. Many beautiful tributes were placed on the grave by his numerous friends. A number of large floral designs were sent from the employees of the local store, as well as from the stores in other cities. Two autos were necessary to carry the flowers from the house to the cemetery.

Mr. Pomeroy bought out the Dives interests in April, 1923, and on July 2 that year the business name was changed from Dives, Pomeroy & Stewart to Pomeroy's Inc., with Mr. Pomeroy as president, George S. Pomeroy, Jr., as vice president, and Fred Gehret as treasurer.

On Sunday evening at 7 o'clock, September 13, 1925 George Strickland Pomeroy passed away at his residence, Glen Tilt, Wernersville. He had been in failing health for several years. He was 72 years of age. He is buried in Charles Evans Cemetery. He was survived by his widow and three children, Ellen C., wife of Allan M. Potts; Elizabeth H. Pomeroy and George S. Pomeroy, Jr.

George Strickland Pomeroy's Glen Tilt
Residence beautifully restored
~Click Image to Enlarge~

Prior to his death, Mr. Pomeroy, relinquished executive duties in connection with the big enterprise to his son, George S. Pomeroy, Jr., vice president of the corporation. However, he continued his visits to the store at frequent intervals, having been there a week before his death on the occasion of the fall opening.

The death of Mr. Pomeroy marked the passing of the last of the three partners who came to Reading about 138 years ago and, forming the firm of Dives, Pomeroy & Stewart, launched in a modest way the merchandising venture which was the forerunner of the Pomeroy store at Sixth and Penn Streets and its branches.

George Strickland Pomeroy's Gravestone
Marker, Charles Evans Cemetery

 


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