West Hartford’s ‘Thursday Throwback’

Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

Test your knowledge of West Hartford history with this ‘Tuesday Throwback,’ courtesy of the Noah Webster House and West Hartford Historical Society.

By Ronni Newton

It’s time to take a look back into West Hartford’s past to either stir up some memories, reflect on how much things have changed, or both. And if you have no idea, we love the photo captions, too!

My apologies for missing a week (and a few days) in publishing this column. Budget season means a lot more meetings to cover!

Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

It was rather easy to identify the location in the photo (at right and in larger size below) from March 13, especially for some longtime West Hartfordites who remembered when S.S. Pierce was located in Bishops Corner.

“The present location of Blue Plate Restaurant. Woolworth’s 5&10 was to the right,” commented Giovanni Seccareccia. In a subsequent comment, he added the following memories of Woolworth’s: “I remember going as a boy in the first grade, with my mom to F.W. Woolworth’s 5 & 10 next door to S.S. Pierce Co. I remember she bought me my first 5 gallon aquarium, 10 guppies and a catfish in the pet department. We would also have lunch at the lunch counter from time to time, which was in the lower floor of the store. I even remember what I would order … hot dog w/mustard & relish … chips … orange soda and a chocolate eclair! Wow! What a memory jog!”

“Easy Peasy. That building is almost a Bishop’s Corner landmark. To the left would have been Lord & Taylor, and to the right is Woolworth’s,” added Lucien Grillo.

Barbara Allis shared some firsthand memories: “Definitely S.S. Pierce, a specialty (upscale) food store in the 1950-60’s. I remember the distinctive red and gold label, I think, with horses. It was located at Bishop’s Corner to the right of Lord & Taylor. We would visit periodically for a particularly hard to find item (which I now cannot recall). The site is home to Blue Plate Kitchen.”

John Gardner noted the current occupants of the area: “345 N. Main Street. Blue Plate located there now…and Orange Theory…and Qdoba…”

Pat McCarthy guessed the date based on the car parked in front, and since the photo was not dated, this is as good a guess as any: “Definitely BC where Blue Plate is now as others have stated. As for the date – that station wagon is a 1961 (ish) Ford and doesn’t exactly look new. So I’d guess mid to late 60s for this photo.” In a comment on Facebook, John W. Gardner III noted that in a photograph from 1957, the building was only two stories.

There were dozens of other readers who added their comments on Facebook, including many who had fond memories of the Lord & Taylor store just to the south in this same Bishops Corner shopping center. Others remembered Peck and Peck and Wood and Wood also in this area.

Leta Marks had this great memory: “Remember seeing Katherine Hepburn shopping in Woolworth dressed in old clothes, no makeup, and hair wrapped up in a bandanna! Still gorgeous!!”

Betty Ann Cox recalled: “Bishop’s Corner and the Baba au Rhum was to die for! And it was pronounced ‘S. S. Purse.'” [Editor’s Note: Sounds like something we might say today!]

I used to go in as a kid to gaze at the cans of chocolate-covered ants,” commented Rob Lindauer. 

Bugs must have been a delicacy. “My brother used to buy fried grasshoppers in a can there!” wrote Steve Caplan.

Molly Reynolds said her mom used to buy marmalade at S.S. Pierce, and Joy Forristall Hancock said, “My Dad, my uncle Gordy and my brother Richard all worked here part time for awhile. We sure enjoyed getting discounts on the dented cans of food, haha.”

Lisa Gibbons wrote, “Loved Pierce, they had beautiful gourmet food and the best chocolate cake. Right next door to Lord and Taylor in Bishops Corner.”

Janice Linder shared this memory of working at S.S. Pierce: “Worked there one summer in high school as a cashier when one had to enter each item’s price individually and count money and make change using your mind not rely on a computer. Always got a kick out of the ‘rich people’ having their chauffeurs come in and pick up their cases of high priced items and gourmet foods.”

“Next to Lord and Taylor, they had specialty foods, candies wrapped in pretty colored foil,” commented Karen Stolman-Parker. Craig Mandell recalled the “high end desserts.”

Wendy Fair noted that S.S. Pierce was a “top shelf food brand of its time,” and Don Kauke added the following: “Wendy is right … before frozen foods, S S Pierce was the top name in canned groceries. They marketed everything and all top quality, sold only by the best grocers and West Hartford had a company owned store. You will find their name still on another of their stores in Brookline, Mass. They prepared gift packages and shipped them worldwide.”

Indeed the Boston-based S.S. Pierce was a grocer and importer of what even today would probably be considered gourmet foods and cigars. It certainly sounds like they had some rather unusual food products – even by today’s standards – like ants and grasshoppers. They also sold wines and liquors in Massachusetts, although I don’t think the store in West Hartford would have been able to sell those items.

Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

This week’s photo (at right and in larger size below as well as at the top of this column) should be a little bit more challenging for people to identify.

Where was this photo taken?

What type of business was this?

When was this photo taken?

What is in this place now?

Please share your memories below.

Thank you to the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society for providing us with the images. The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society is always looking for new images to add to the collection. Visit their website at www.noahwebsterhouse.org for more information about membership and programs.

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Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

345 North Main St., the current site of Blue Plate Kitchen. Courtesy Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society

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  • It’s wild guess time, Ronni! My guess is Luna Park, early 1900’s. The Japanese Teahouse was quite an attraction, introducing sushi and miso soup specialties to the elite of West Hartford. Their shrimp tempura sold like hotcakes.

  • Judging by the architecture, my guess would be that this was a stand or storefront in the old Luna Park that I believe was located in or near the Sterling Field or close by in the Oakwood area. Before my time but I’m sure I’ve seen this before.

  • Rick, I know you’re being sarcastic. The teahouse probably served tea in handless cups and almond cookies and all the ladies and gents thought it was pretty exotic under the electrified lanterns! I had to laugh when reading your comment, I’ll bet it was the “South Seas” of its day. While at the same time the wealthy were building Japanese Teahouse follies on their estates, I chuckle to think what the reactions would be to raw fish with gummy rice wrapped up in dried out beach mess! No, I’ll bet almond cookies…But we have caught up and then some in the worldly food department!(Yum!)
    Yes, I would say Luna Park – early 1900s.

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