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'Ed's Place' - Houck's Store

Ed Houck, Jr.

Edddie Houck & Ernesr Rosensteel chat outside of Houck's Clothing Store ~ 1951

I wish to dedicate this article to the memory of my dad, J. Edward Houck, Sr., who began a store in Emmitsburg, Md. called "Edís Place" in 1924. He was born in Emmitsburg in 1886 to his parents George McClellan Houck and Mary Teresa (Maude) Elder Houck. His mother died in November of 1889 and is buried in St. Josephís R. C. Church Cemetery. His dad then moved to Cumberland where he met and married Barbara Bigler and had eight more children from that marriage. Ed had a half sister from his motherís previous marriage by the name of Francis (Fannie) Boyce. Mr. Boyce died at age 24 and then Mary Teresa Elder married Geo. Houck. Ed lived with his family through his early life and as a teen left home to build his own life.

Ed would visit often with the Elder family in Emmitsburg, particularly his Grandfather James A. Elder and Uncle James Basil Elder. He became close friends with his First Cousin Joseph Elder, who later introduced him to Agnes Rosensteel that would become his wife.

In 1901 Ed was in St. Maryís Industrial School in Baltimore where he learned many of the skills that would help him in later life including sewing and alterations. At age 17 he returned to Cumberland for a visit and then set out to begin his life as an adult. He tried his hand at many jobs such as Bellboy, Elevator Operator, Glass Blower, Carnival Worker and eventually ended up in Pittsburgh, where he worked for some time with the Airtight Steel Tank Co..

By May of 1922 Ed started his own business on Saratoga Street in Baltimore, Md. This business was called Vacuette Sales Co. and he was distributor for a line of vacuum cleaners. He hired some salesmen and the business was off and running. He had visited Emmitsburg many times and by 1924 gave up the business in Baltimore and opened a Clothing Store in Emmitsburg. He moved into what is the Knights of Columbus Building on the North East corner of the Square.

"Edís Place" was now in business. In this corner location he sold Men's suits and furnishings, Ladies wear, footwear and was also the distributor for the Victor Talking Machine Co.. In his inventory he also sold records for the phonograph. The records were on a sample wax disc which were ordered on request. This was a time that the record companies put out a record of the month. Ed also placed a speaker outside, over the main door and would broadcast the ballgames and news for people to hear. This was during the depression and many men had no jobs and no radio available. Many afternoons, men would sit on the steps and cars listening to their favorite ball players in action.

While his business was getting started he was introduced to Agnes Rosensteel by Joe Elder and after a brief courtship, they married. In the next few years they built a family of Mary Theresa, Margaret Claudia and J. Edward Houck, Jr.. Along with bringing up the young family, Agnes would help out at the store. Their first apartment was in the Stansbury building next to the Fire Hall. Ed then moved the family to a second floor apartment in the building between the Post Office and Harnerís Grocery. From there, he could see the store and be alerted when the meals were ready. The children would visit the store regularly as well as their Grandmother on East Main Street, Mrs. Claudia Rosensteel.

Ed had one outdoor pastime from the business, Horseracing. Many days you would see a gathering of men at the counter in the store going over the Racing Form so they could send their bets to the nearest track. About once every week or two, four or five of the local businessmen would get in a car and travel to the track in Hagerstown, Cumberland, Pimlico, Upper Marlboro, Laurel or Charlestown.

The Rotering Brothers had run a store on the square and when it went out of business, Cecil Rotering came to work for Ed and continued until his death. There was a rocking chair that Ed put in the rear of the store for Cecil to use when not busy for he had a bad case of asthma. During this time of building the business, Ed started a suit club where each man would put in $1.00 a week and each week one man would win a suit. It was embarrassing that the first winner was Dick Rosensteel, a brother to Agnes, Edís wife.

I am now at that part of the story that my memory really takes over. I remember visiting the store in the mid 1930ís and a very well dressed man was talking to my dad and I was introduced to him. It was Mr. Teddy Motter that lived in the Slagle or later the Mondorf Hotel across the street. Mr. Motter was a nice man who always had something to say to me. I had heard he had a glass eye and I was fascinated, so I asked if I could see it. Mr. Motter took it out and lowered it in his hand for me to see. As you would expect, I leaned over to look at it and it dropped on the floor and rolled under the counter. The floor was wooden and we used an oil and wax mixture to get up the dust. Dad told me to get it for Mr. Motter and when I did it was covered with dust and grime. Being the nice man that Mr. Motter was, he wrapped in his handkerchief and went home to clean it before replacing it. Later he came back and laughed about it and how my eyes bulged out when I saw it drop and roll away.

This was during the depression and with money tight and goods just as tight my dad found that there were times he would use the barter system to do business. We had received chickens and farm foods on many occasions and even one time was given a goat for payment of a bill. This goat became a pet and was housed on the porch of our second floor apartment. This lasted until it ate one of dads shoes and some more things at home and then it became a barter time once again.

My sisters and I would enjoy our visit to the store and many times would tell dad that we had to go to the bathroom. This was just a ploy to get to use the room upstairs in the K of C building and then slide down the banister as many times as we could until they came looking for us. My dad would give me small jobs to do in the store such as sweeping or mopping up, boxing the trash or try to keep the stock neat. When dad ordered rolls of wrapping paper he would get six or eight rolls at one time. I used to play that I was log rolling in the water and learn to go across the floor & stop without falling off. In the inventory were some leftover World War I items such as the Trenchscope and leggings. We would use them to play on each visit.

We did get to vacation a few times for three days at Atlantic City and to picnic at the Gettysburg Battlefield where Mother had cousins that ran some of the Battlefield Museums and lunch spots. Dad even took the whole family at times to the horse racing. We did get to the 75th Anniversary Encampment for the Civil War Vets and to the lighting of the Peace Light by FDR at Gettysburg. Another Sunday break came with a trip to Pen-Mar, the amusement park in the mountains near Camp Ritchie.

In 1939, Ed & Agnes Houck, purchased the East side of the large, 3 story, building that was formerly the Annan Building from Brooke Boyle. This building was built after the great Emmitsburg Fire of 1863 that consumed nearly one third of the buildings from the square east. It was built by Mr. Hughes for Dr. Robert Annan and his brother, each had half of the building. With their practice and living quarters on the second and third floors it left the bottom floor for storing their buggies and other items. Over the years it housed a farm implements area, The C. F. Shuff Bicycle Shop, a small shooting gallery, a restaurant and possibly more businesses. With this addition now in the family, a full Ladies Store was put in to the first floor. Mother now ran the Ladies Dept. and Dad still had the Men's Store on the square.

Within a very short time, at the death of Charles Mort, my dad purchased the west side of the property from the Mort estate and after putting in a new front on the bottom floor with many large show windows, moved the "Edís Place" men's wear department to make one large store for the entire family. This was then called "The Emmitsburg Quality Shop" or just "Houckís". It was " Clothing, Shoes and Gifts for the Entire Family". My Dad then had the entire building painted in Jersey Cream paint with Seal Brown trim from the Pittsburgh Paint Co. and purchased from FSK Matthews store on West Main Street. Picket fences were put up on the rear of the property and the shed was then covered with white asbestos shingles and trimmed to match the house. This shed was used only as a storage building even though it looked like a home on No. Seton Avenue.

Inside he had refinished the apartments with new floors and everything was repainted and given an antique look by Joe Elder, Dads cousin and a master painter. It was the early 1940ís that Walter and Edna Crouse moved into the third floor apartment on the west side of the building. Mrs. Edna Crouse lives there to this day. The apartments were given fresh wallpaper and this was done by Mrs. Glass. Mr. Lester Wastler was the carpenter that helped with the store and the apartments changes that included a large window that looked over the back yard from the spacious kitchen.

When the move to the new store was complete, my dad told me to gather all the old shoes that were put in the shed and to get rid of them in a sale that I could run completely. I fashioned tables between the two circular stairs on the front of the building and stacked them high with mostly ladies shoes and sold them for 25 cents a pair and 5 pair for $1.00. I had so many that it took most of the day but I sold them all. About 10 years later a lady came into the store and asked when we were going to have another sale like that one that had the special 5 for $1.00. Johnny Bowers was the local gravedigger and came in and purchased the last of the leather leggins at 25 cents a pair. They would save not only his pants legs but his shin bone too.

During the 1940ís, my sisters and I took a more active part in the business, with each of us learning all parts of the operation. It was in the early forties, with World War ll just beginning that Mt. St. Maryís began the program for the U.S. Navy. It was called the Middies and each had to have a uniform and they would have to be fitted. This is when my dad, Cecil Rotering and I traveled to the Mount and with our sewing machine and iron set up in the dining room area, worked to fit the men in uniforms. This was the first time that I did any alterations but learned to put the correct style bottom on all the trousers. My dad and I also used to attend the boxing matches held in the Mount gym.

With the three of us growing in age and responsibility, we would take turns going on buying trips to Baltimore with dad or dad and mother to meet the different wholesalers and bring the goods home that we could carry in the car. With gas rationing, the trips became on a real need basis only. A large portion of our goods were shipped by truck and even some coming by train. By this time the Emmitsburg Railroad had become inactive and we had to travel to Thurmont to pick up the goods.

One thing that dad would do during the war was to save some nylons for the servicemen as they would come home for a leave or discharge, to give to their wives or sweethearts. At that time, nylons were very scarce. I remember when we had to collect the stamps for rationed shoes and other items and the tokens that were given as change. I was able to get a bicycle at the time and used it to make deliveries in town.

With the store now on the corner of the square and the crossroads for the bus travel we had the location for local travelers to purchase tickets. Once during the day, we had a young fellow waiting for a bus and just as it approached, he grabbed a leather jacket and ran out to jump on the bus. Dad saw him and called to me and I ran along side of the bus banging on the door till it stopped. The driver and Dad & I got the man off the bus, got the jacket back and left the law take over from there.

One event that should not be forgotten was the day the tornado or just a great storm passed over the center of Emmitsburg and took the roof from the top of the Zimmerman Building in the south west corner of the square and threw the back section across the square and it landed on top of our house on the north east corner of the square, ripping off the double chimney that was there and putting a number of large holes in the slate roof. Dad had me help clean off the roof and to this day I have a reminder as I made two tool benches out of the great wood that made the underside of the roof.

The store continued and when Cecil Rotering passed on, Dad hired Ernie Rosensteel to assist in the store. Mamie Kelly was hired to assist Mother in the woman's side of the store. There were other seasonal help hired but with the family still intact and now old enough to take a very active roll, the store seemed in good hands.

Then in the summer of 1949, Dad had his first heart attack and then passed on in October of that year. Motherís health began to fail and by January of 1950, she joined Dad and they are together for all time. The three of us, the Houck children, now had the full responsibility of the store. All three of us were now adults. I dropped out of college after just one year when Dad had his heart attack and worked full time.

I had met Doris Olinger while in High School and by May 1951 we married and she became part of the store operation. By January 1952 I was inducted into the Army and would serve through 1954. During this time my sister, Mary Theresa & Margaret ran the business and then Margaret got married to George Callan of Frederick and my wife, Doris presented me with my first child, Denise. On my return from service, I offered to sell my part of the business or to buy out my sisters. Either direction was fine. My sisters decided to sell and I became sole owner of the entire store. Mary Theresa then married Prof. Leonard and moved to Philadelphia.

Houckís Store continued to operate with myself, Doris, Ernie, Mamie and we added to the staff Shirley Topper, Patsy Kelly, Robert (Stucky) Wagerman, and Ronald (Worm) Kelly. Again seasonal and part-time help was added as needed. We put down a tile floor and changed the lighting and added air-conditioning. We kept the same operation that my dad had begun, Clothing, shoes and Gifts for the entire family. 

We participated in civic events like the Saturday night Drawings to help build up the business at night that TV had stolen. We gave to local church picnics and had a nice line of toys for the time. We would keep the toys for those that requested until Christmas Eve and would even open up after Midnight Mass so they could be picked up and taken home to place under the tree. From the beginning of Houckís Store to its closing in 1962, we were always able to assist the ageing Sisters of Charity with the high button black shoes they desired.

Many of the orders were taken and sent directly to their central house in Baltimore.

We took pride in making a nice Christmas display in our large windows and that we would let the lights on till midnight for people to enjoy. We also tried to make special displays for back to school, holidays and special event days. One year we took the centerfold from a Mad Magazine that showed Alfred E. Newman running for President and put it in a side window for the travelers on Rt. 15. We added bunting and red, white & blue crepe paper and it was about the time of our regular Presidential election. We had more comments, asking where they could get the poster, from this than many other displays. I had to send them to Crouses to pick up the magazine.

We took pride in the fact that we carried goods for the big man, such as: up to size 60 underwear, shoes to 12EEE, swim trunks and pants to size 56 waist. When the government was building the underground communications area in Raven Rock Mountain, we carried the special heavy duty coveralls & overalls requested by the workers. When the Davy Crockett fad was the thing, we carried the coonskin hats and a pink one for the girls called the Polly Crockett cap. This fad was very short in duration and we had to give a lot of the hats to the scouts and they would cut them up and make some Indian headdress with the parts. Pop-it Beads, as a fad, did have a longer lifetime, but that too soon ran its course.

By now Doris and I have three children and expecting a fourth. Denise, Patty, Jim and the one coming, became Joe. Denise was thrilled when she was able to ride on the back of the store float during the Emmitsburg Bicentennial Celebration in 1957. She was able to throw Tom Sawyer straw hats to the crowd as our float displayed Tom Sawyer Sportswear for Boys. We presented the boys that helped on the float with the clothes they wore during the parade. Another program was the Fashion Show that we took part in and again my daughters Denise & Patty both were models and walked the runway with the older girls. We attempted to take part in all civic activities. During one period of about 8 to 10 years we gave out S&H Green Stamps so that people could earn gifts through their catalogue.

I was always active in the Vigilant Hose Company, the Boy Scouts and Explorer Scouts, The Jayceeís, The Emmit Development Corp., the Movie Theater and was Mayor of Emmitsburg, Maryland. 

With the coming of the by-pass to the east of town of Route 15, business was dropping off and the competition of the shopping centers of Frederick, Gettysburg, Hanover, and Westminster which were now easier to reach, made our family decision easier to make. With the four children, we moved to the Washington Area in 1962 where I went to work for Scouting, Kuppenheimer Men's Wear, S&K Menswear, Goodwill, and the Hecht Company. Our family is now grown and grandchildren are asking about the past. This is a perfect way to let them know how it all got started.

Have your own memories of Houck's Store?
If so, e-mail them to us at history@emmitsburg.net

Read other stories by Ed Houck

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