'Ed's Place' - Houck's
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.
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.
Edddie Houck & Ernesr Rosensteel chat outside of Houck's Clothing Store ~ 1951
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
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
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
other stories by Ed Houck
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