Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Lang and Sturgis Store

The Lang & Sturgis Store
At the risk of seeming to be fixated on the topic, I have one more post on the general subject of the Smith's Corner area. After this one, though, I promise you'll never look the same way at a building you probably never gave a second thought to in the past. I know that personally, I'm kind of fascinated with it now. The starting point for all this comes via Denis Hehman (who authors the wonderful Lower Red Clay Valley blog), who got the basic information (and the old pictures) from someone in what started out as a conversation about other historical sites. (You can also read Denis' original post about the store, which also includes a picture of a Wilmington store, mentioned later.) He asked about Smith's Store, and instead of getting information about it, he got a story and photos of what was either a competitor or successor to Smith's.

What Denis was told was that there was another store on that same intersection (Old Capitol Trail and Newport Gap Pike), this one owned by Lang and Sturgis. Through some basic research, by studying the pictures, and by hashing out some ideas back and forth through email (as well as some information from a family member), I think Denis and I have come up with a somewhat coherent picture of what was going on at the time. And at two separate times, just by staring at the picture above, I think I realized two sort of surprising things. Both things now amaze me every time I pass by this intersection (which is almost every day).

According to Denis' source, in 1926 a grocery store was started by two men -- Lang and Sturgis. They apparently bought an existing store, so it's possible that they purchased the old Smith Store, or it could have been a competitor on a different corner. The 1930 Census helps to tell us who was there, and what they were doing. The head-of-household and listed owner of the property was 55 year old George Lang. Although he was listed as a house painter, since his name is clearly on the sign he was surely part-owner of the store. Lang was unmarried, but seven other members of his family filled out the household.

Next was his sister Maud, and her husband Wilbur Morgan. Morgan is listed as the proprietor of something I couldn't make out at first, but soon realized was "Lunch Room". In addition to the store, the extended Lang-Morgan-Sturgis family also owned a small restaurant, which was located in the rear of the small building behind the store on Old Capitol Trail (it had been Sargio Signs for years, now is some sort of construction company). Although Wilbur Morgan died in 1938, the family must have continued to run the restaurant, as it is mentioned in this 1942 newspaper ad listing places to pay county taxes. For Christiana Hundred, it lists "Marshallton, Morgan's Restaurant". There was also a pool hall, which was located in the front of the building that housed the restaurant. Below is a picture of the front of the pool hall, along with a more recent picture for comparison.




The grocery store itself, though, was started by George Lang (1877-1944) and Leroy Sturgis. Within a few years, Leroy Sturgis entered the ministry and was replaced in running the store by his brother, Glenwood C. Sturgis (1900-1974). Glenwood also had a store on N. West Street in Wilmington (a photo of its interior can be seen here). I'm unclear at this point on whether the Wilmington store was before or concurrent with the Cranston Heights store. Glenwood was married to Ella Morgan, daughter of Wilbur and Maud. By 1940, Sturgis' son-in-law Francis Leighty, who had married Glenwood's daughter Doris, was also working at the store, either as an employee or as a partner. Now that we've met the people who ran the businesses, let's take a good look at where they did it.

When I first saw the picture at the top of the post, my initial thought was, "What a neat structure -- too bad it's not still around." As I studied it more closely, though, I began to realize that that's not completely true. In fact, it is still there, just in a very reconfigured state. The two keys to seeing it are first to ignore the roof completely, then to focus on the doors and windows. The side seen below -- facing Newport Gap Pike -- is the same side seen in the old picture with the storefront. If you look at the placement of the doors and windows, you'll notice that they're in exactly the same locations. The house next door can also be seen in the old picture. That very plain-looking commercial building which has housed who-knows how many businesses over the years is the same basic structure as the old Lang & Sturgis Store. That still amazes me every time I go by it.

Lang & Sturgis Store, as it looks today

That wasn't the only thing I noticed about it, though this one took a bit longer, I think because of the way we now think of and see the building. If you look again at the old picture, you'll notice where the odd configuration comes from. It was originally just a house -- two and a half stories with a pointed gable, similar to many others in the Marshallton area -- facing Old Capitol Trail. The picture below shows the front of the house, what we now think of as the side of the building. My guess is that this picture is earlier than the top one, possibly taken when the family first moved in, and before they set up their own store. At some point earlier, a large addition was built onto the back of the house, making it deeper than it was wide, and allowing the side of the house to become the front of the store. You can see a dark vertical line in the top picture that marks the transition from the original house to the addition. This also explains the seemingly odd window and door configuration -- it's actually almost symmetrical if you look at each section separately.


I still don't know how long the Sturgises and Morgans ran their businesses, or when the Sturgis Building was remodeled -- or as Denis put it, "remuddled". I assume that the wrap-around porch was removed when the road was widened, sometime in the 60's if I had to guess. When the roof was replaced and the orientation of the building changed is a mystery as well. Perhaps someone might remember the original look of the building and give us a timeframe for the renovation. After the family finally did sell the store, they moved into the house next door -- the one visible in the old and new pictures.

I want to thank not only Denis, who "broke" the story, but also Mary Julian and Gerald Rutter. Mary also grew up in the Marshallton area, and is the person who first told Denis about the store. Gerry Rutter is the grandson of Glenwood Sturgis, and was the ultimate source for much of the information. On behalf of everyone, thank you for sharing this with us. If more information about the family or the businesses comes my way, I'll be sure to pass it along.


Additional Facts and Related Thoughts:
  • Another family member who worked at the site was Violet Sturgis, who was a waitress at the lunch room, or restaurant. She was the wife of Francis Sturgis, brother of Leroy and Glenwood.

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