As important as church, school, and community hall were to a farm settlement the local General Store was just as often the centre of activity. All types of goods were available that the local populace couldn’t make or produce themselves. Purchased or bartered for produce from their farms it included kerosene for their lamps, fabrics and dry goods, occasionally a piece of ready made clothing or accessory, molasses, kitchenware and utensils, and the little luxuries like tobacco, perfume or sweets. And in the winter the pot-bellied stove would provide warmth after the ride in from the farm and a chance to exchange news, stories and local gossip.
Clarke’s General Story
Norman MacLeod had operated a General Store at Orwell Corner until 1893 when he put the property up for sale. In the Daily Examiner he assured the buyer that it was “one of the most desirable stands in PEI for a country store. There is a large store, warehouse, shed, dwelling house, and orchard, all in good order”. It would appear that no one took advantage of those assurances and the store closed.
In 1856 Richard Clarke and his brother Dennis arrived in PEI from Galway, Ireland and records indicate that Richard went into business with his uncle Patrick Stephens in Orwell Cove the following year. In 1864 they moved to Orwell Corner and Richard opened the store that is a unique part of the historic village. The store had been moved to where it now stands at the crossroads from another location. On his death Dennis assumed the ownership and ran the store until 1905.
The store has been restored and is well stocked with the items that Mr Clarke’s customers would find familiar. At our visit the gentleman on duty was well-versed in both the history of the store and his inventory. Amongst the more intriguing items were a little sailor suit of the sort that appeared in family portraits. I was surprised to learn that it was not for sale but for rent for that occasion when the travelling photographer came around. Farm implements included a rather deadly looking pair of shears for castrating bulls and new blades for your plow. There was even a stereoscope with an ever so naughty moral lesson for girls who went into service.
The Colonial government in Nova Scotia had first set up a post office in Charlottetown in 1801 and by the time PEI joined Confederation in 1873 there were 180 post offices on the Island many served by mail boat. By 1900 there were 252 one of which Clarke operated out of a small room between the shop and the farm house. It gave him a small commission but more importantly brought people into the store. In the Weekly Examiner of January 26, 1900 it is suggested that “after the recent local elections, Mr. D. E. Clarke is about to lose the post office. The People of Orwell would be very sorry for any such change.” According to the postal records they did not experience that sorrowful change as Clarke continued as post master until his death in May 1904.
The Farm Wife’s Domain
As well as his store and the post office Clarke had a farm. As was the case with many of the farms in the area his main cash crops were oats and potatoes. Other crops were grown and livestock was kept for the daily needs of Clarke, his wife, and their brood of seven children.
Mrs Eliza Latrobe’s Fashions
Eliza Ferris was born in 1849, possibly in Skye, and immigrated to the Uigg area where she met and married J. F. Latrobe. She died in 1921 and was buried in the Baptist Cemetery at Uigg. A rather strange note in the cemetery records indicates “came to this island in 1828” – though this could be referring to her husband of whom no other details are recorded. She was a dressmaker and milliner by trade and for ten years operated her business from space she rented from Clarke on the second floor of the farm house attached to the store.
Eliza would receive the latest Ladies Journals from Boston and perhaps even as far away as London. Using an intriguing “garment drafting machine” she would adjust a pattern to fit the lady who had ordered it. No doubt the fabric would come from Mr Clarke’s store downstairs as would the hooks, eyes and buttons. Adjustable lasts allowed her to make, often in a matching fabric, fit for a town lady to dance the night away.
She had a supply of “bashing block” to aid in creating a stylish chapeau adorned with ribbons, rosettes and occasionally feathers from local wildlife. Ladies often wore their hair up and Eliza’s creations would sit jauntily atop their heads held in place by elaborate, often cabochon encrusted, hat pins purchased from Mr Clarke’s stock. The wooden blocks could be carved into new shapes with changing fashion.
I’ve been unable to discover the circumstances that led to Mrs Latrobe quitting the Clarke residence in 1905 though possibly when Dennis Clarke died she may have decided to stay with her family in Uigg. There was also competition from Effie MacPherson who had her business above D. D. McLeod’s General Store down in Orwell Cove. As many women did their own sewing at home dressmaking did not rank high on the profitable occupation scale. Fortunately the tools of her toil are beautifully displayed in the two rooms above the Clarke family farm house.
As I mentioned when I started this little series we only had an hour or so to wander at the Corner. A trip back is in the planning for sometime in the next week or two to see the Farm, the Shingle Mill, the Blacksmith Shop and perhaps even take a carriage ride up to the Macphail Homestead for afternoon tea.
On this day in 1904: The automobile tire chain is patented.