A Visit to the Dry Goods Store in 1894

1894 bill from Howerton and Macrae Dry Goods, Clarksville, TN

Have you bought any dry goods recently? Dry goods are fabrics and related merchandise, as distinguished from groceries, hardware, etc. , according to my Random House Dictionary of the English Language.

I suppose that “Notions” was added to the Howerton and Macrae description to make doubly sure that everyone knew that thread, needles, buttons, and such were also in stock.

There is a bit of story behind the old bill of sale that you see above.

One owner of the store in Clarksville, TN was my great-great grandmother, Anna Howerton, whose husband was an invalid for some reason unknown to us, and could not support the family.  The other owner was named J. H. Macrae, whose identity we do not know, beyond the name.

The stated location of the store was:

Corner Third and Franklin Streets

The purchaser of the fabric and notions was “Mr. J. B. Cavitt Gdr”.  Being the brother of my grandmother’s father (who was murdered in Juarez), Uncle John was the guardian of my grandmother and her little sister when their mother was widowed.  We surmise that, because the goods were paid for by John, but were intended for his nieces, the shop-keeper wrote a shorthand for ‘guardian’ after his name.

This sales receipt was dated in 1894; my grandmother was 8 years old and her little sister was 6. Their Uncle John was only 31 at the time, and had already been their legal male guardian for four years.

two Cavitt girls in about 1864

Beulah and Catherine Cavitt

(picture taken in Clarksville, TN about the same time period as the dry goods receipt)

The purchases on the receipt were fabrics, buttons, and thread, and must have been for new clothes for the girls.  Duck, cotton, cambric, batiste, buttons, ribbon, and edging are items we understand today.  But, Bedouin Cloth is a mystery, as is the 6 3/4 yards of Douic.

If any of my readers can tell me what Bedoin cloth and Douic are, I’d be grateful!

Total bill for 41 yards of fabric, along with countless buttons and trims?  $10.33!

Facts I know about Uncle John:

1. He was born in 1863, grew up in Texas, and attended college at Southwestern Presbyterian University in Clarksville, TN.  SWPU was then on the site of what is now Austin Peay State University .  (Later, Southwestern Presbyterian University moved to Memphis and was re-named Rhodes College.)

2. After college, he went to the law school at Cumberland University in Lebanon, TN.  (Click on Cumberland School of Law for more information from Widipedia.)

3. He returned to Texas and ran the family ranch at Wheelock, TX, supporting two widowed sisters-in-law and their children.  Thank you, Uncle John!

John Belvedere Cavitt about 1894

John Belvedere Cavitt in the 1890’s

I have estimated the date of this portrait, taken in El Paso, Texas.   The clothing style and approximate age of the face are my clues.

What was happening in the U.S. in 1894?  The Panic of 1893 had been caused by heavy speculation, especially in railroads and mines, which were then overbuilt.  The calling-in of these huge debts caused a severe depression for several years.  I expect $10.33 was a serious purchase in 1894.

An interesting comparison is this dental bill from 1895, which was paid by Mrs. Beulah Cavitt, my great-grandmother, and daughter of Anna Howerton.

dental bill from 1895

The work done was one gold filling, one nerve cap, and one other item/procedure which I cannot decipher, all for the sum of $5.  The dental office was H. E. Beach & Son in Clarksville, TN.

Mrs. Beulah Cavitt lived in Texas, but she visited her mother in Tennessee often.  Here is a four-generation portrait taken in about 1919:

Cavitts and Howertons in about 1919

The eldest is Anna Smith James Howerton (dry goods store keeper).  The next-eldest is Beulah Arney Howerton Cavitt.  The young mother is Catherine Cavitt Denny.  And her baby is Robert Denny, Jr.

I‘ll leave you with two charming portraits of the girls, Beulah and Catherine, as teenagers, about ages 16 and 14.  These portraits were made in Houston, Texas in about 1902.

Beulah Cavitt about 1902Catherine Cavitt in about 1902