A place to recall and celebrate the wonderful stores of a Downtown Boston now alive only in our memories
Thursday, 17 February 2011
Getting To Know Timothy Smith's of Retro Roxbury
Hello, My Fellow Retro Boston Lovers!
I so enjoy maintaining this blog for many reasons. Two reasons come to my mind instantly. First, I am thrilled to have met so many wonderful people who have a passion for Boston’s retro past and vivid memories to share so that the pages of the blog can come to life.
Second, I love learning more and more about Boston’s rich, colorful past and finding out about places that now only survive in photos, ads and happy reminiscences.
A new blog reader and friend from Facebook made a request…as many readers do and for which I am always thankful…since that is how I discover more about the wonderful places that Bostonians used to shop away the hours. She spoke of a store I had never heard of and said her mother was very fond of it…way back when. My inner investigator jumped to life and I began to search high and low for details on this mystery store of retro Boston. Soon a history began to unfold and with it, a tale of a legendary department store stepped out from the shadows for me to share with all of you.
I dedicate this update to my new reader and Facebook friend who pointed me in this direction. I love new directions and oh, they are so worth the trip!
Today we wander up Washington Street…or take the old “el”…the once famous elevated “Orange Line” to Dudley Station and visit the Timothy Smith Company.
The Timothy Smith Company was a department store located in Roxbury and was housed in a three building block on the corner of Washington and Vernon Streets. The store was founded in 1862 by a young retailer named, Timothy Smith and began in just a small section of the handsome building block. By the early 1900’s, the store had grown to fill the entire three buildings completely. The store had grown into a vibrant retailing feature of early 20th century Boston.
The Timothy Smith Company was very successful and was active in the Boston retailing scene for almost one hundred years. Ads proclaimed it a “complete” suburban department store with plenty of ample parking on site, extra nights open later for the working folks and the very accessible public transit system right on the doorstep. It would seem that Timothy Smith’s was one of the first complete department stores to be located just outside of Boston and placed itself up there with Jordan Marsh, Houghton & Dutton and Filene’s. The print ads shouted out about extra value, fair prices and plenty of stamps and coupons to be used towards purchases. The store may have been slightly “suburban” but it was close enough to be a competitor to the big names of downtown Boston.
Timothy Smith’s was a main feature of the Dudley Square shopping area in Roxbury and a great source of pride and healthy commerce. The store weathered the Great Depression and remained strong through the 1930’s but the changing habits of shoppers being drawn further away to places even more suburban eroded the business in the early 1950’s. The store seems to have ceased operations by 1953 and the famous, century old structure became smaller shops and warehouse space.
The fate of downtown department stores reached out and claimed yet another victim. Roxbury lost a legendary store and the area cried out for business ventures to come and take up the many vacant storefronts along Washington and Dudley Streets.
Sadly, the historic retail block survived only until 2002 when a huge fire swept away the last of the Timothy Smith Company’s physical traces.
What lives on today? Timothy Smith loved Roxbury and in his will (of 1918) he left a great deal of money to be used by “Old Roxbury” to benefit the highest number of residents. The money (The Timothy Smith Fund) is still being used for good and has funded some exciting projects around “Old Roxbury”. Plus many folks still lovingly recall shopping in the north, south and center buildings of a wonderful place called, Timothy Smith’s!
Enjoy this look back and many thanks to my new friend for showing me the way to Dudley Square!
This blog has been so popular and generated much discussion around many of the stores of the past but one store really has become a true legend. Filene’s has many fans that are true to its dear memory….but The Jordan Marsh Company seems to have a wonderful nostalgic aura that surpasses all the others for so many Bostonians. For this reason, I have decided to begin a very special project dedicated just to The Jordan Marsh Company and a key part of this project will be the gathering of as many memories from the public who loved to shop there over the many years it ruled the Boston shopping scene.
The Jordan Marsh Memory Project could become a book or booklet of some type in the future…at this point I am just gathering all the information and research materials I can find about this great store of Boston’s past. I encourage anyone who would like to participate in the project to write to me at:
Boston born, Brookline raised Retro Boston Cultural Historian and very eager to get as many memories, photos and newspaper adverts of the once grand stores of the Downtown Boston we all knew and loved. Also I am very busy researching Boston area churches of the past that have since closed or merged into others. All who remember are welcome to contact me with their thoughts, memories and photos to add to any of my blogs.
Email me at: