F.B. Whittle Hardware, Butler NJ

Once upon an era, every town and village had a hardware store. In many instances, it was also the general store, post office, and community center where men would discuss the matters of the day.

F.B. Whittle Hardware building
Whittle Hardware, shortly after closing in 2001

Frank B. Whittle was born in England in 1860, and (presumably with his family) came to America in 1870. He lived in Sussex, where he had a position with the Lawrence Hardware Company. He met and married Harriet Beemer and had a daughter, Edith, in 1886.

Apparently an upstanding citizen, Whittle was at various times the Borough Clerk, the Registrar, and chief of the fire department.

In 1905, the company incorporated, with S.F. Quince and Frank Whittle, “former employees of the firm”, as the incorporators.

According to a trade magazine’s report, “The company is intending to open a branch Hardware and plumbing establishment at Butler, N.J.”

Frank and his family moved to Butler, where he opened the branch store downstairs from the Butler Opera House. A fire in December 1906 destroyed the Opera House and several nearby structures. He was fortunate that a sturdy three-story brick building had been recently finished at 208 Main Street. This became the new home of The Lawrence Hardware Company, which sold plumbing, hardware and heating supplies. He ran this store until 1915, when he moved to Pompton Lakes to open another branch store.

Still interested in local affairs, he was at some point elected mayor. In 1921, he bought the store and ran it under his own name.

Correspondence with Lamson & Goodnow, a Massachusetts cutlery company.

He remained in Pompton Lakes until 1923 when he sold the business and, the following year, organized (and was president of) the F.B. Whittle Hardware Company. Soon after, he purchased the Butler store. It was operated under his name until the store closed in 2001.

Whittle Hardware as most of us remember it.

Frank B. Whittle died in 1928, but the store stayed in the family. Edith Whittle had married Irvin Shorter in 1905, and their son, Donald, took over the store. It was run by the Shorter family until the late 1990s. The store was sold, but closed permanently in 2001.

Businesses on Main Street, Butler NJ, early 1900s

If you could somehow pluck a citizen of Butler, NJ, off Main Street a century (or more) ago, and plop him down in the same place today, he’d immediately recognize his surroundings. Butler is one of those towns which hasn’t changed substantially over that time. (Compare with any photo of, say, downtown Manhattan, where very little remains from the past.)

Not only is this really cool to a history buff, it also makes it easier to pair the businesses of then to the businesses of now. Here’s what I know:

Judging by the car, this is early 1900s.

The large gold sign on the store reads “Goldstein Bros” … currently there is no third & fourth story, due to a fire. This is the large building formerly occupied by Levine Bros clothiers.

Main Street, Butler NJ, early 20th Century
Main Street, Business Section, Butler NJ in the early 1900s. Click for full-sized version.

The store next door, closer to the photographer, has no large sign, but you can read “Soda” at the bottom of the window. This is the building currently occupied by Butler News & Candy Shop (150 Main St) — largely unmodified since this postcard!

The building closest to us is at 144 Main Street, currently occupied by Alvino’s Barber Shop.

The building to the left of Goldstein’s would then be the WCTU building (156-158 Main St), currently occupied by Mizuki restaurant. It appears the roof was rebuilt and is, today, higher than in this photo. Indeed, it appears that the WCTU sign is there, hung above the second-story porch.

The next building beyond, a house, at 160 Main Street is currently Vanderhoof & Sons Custom Heating.

And note you can see the RR station at left, down the block.

The Cleary building

This building, on the corner of Boonton Ave. and Kiel Ave., started out as Cleary’s Department Store early in the 20th Century.  It also served as the town’s post office after the Clearys moved to a different location. Note the unpaved roads, which became quite messy in wet weather.

Just past it is Cleary’s Grocery Market.  Across the street is A. Scott, Tailor. Someone on the Butler page on Facebook commented that the tailor shop became Henry Ricker’s Pharmacy, while one of the next stores was King Hiller’s music store. Hiller also played the organ in the Butler Theatre, back in the day.

Click on this hand-colored postcard to see the full-sized version.

 

Cleary building
Boonton Ave & Cleary building, Butler, about 1907

Here’s how it looked in 2001. (I strive to duplicate the old photos as closely as possible.)  It also looked pretty much the same in the early 1980s when I worked for Suburban Trends, which occupied all three floors. The printing press was in the garage next to it.

The buildings across from it are still there, still in use as storefronts. This 2000 photo shows the corner store was Cafe Buono; before that, when I worked in Butler, and for many years before and after that, it was Pro’s Sweet Shop. The locals still speak of it wistfully. It was a great luncheonette.

Cleary building (2000)
Boonton Ave & Cleary building (2000)

Lyon’s Butler Theatre

Lyon’s Theatre sits on lower Arch Street, near the Bloomingdale border. Most folk just called it Butler Theatre.  Can’t say I know much about this place, but I’m sure it was the place to be on a Friday night. I wonder what movies they showed?

According to the Facebook Butler page, King Hiller — who owned a music store on Kiel Ave, across from Cleary’s Department Store — played the organ during those silent films.  Evidently it closed sometime in the 1950s.

 

Butler Theatre then & now
Butler Theatre then & now