In last week’s post, I shared some old postcard views of open-air farmers’ markets from the early 20th century. This week, I’ll be highlighting some postcards of old indoor markets. Cities with large open-air markets quickly found that those huge wagons loaded with produce clogging their downtowns could be a major traffic disruption, and the animal and vegetable waste left behind could be a serious sanitation problem. As a result, many cities built dedicated market houses where vendors could set up without worrying about bringing along shelter from the elements, and a staff could be hired to clean up the waste.
Here are a few postcards of indoor markets from my archives.
My last post included a photo of outdoor vendors at Les Halles in Paris, France. But this market actually got its name from the 12 grand glass-enclosed pavilions designed by architect Victor Baltard and built between 1851 and 1872. It was a fixture of Parisian life for almost a century, but by the 1960s it had become obsolete, and the market moved elsewhere. All but one of the pavilions were destroyed, and an underground market called the Forum des Halles was built. The remaining pavilion was classified a historical monument and moved to Nogent-sur-Marne, where it is now known as the Pavillon Baltard and hosts public events. The overall size of Les Halles in its heyday can be imagined when you realize that this pavilion alone covers 2,700 square meters and can accommodate up to 2,000 guests for events. The postcard below offers a glimpse at what some of the vendors inside the pavilions were selling a century ago. (To see a selection of other postcard views, go here.) Note the detritus littering the floor on this postcard view and be grateful for modern sanitation standards!
Though Americans can’t match the Old World for length of historical timelines, there may be no indoor market more steeped in history than Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston, Massachusetts. This market could be described as a campus, since it encompasses four market buildings in one location. Faneuil Hall, a gift to the city from a wealthy merchant in 1742, served not only as a marketplace for foodstuffs but as a marketplace for ideas, as leaders of the American Revolution gave speeches here that helped spark the eventual uprising. Adjacent buildings, including the Quincy Market (the 1820s Greek Revival building shown on the circa-1905 postcards below), were constructed later, on land reclaimed from Boston Harbor. The Quincy Market building alone covers 27,000 square feet. (Notice that prominent “ad placement” was as popular in 1905 as is it today.)
To the east of the Faneuil Hall market complex were the great wharves along Boston’s waterfront, which unloaded cargo from around the world (see a 1902 map of the area here). Tons of food were imported and exported through these wharves. You can imagine the odor and waste that resulted, thus giving this area its nickname: “The Dump.” The postcard below shows the district’s Clinton Market (lengthwise across the center of the card). Behind it, in the top right of the photo, may be seen the multicolored slanted rooftop of the Mercantile Wharf, which was located along the waterfront when it was built in 1857 but receded as part of Boston Harbor was filled in. It was saved from demolition in the 1970s and now houses shops and residences.
A marketplace with a history almost as old as Faneuil Hall’s is the City Market in Savannah, Georgia. Located in one of the original city squares laid out by James Edward Oglethorpe, founder of the Colony of Georgia, in 1733, the site began as an open-air market. A description of the market from the website of the site’s current occupant shows that it was a hub of activity for the city: “Farmers and fishermen brought to market such wares as scuppernongs, pigeon peas and fresh seafood of every description. Horses pulled wagons brimming with rabbit tobacco, watermelon and okra. Farriers shod horses and barbers trimmed hair. The market was Savannah’s social and commercial center of life.” Between 1755 and 1954, it occupied a series of buildings (the first two destroyed by fire) culminating in the building shown below, a large brick Romanesque style structure built in 1872. The destruction of this building in 1954 to make way for a parking garage galvanized a group of Savannah women into action to save other historic structures in their city. And in 1985, the square on which the City Market once stood, Ellis Square, was reclaimed when the parking garage was moved underground and warehouses around the perimeter were renovated into shops and residences.
The Market Square in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was laid out for that purpose back in 1785. Generous setbacks for produce wagons were mandated along Market Street—which was already quite grandly planned at 80 feet wide—where it intersected with Second Street. The postcard below, which dates from about 1910, is captioned “Market Square in 1860,” but details in the photo lead me to believe that the date inscribed in the lower right corner, 1874, is more correct. The city leaders decided at some point that the perimeter of the square was not sufficient to accommodate all of the vendors, so they built wooden structures in the center of the square to house some of them. As you can see by the tracks running down Market Street, the market was easily accessible by streetcar. Most of the structures shown in this photo have long since disappeared, but Market Square is still used as a venue for concerts.
The Chippewa or Washington Street Market in Buffalo, New York, has a long history, as well. This city-owned market was established in 1856, and by the time it fell victim to 1960s urban renewal efforts, it had grown to accommodate more than 400 vendors, many of them catering to the various immigrant groups that made up the city’s population. At one time, it could boast of being the largest market west of the Hudson River. Streetcar lines led Buffalo’s shoppers straight to its doors. In the large brick building shown on the right of this postcard, shoppers could choose from among the wares of the city’s finest butchers. Booths for vendors of dairy and produce circled the building. Surrounding the block were booths for locally made nonfood items. All of this makes it sound remarkably like a modern shopping mall, but—as was the case with other city markets—supermarkets, suburban sprawl, and the automobile culture contributed to its demise. The site is currently a parking lot. For more about the history of this market, click here; for more photos and a story about one of the longtime vendors, click the photo below.
According to the San Antonio Conservation Society, the Market Square area of San Antonio, Texas, was the site of a public market since the 1880s. The elaborate Victorian structure shown on the postcard below housed the market from about 1900 to about 1937. It was designed by renowned English-born architect Alfred Giles, who also designed many other public buildings in Texas and Mexico. Each of the building’s two floors were 278 feet long and 72 feet wide. The ground level was a marketplace for farm produce, and the upper level served as a public auditorium, convention center, and armory. By the 1930s, part of the lower level was used as a municipal parking garage (see a 1931 photo here). The market must have suffered a fire or succumbed to the Great Depression, because by 1938 it had been replaced by a Southwestern style Art Deco building built with funding from the federal government. The 1938 market building, on West Commerce Street across from Milam Square, is still used today as a marketplace called El Mercado. The Farmers’ Market, Produce Row, and El Mercado combine to make Market Square a popular shopping destination for tourists and residents.