Each generation rediscovers good things from earlier generations and gives them a new twist. Urban farmers’ markets are one of those good things. A century ago, most cities had at least one market, and many had dedicated “market houses.” A half-century ago, however, consumers were persuaded to believe that such markets were hopelessly old-fashioned and that shiny new chain supermarkets were superior. Today, more and more shoppers are rejecting the supermarket model and once again embracing their local food producers. Maybe cities will support their efforts by rededicating some of the indoor infrastructure these markets once occupied.
To celebrate the annual opening of our local Emmaus Farmers’ Market (est. 2003) this Sunday, I thought I would share some postcards from my collection showing open-air city markets from the beginning of the 20th century. Some of these markets are still operating. Click on any of the images for links to modern markets at these (or nearby) locations.
Some cities dedicated the center of town to a green market at least one day a week. The Easton Farmers’ Market, on “The Circle” in downtown Easton, Pennsylvania—still in operation—bills itself as the longest-running open-air farmers’ market in the United States, dating to 1752. This view is from about a century ago:
As a legacy of this bygone era, many American towns have large, wide streets named “Market Street.” This 1905 postcard from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, shows why these streets were so wide; the wagons that farmers used to transport their goods to market were rather large, taking up a good portion of the street:
Although it’s no longer on Market Street, the Williamsport Growers Market carries on this tradition today.
Scranton, Pennsylvania, was a railroad hub for the Northeast, and judging by the large volume of produce the farmers were offering on the postcard below, it was a hub for wholesale produce buyers, as well. In the 1940s, a group of Scranton-area farmers purchased a piece of land from the city for a permanent market location. Known as the Cooperative Farmers Market of Scranton, it offers 40 stands under cover, with many other amenities. It is celebrating its 73rd season in 2012.
Major cities also hosted markets, as can be seen on this postcard from Chicago. The Windy City and its suburbs now boast more than 100 markets.
Some of the most famous big-city markets were located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Many of the “stands” (so called because the vendors stood behind their carts) were operated by recent Eastern European immigrants. Below is an image of the market on Manhattan’s Hester Street, looking west along the north side of the street from the building at the corner of Hester and Clinton Streets (since demolished), ca 1901. The unsanitary conditions shown here were a major impetus for the hygienic-market movement later in the century. In 2010, a market called the Hester Street Fair—with a decidedly more upscale clientele—was established and will celebrate its third year this year.
The pushcart vendors on the Lower East Side were primarily Jewish and Italian. The 1905 view below shows some of the Jewish vendors on Essex Street. Many city residents thought these markets were a nuisance and health hazard; the streets crowded with pushcarts were also hard for emergency vehicles to navigate. Prior to the 1939 New York World’s Fair, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia led an effort to displace the pushcart vendors, which he regarded as an embarrassment to the city, and move them into new, city-owned indoor markets where sanitation could be better managed. One such market is the Essex Street Market at the corner of Essex and Delancey Streets. It is one of only three of LaGuardia’s eight original city markets to survive. Click on the link above to see what’s happening at the market today; click on the photo below to see some historical images of Essex Street vendors.
Of course, these immigrants were merely carrying on traditions they had brought with them from the Old Country. European cities, towns, and villages had their own markets. One of the oldest is the market at Les Halle in Paris, France, which dates to 1137 (yes, that’s almost 900 years!):
On a less grand scale, smaller towns and villages had markets in the public square, flanked by the town hall and parish church. One such village was Chateau-Thierry, in the Picardy Region of France. At the turn of the 20th century, it had about 7,000 inhabitants. Their market took place in front of the Protestant church and town hall:
A modern photograph taken at the same location shows that the site is still used for a public market (though, judging from the photo, it is a flea market and not a green market).
Open-air markets were certainly not limited to Europe or North America. Here is a card showing vendors in or near Saigon, Vietnam, when it was still part of the French colony called Cochinchine. This photo may have been taken at the market now known as the Ben Thành Market.
And finally, our four-footed friends are not about to let humans have all of the fun. Here are some feline market-goers doing their shopping on a German postcard ca 1910.
Stay tuned: Next week, I’ll be showing images of covered stalls and market houses.