Saturday, March 9, 2019

Galt & Bro. Jeweler's - A Glittering Legacy

By Tiffany Amber Stockton



Last month, I shared about the Delaware's State Fair and the history of fairs throughout the "First State." If you missed that post, you can read it here: https://www.hhhistory.com/2019/02/the-first-states-first-state-fair-book.html.

Just last night, I was chatting with a friend about shared commonalities from living around the Chesapeake Bay for a time. We reminisced about places we visited, and in a part of that conversation, I shared about my family's ties to Washington, D.C., as well as some of the elite, including several presidents. Here's a little glimpse of my personal family history as seen through the eyes of one of the oldest and continuously operated jewelry stores in the nation.

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A Glittering Legacy

stamp on brown paper showing opening date
also etched on all packages delivered from the shop
George Washington didn't sleep here, but Abraham Lincoln shopped here.

So did Jefferson Davis and Alexander Graham Bell, J. Edgar Hoover and John F. Kennedy, and practically every well-heeled luminary who has passed through Washington, D.C., over the past 200 years.

In 1802, James Galt (a cousin of mine many times removed) opened his "clock and watch" business on the promise that he would "keep a few good watches and material for sale at reasonable prices." Sadly, in 2001, the store was forced to close its doors, but 200 years in continuous operation is quite impressive!

1107 Pennsylvania Ave. storefront
Throughout its many years in business, leather-bound store ledgers documented the visits and recorded the accounts of people like "Hon. Abraham Lincoln," as well as the "Hon. Jefferson Davis," who in 1860 purchased charms, buttons, shawl pins, and a gold thimble, and "Gen. Ulysses S. Grant," who six years later purchased two butter knives and a sugar tong. These hand-written ledgers and yellowed customer cards became much more of a treasure than the Gorham silver or diamond-and-pearl adornments rumored to be quite favored by Mary Todd Lincoln...a woman whose much-criticized obsession with spending was documented in faded script in the ledgers.

Among some of these hand-written items are customer cards of "Mrs. F.D. Roosevelt," and "Mrs. Wm. H. Taft," and a copy of Washington's first phone directory -- a single page from 1878 with "Galt" as the only name listed under "Jeweler." How amazing is that? To be the only jeweler in the city and to boast a clientele that can only be described as city's elite!

interior of Galt & Bros. Jewelry
The shop reflected its posh patronage too. Chandeliers sparkled overhead, oriental carpets muffled footsteps, and heavy, ice-blue damask curtains blocked the sun, while a massive grandfather clock stood sentry. This place was much more than a jewelry store. Other inventory items included silver keychains, leather watchbands, linen napkins and tablecloths, a grand silver tea service, and a commemorative Bicentennial plate, added in 1976 (the year I was born).

Although I never stepped inside the shop when it was open, I do know the last Galt to operate the business was Norman Galt, whose wife, Edith Bolling Galt, inherited it upon his death and went on to become the wife of President Woodrow Wilson. I wrote a post a couple years ago about this, as she was my grandfather's first cousin on my mother's side.

Galt & Bros. storefront at 1107 Pennsylvania Ave.
(photo copyright Alamy)
Considering the notable list of names who frequented this shop, it's no surprise to also learn the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Washington Historical Society are all itching to inherit the Galt archives.

After 200 years in Washington, that's a pretty amazing legacy. One of these years, I intend to write a series focusing on this jewelry store and the people who were patrons and customers. It will be exciting to research not only the story but my own family's history too. Washington, D.C. elite in the 1800s and 1900s. Sounds like fun to me!!

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NOW IT'S YOUR TURN:

* Do you have any notable names or stories like this in YOUR family history?

* What item or type of item would entice you to shop at Galt & Bros. if you were in Washington, D.C. during its years of operation?

* What was your favorite part about today's post?



BIO

Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood, when she was accused of having a very active imagination and cited with talking entirely too much. Today, she has honed those childhood skills to become an award-winning and best-selling author and speaker who is also an advocate for literacy as an educational consultant with Usborne Books. On the side, she dabbles in the health & wellness and personal development industry, helping others become their best from the inside out.

She lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, along with their two children and two dogs in Colorado. She has sold twenty (21) books so far and is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency. You can find her on FacebookTwitterGoodReads, and LinkedIn

2 comments:

  1. I love that you have such a direct connection to this place! And to put the business in a novel with all those famous customers??? How fun! I have a cousin who collects all the family stories and genealogy and I need to sit down with her and listen to some of the stories. And I might never buy anything at a jewelry store but it is always fun to look at the beautiful items. Thanks for posting!

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  2. What a wonderful post. It brought back memories of when I lived in the Northern Virginia area and would visit WDC. I only went past Galt's a couple of times, peeking in the window, but I didn't realize they closed.(We moved out of the area in early 2002) They had beautiful items, any of which I'd have been happy to purchase! We don't have any "notables" in our family. Blessings! Linda Matchett

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