Sunday, July 10, 2011

George B. Evans – A Merchandiser for All Seasons


It seems that every time I start to post what I think will be a nice simple piece, the story suddenly turns into something more interesting and more difficult to summarize.

I had planned a piece about George Evans and Philadelphia summers. For some time I have had a few paragraphs on the Interactive Map about that fact that Evan was one of the largest sellers of refrigerated, cold soda at his drug store (see below). I also discovered that he was the producer of Mum’s deodorant. (Those of you who have read my earliest blogs may remember John Powers and the ads he developed for Mums.) I figured cold soda and deodorant were enough for a July blog. However, I couldn’t leave well enough alone. I searched the archives of the Philadelphia Inquirer (available on-line through the Free Library of Philadelphia) and discovered that he deserves a place in the pantheon of Philadelphia merchandizers.
The Soda Fountain at George B. Evans's Store at 1106 Chestnut st. (c1906)

Powelton residents included numerous pharmacists. George B. Evans was not one of them. He sold patent medicines and hired trained pharmacists. He opened his first store at 1104 Chestnut St. about 1884. He later explained that "In 1887 I rented next door. I needed more room, but it then began to seem as though I had acquired too much room. The new store looked bare, so I purchased some pictures and hung them on the walls. They must've been pretty attractive pictures, because customers when they came in to buy drugs insisted on buying them. Well, that gave me the tip. I laid in more pictures and I've been laying them in ever since.” By 1895, his wares included “dainty bits of chinaware, sparkling cut glass, artistic bronzes, beautiful lamps, rich silver, handsome silver-plated ware, [and] clocks of various kinds.…”

In 1890, George married Lucy M. Hickman and they moved to 3621 Powelton Ave. The same year, he opened a second shop at 2330 N. Front St. and in 1893, he opened one at 8th and Arch Streets. By then George and Lucy had moved to 206 N. 34th St. About 1898, they moved across the street to a new house at 223 N. 34th St. that was probably designed and built by the Wilson brothers. Business must have been very good – he owned the house without a mortgage. He soon opened two more stores on Market St. (in 1902) and on Chestnut St. (1903).

In 1898, the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about the expansion of Evans’s store at Eighth and Arch:

“Every Philadelphian who is proud of the business growth of the city should visit the newly enlarged drugstore of George B. Evans, at the northeast corner of Eighth and Arch streets…. Philadelphia is to-day possessor of a system of drug stores which for size, completeness and efficiency are not excelled in this country.

“Some fourteen years ago Mr. Evans opened a drug store near Eleventh and Chestnut streets. It's growth was phenomenal, and needs no description. Evans’ soda, Evans’ drugs, and not the least Evans’ prices, have long been household words in this city. [Evans was a leader in discounting the price of patent medicines.] Not satisfied with this success, a few years ago he determined to open a branch store on Eighth Street, and to this end secured a corner store, about forty feet square, one of six others into which the old Heller dry goods establishment was divided. Since then he has gradually enlarged by absorbing the remaining rooms of the building, and has just opened a mammoth drug store which includes the whole six stores mentioned, or the entire ground floor and basement of Heller building….


“The main entrance on Eighth street, which is a model of artistic skill, surrounded on each side with mahogany encased mirrors, sparkling with attractive displays of the world's finest perfumes and toilet waters… gives one the impression of a crystal maze entering into a crystal palace. The soda fountain occupies a prominent position in the centre of the store, and presents a marvelous combination of Mexican onyx, Sienna and Italian marbles, encased with large and handsome mirrors, finished in mahogany…


“[T]he prescription department… occupies a suspended gallery running the entire length of the store. Here were watched the dispensing chemists… mixing various decoctions and potions, making pills, ointments, spreading plasters, etc. Everything presented an appearance of great carefulness, with the system of checking which renders mistakes almost impossible, and nothing but the finest, chemically pure drugs are used in prescription work.

“The system of receiving cash by means of electric cable lines is well-nigh perfect, and the average length of time occupied in making change and returning same to customer is about twenty seconds.


“In addition to the drugs, patent medicines, toilet articles of all descriptions, the finest perfumes from the best manufacturers throughout the world and all accessories of a first-class drug store, there is connected with each of his stores an art department, where may be found choice articles for gifts, including china and bric-a-bracs, leather goods, sterling silver, cut glass, stationery etc. Mr. Evans is now in Europe searching the various commercial centres for choice novelties in the above lines for next fall's trade.” 
(Philadelphia Inquirer, April 6, 1898)

Ad for Evans Drug Stores, Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 30, 1893
This article and several similar articles in the Inquirer may have been from press releases written by John O. Powers (who also lived at 206 N. 34th St. at one time). Evans’s stores were also prominently mentioned in numerous ads for such products as hair restorers and medicinal inhalers.  These may also have been arranged by Powers.


Evans was a grand showman. In 1902, he hired Addison Hutton to design alterations to his store at 1012 Market St. In 1910, he opened a newer store at 1221 Market St. that occupied 7,200 square feet. The store was decorated with “replica statuettes and floral garlands with fixtures in mahogany.” The ceiling had four stained-glass skylights and in the evening the store was lighted by 1,000 incandescent lights. In 1906, Evans’ original store on Chestnut St. had a soda fountain that sold an average of 2,000 drinks a day.

It appears that the Evans family was doing quite well. In 1910, the family included their four children, Edith (age 19), George B., Jr. (17), Harold F. (15), and Wayne H. (11), as well as a secretary, a cook, a chambermaid, and a waitress. George had been Vice President of the Union League and Lucy’s name frequently appeared in the social columns. In 1906, they bought a beach front property on Longport where they built a beach house.

In 1916, Edith married John Lawrence Pancoast, an insurance broker. Her engagement was celebrated at a bridge party given by Mrs. Paxon Deeter, a friend of hers from the Philadelphia Fencers’ Club. After their marriage, the Pancoasts moved to Lower Merion. By 1920, they had an infant son, Evans Pancoast, as well as a maid, a cook, a nurse and a waitress.
Ensign George B. Evans, Jr.

Tragedy struck in 1918. When WWI started, George, Jr. joined the Naval Reserves and was transferred to the naval air service. He trained to become a navy airman. In June, 1918, he was killed during a training flight near Miami when his plane fell apart at an altitude of 500 feet. He was 26 and had graduated from the Hill School and Cornell. His mother became heavily involved in the Canteen Committee of the Red Cross and worked to provide hospitality to soldiers coming through Philadelphia.








Harold Evans received training at Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benjamin Harrison. Its not clear whether he saw combat. When he turned 21, the Philadelphia Inquirer published his photo and identified him only as “a well-known business man.”

Five months after his brother’s death, Harold Hickman Evans changed his birthday from June, 1899 to November, 1898. He then enlisted in the Marne Corp on his new 20th birthday. He served as a Gunnery Sergeant during both WWI and WWII.

In the 1920s, George and Lucy Evans left Powelton and moved to Thornbrook Rd. in Lower Merion where they lived in retirement with their secretary, cook, assistant cook and chamber maid.

1 comment:

  1. I would like to see what else you may have on this family. I'm doing a family tree for my family, and they are in my bloodline. Lucy Hickman, George Evans Sr's wife, was the daughter of Catharine Clinger and George Hickman. George was the son of Benjamin Hickman and Julia McFarlan (sometimes as McFarland). This McFarland family comes from the Heald line of which I am a descendant. I have back to this line documented and would like to learn more about the Evans side. Also, I am excited to see you have some Photos here and wondered if you had others. Thank you in advance! James J Hill 3rd (Jameshillsellshomes@comcast.net)

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