Main Pantry

The room farther from the kitchen and connected to the passage/butler’s pantry through a doorway originally would have served the Wilson family as its main pantry. Here, important items could be kept safe under lock and key. Originally, this secluded area contained two built-in cabinets in which a variety of food items, including condiments, canned goods, dry goods, flour, and grains, could have been stored.

A built-in cupboard dominates the room’s north wall. Within its lower section rest four large storage bins most likely intended to accommodate significant amounts of grains, flour, etc. that would have been distributed for use within the neighboring kitchen.

HS-1 Advertisement, (Columbia) Daily Phoenix, April 6, 1872.

Columbia grocers provided their clientele with a broad range of food items. This included a wide range of flour types and grades that would have been bought in large volume and then distributed in smaller units according to the needs of the patron. For instance, the wholesale and retail grocery business of R.D. Senn & Son, located at the intersection of Main and Bridge (most likely Gervais) streets marketed to its customers, its very own “Family Flour very choice and second to none,” in addition to a host of other foods including some goods pre-packaged for convenience and others found in bulk.

The cupboard’s twin open shelves could have held a number of items stored in medium to smaller sized jugs and jars, some of which may have been manufactured locally and others that would have been imported from other parts of the country.

Image courtesy South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina

HS-2 Jug, Landrum-Stork Pottery, Columbia, South Carolina, circa-1860.

Historic Columbia Foundation collection, HCF 2008.18.1

Most Columbia households during Reconstruction would have featured a number of utilitarian, earthenware ceramic vessels. Intended to be functional, rather than beautiful, these jugs, pots, and bowls often are prized today for their appearance and association with the state’s alkaline glazed pottery tradition. Local merchants carried these utilitarian wares made in Edgefield, South Carolina, and also within Richland County. Abner Landrum, an Edgefield potter who relocated to Columbia in 1832, produced a variety of pieces, such as this small jug in the decades before and after the Civil War. Archaeological findings indicated such ceramics are known to have been used throughout the properties under Historic Columbia Foundation’s stewardship. The contents of such a vessel could have included milk, water, vinegar, molasses, etc. Intended for replenishing, such containers are foreign to contemporary consumers accustomed to disposable and recyclable bottles, jars, and tubs.

HS-3 Toleware Spice Box, circa-1875.

Historic Columbia Foundation collection, HCF 1997.504.1

Toleware was made by painting tin-plated metal black then covering the object with brightly colored designs. This metal box contains six different round tins for various spices including mace, sage, allspice and thyme. Decorative and functional, this spice box originally had a lock in order to safeguard its contents.

Behind locked doors within the cupboard’s enclosed shelving would rest foods of greater value. Items that stocked the pantry shelves of some Columbia homes included both individually wrapped products such as fancy canned goods like meats and fish and condiments products such as pickles, relishes, mustards, etc.

HS-4 Corned Beef and Canned Fish Trade Cards, circa-1870-1875.

Images courtesy of Winterthur Museum

Marketing of pre-packaged goods and name-brand products escalated during the Reconstruction period. Causes behind this increase included heightened communication and advances in railroad transportation. Trade cards flourished, offering potential patrons exciting images, often in color, depicting the benefits of using their container’s contents.

Consumer items such as corned beef and canned fish were among those products Columbia merchants carried. The Wilson family may have included some of them in its pantry, if not for daily consumption, then for special events.

HS-5 Advertisement, (Columbia) Daily Phoenix, October 11, 1873.

Image courtesy South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina

Merchant George Symmers, who ran a store on Richardson (Main) Street, carried a variety of “Fancy Groceries, Spices, and Condiments.” Among them were canned items including fruits, fish and vegetables. For those items not pre-packaged, Symmers attempted to put consumer’s concerns over being cheated at ease by stressing that “full weights always guaranteed.” Mass production of pre-packaged items had a huge impact on American consumers, as it prevented people from being taken advantage of by unscrupulous merchants.

HS-6 Tin Can, Hole-in-Top, circa-1870.

Image courtesy Jakob Crockett

While available before the Civil War, canned goods, so common in today’s world, remained more or less a novelty among most Americans. Their use climbed tremendously during the later 1860s through the 1870s, which revolutionized the way people bought groceries, what type of items they bought, and when they could do so. Appreciating the potential that individualized packaging offered, local grocers filled their shelves with a wide variety of products. Grocer John Agnew ordered 150 cases in October 1871. Among the 20 different items that comprised his order were condensed milk, lobsters, fish, mutton, tomatoes, and cherries. Two years later the Columbia business of Lorick and Lowrance advertised that its store carried a stock of 500 cases of canned items. Prices for items naturally varied according to their contents, as they do today. For instance a two-pound can of mackerel in 1870 commanded 65 cents ($11.07 in 2010 dollars) at Agnew’s. Meanwhile two-pound cans of fruit or vegetables cost only 25 cents ($4.26 in 2010 dollars). While these sums placed canned goods financially out of the reach of some citizens, others nonetheless found them to be increasingly more attractive and acceptable.

HS-7 Spice Grater, circa-1860-1880.

Historic Columbia Foundation collection, HCF 1978.10.1

During the 19th century nutmeg and other spices were shipped and purchased in an unprocessed, whole form. A seed requiring the use of graters to shave off the spice for use, nutmeg has been popular in both sweet and savory foods since the Middle Ages. This example, in the shape of a shoe features a small compartment behind the grater for storing the nuts.

The pantry’s original, second built-in shelf unit was relocated upstairs sometime between the late 1920s and the late 1960s, when the building’s second-story was turned into an apartment. This cupboard differs from the pantry’s previously-mentioned cupboard in layout. Featuring shelves behind solid, lockable doors within its bottom and top sections, this unit could have held a variety of foods or dishes, possibly canned/preserved items grown within garden plots on the grounds or purchased locally.

HS-8 Condiment/Olive Jar, 1870s.

Historic Columbia Foundation collection, not accessioned

Before the Civil War and during Reconstruction Columbians had access to a large variety of items used to garnish their meals. Many of these items came in bottles, which were disposed of after use. This example was found in an archeological excavation conducted at the Mann-Simons site, located four blocks northwest of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home. Such foodstuffs and containers would have been commonly found within the Wilson household and those of other Columbia families.

Larger items, such as jugs containing molasses or other liquids, and jars or boxes could have been stored in the lower sections of the cupboard. During Phase II of the Woodrow Wilson Family Home rehabilitation this built-in cabinetry will be returned to its original location within the building’s main pantry so that visitors may have a more accurate view of how the room looked historically. As the storage center for much of the staple foods used in meals, pantries may have been one place in which someone might find cookbooks for determining ingredients needed for a meal.

HS-9 Warne’s Model Cookery and Housekeeping Book, 1868.

Historic Columbia Foundation collection not accessioned

By the mid-19th century cookbooks were becoming common household items. Published in England, this example includes both recipes and detailed color images of food, not unlike what we have come to expect of most modern cookbooks. Also included among its pages are images of common kitchen utensils. Other cookbooks of the period included The Carolina Housewife (1847); Modern Domestic Cookery (1871); and The Centennial Receipt Book (1876). Early examples of formalizing processes and products, cookbooks would be followed by other helpful manuals on domestic science that included health, hygiene, and philosophies on the layout and function of rooms within homes.

HS-10 Advertisements, (Columbia) Daily Phoenix, November 3, 1872 & July 24, 1873

Image courtesy South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina

Not all grocers advertised their businesses; in fact, only about five of the twelve grocers in operation during the Wilson family’s time in Columbia did so. However, these grocers, as well as bakeries and pastry shops frequently advertised their goods within Columbia’s Daily Phoenix newspaper during the 1860s and 1870s. Occasionally featuring illustrations, these “cards” today provide us an interesting perspective into Reconstruction era life. For instance, just in time to celebrate the annual fair, McKenzie’s confectionary on Main Street offered a number of tempting desserts including ice cream, crystalized fruits, and Charlotte Russe, in addition to steaks, oysters (fried and steamed), and chicken patties. Other citizens may have drawn their shopping lists from Hardy Solomon’s advertisement, then offering “a full line of delicacies” including canned fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, and even green turtle soup. As if this assortment were not enough, Solomon’s reminded its potential visitors that these products and more were “for sale cheap.”

Columbians used stores for more than simply stocking their pantries. Clustered within the downtown business district particularly on Richardson (Main) Street, stores were numerous, convenient and important informal spaces for social interaction. Demographically, grocers typically were white men, though some were African-Americans and a few were women. One-quarter of Columbia’s grocers who operated between 1868 and 1880 were foreigners who immigrated to the United States.

Often grocers owned several businesses as a way to diversify their income, broaden relationships within the community, and for many, to become politically active. Between 1868 and 1878, twelve grocers were among the 50 men elected to serve on city council. No other occupation, including lawyers, was more greatly represented in politics. During the Wilson family’s time in South Carolina, Columbia’s mayor, John Alexander, also was owner of the Congaree Iron Works, a foundry that produced a number of items including decorative architectural elements. Confectioner John McKenzie came before Alexander, and china merchant and grocery W.B. Stanley served after the politically active iron monger. Both McKenzie and Stanley operated their stores on Main Street, the scene of this political rally illustrated in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated in 1876.

People who shopped at grocery stores were more often than not men, a phenomenon that seems to indicate just how important such businesses were to the male-dominated society of the era. Within groceries and other downtown establishments, men debated local politics, Federal Reconstruction, economics, and the new social order brought on by the end of the Civil War.

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