From The Story of Dartmouth, by John P. Martin:
On May 1st, 1890, our seven-member family moved from “Asylum Road’’ to the roomy Quaker-built house at Sterns’ corner. The front door was on Portland Street. The premises had just been vacated by Frank Mowatt, grocer. Downstairs in the shop my father sold candy, tobacco, hop beer and table beer on draught. We served oysters on the half-shell which cost about a dollar a barrel and yielded a handsome profit.
On the western side of Water Street then ran a row of small buildings so that the house and one-chair tonsorial parlor of D. J. Symonds on the northwest corner was directly opposite our shop. Steamboat Hill was no wider than the rest of Portland Street. Next north of Symonds was Mrs. Morrissey’s window-array of three plates of taffy (not fly-screened), while behind the counter were displayed a few 4-cent figs of chewing tobacco which could be purchased either whole or in part. If financial stringency necessitated the latter method, the sale price was one cent per quarter-fig.
Backyards, even in the downtown section, were usually enclosed with high board fences to keep in the poultry and keep out stray cows whose wanderings could ruin a vegetable or flower garden in a few minutes. Here and there on main street fences were painted advertisements of Burdock Blood Bitters, Scott’s Emulsion or the one about Perry Davis’ Pain Killer. (On our weather-beaten wooden fence, just up from the Ferry, were painted four large brown letters, M. C. R. C. This was probably some cough-remedy compound. The letters were so spaced as to occupy the entire length of the Portland Street side to the alleyway behind the present Dartmouth Furnishers. We had our own cow in the yard, also hens.)
The principal business places were on Portland and Ochterloney Streets west of King Street, and on Water Street (now Alderney Drive) between Ochterloney and Portland. The idea was to be located near the ferry. There were no shops of consequence on Portland Street east of King. Meat was sold only in butcher shops which carried no groceries whatever. There were also stores like Graham Brothers and Mrs. Backman that dealt exclusively in pork and pork products. Butcher shops like C. E. Peveril, John R. Graham and Stewart Conrad were crowded before school with children sent to buy the meat for dinner. In the afternoons of an ordinary week-day, there were very few customers in such stores.
Leading grocers were T. Gentles and Son, opposite St. Peter’s Hall, E. M. Walker, 22 Ochterloney, Mrs. Isabel Lawlor at the corner of Portland, J. B. Maclean at the present Nieforth Radio and Colin McNab diagonally opposite. At week-ends these places carried on a flourishing country trade with a heavy turnover of bags of oats, bran, pollard and bales of pressed, hay. All had spare barns for sheltering oxen and horses on Saturdays. Otherwise the buildings were unused. Lawlor’s long low barn had three separate entrances and extended from the store up to the present Harbor Cafe. If no stalls were available the animals were tethered to the rear of their wagons where the oxen would usually squat and ruminate contentedly upon the bed of oval-shaped cobble-stones in Portland Street gutter.
The most modern establishment in town at that time was in our only brick building where L. Sterns and Son sold dry goods, millinery, trunks, carpets and oilcloths. In the high McDonald building to the north, A. M. Beck made smart suits for men, employing about ten persons in his tailoring rooms upstairs. John Allen at Hiltz’s present location, and W. L. Tuttle opposite Murphy’s blacksmith shop were the only shoe dealers. In his drugstore at 19 Portland Street W. H. Stevens had the agency of the Western Union Telegraph. The bakery of H. B. Gentles and that of John Lawlor at Solomon’s location on Portland Street supplied our limited bread needs since most housewives made their own semiweekly batches. Neither bread nor milk vans came over from Halifax in those days.
On the contrary there were some twenty milk wagons crossing to the City from the outskirts of Dartmouth in the early morning ferries. Only a few farm-proprietors maintained routes around town because householders could usually obtain milk in their immediate neighborhood where almost every block had its back-yard cow-barn. (One of the last of these downtown barns may yet be seen up the alleyway at 41 Portland Street where Angus McAdam once kept as many as nine cows and three horses.)
From diminutive dairies in the rear of such households, tin-cans of fresh milk were carried to the homes of regular customers about seven o’clock in the morning -and six o’clock at night. The two trips were necessary 365 days in the year, for there were then very few families who had any means of preserving milk except by enshrouding the pitcher with a dampened cloth. Milk then sold for three cents per pint.
On summer mornings it was a common sight to see one or two cows meandering along a main street on the way to pasture, with an indifferent juvenile drover loitering far behind. Some nine or ten animal owners who were unable to rent fields, used to pay 25 cents per week per cow to a boy named William Stevens who tended their critters all day long in the undeveloped sections outside the town plot where there was plenty of grass. For this reason the boy got to be called “Shepherd” Stevens, and the nickname still sticks. “Shepherd” is best known to ferry-commuters because he was for nearly forty years employed as an oiler in the engine-room, and has only recently retired.
The other precious liquid most vital to our existence was fresh water. Every drop of it had to be carefully conserved. There were private wells in many cellars and in yards, with the ever-present puncheon for rain-water under the spouts of dwellings. Households which lacked a supply, generally sent their young people to the nearest town pump. In 1890 there were 19 public pumps and 19 public wells scattered throughout Dartmouth, and these were regularly cleaned out and the pump rods repaired by the Water Committee.
The nearest source of supply to our house was at “Dr. Cunningham’s pump”, so called because it was located in front of the latter’s residence which is now the Dartmouth Funeral Home on Queen Street. The pump stood on a platform in the street, some five feet from the gutter. My big brothers used to make about four trips a day to this pump, sometimes using an iron hoop over the top of the two buckets so that the water would not splash over their boots. The pump in Dr. Campbell’s yard was another source and a shorter haul, but the water there was a bit brackish.
In homes of widows and especially in boarding-houses the water-firkins were regularly replenished by elderly Frank Wilson and Saul Bauld, two familiar figures of last century, who carried water from the nearest pump or well at the delivery price of two cents per bucketful. Their customers were wholly in congested downtown blocks where backyard wells were impracticable owing to the proximity of outhouses and ash-heaps.
The business of water-peddling was also conducted in a more capacious manner by Alexander Marvin who had recently inaugurated a vehicular service whereby the precious aqua pura was sold from a large puncheon mounted on a two-wheeled wagon. His source of supply was at Toddy Brook, an ice-cold underground stream flowing down the Austenville slope to form a crystal pool at Crichton Avenue near the present Edgemere Apartments.
Wooden water-buckets in porches were often odorous, and the drippy drinking-mug usually battered and rusty. The contamination of wells, the swarms of flies entering open windows from pigpens and stables, and the unsanitary method of handling food like unwrapped bread and meat from their exposed position on counters and delivery wagons, must have contributed to the frequent outbreaks of diseases then prevalent. Diphtheria seemed to be the most sudden and deadly. In 1890 there were 29 cases distributed throughout Dartmouth, and 18 deaths of young people resulted. Blacksmith James Settle lost two daughters within a few hours.
Outhouses had to be cleaned out and whitewashed every spring, according to town regulations, and the yearly accumulation of ashes moved from backyards. Night-carts usually worked after hours during these operations, and wasted little time transporting their loads to the nearest public dump. Afterwards all fences and outbuildings were brightened with a coating of whitewash giving premises a wholesome appearance.
By far the most appalling event of 1890 was the drowning tragedy at the ferry when the “Annex” arrived from New York. There are now only a few men and women left hereabouts who as children, were swept overboard with the shrieking mass of humanity on that frightful evening. One of these is Ralph Elliot, son of the late Town Clerk, who was rescued in the nick of time, and still lives to tell the tale. (Harry J. Bauer now (1965) living in Antigonish, tells me that he just managed to leap aboard the “Annex” before the bridge collapsed. Then the steamer backed out.)
The biggest real-estate transfer of that year was the acquisition by the Town of the buildings, boats, docks and equipment of the Steam Ferry Company at a price of $109,000. The operation of the service was taken over in July by the newly-formed Ferry Commission comprising Mayor Frederick Scarfe, Councilors W. H. Stevens and J. B. MacLean with John White, George J. Troop and Byron A. Weston as appointees of the Provincial Government.
The School Board purchased for $2,400 the “Greenvale” property of an acre and a half from the Falconer estate. Pine Street, which then ended at Ochterloney, was opened in a southerly direction to meet the easterly extension of Quarrell Street. The Falconer house was bought by A. M. Beck for $255 on condition that it be removed or demolished.
Subsequently John T. Walker commenced the construction of four-roomed Greenvale School at a price of $5,997. The same contractor-had just completed two-roomed Tufts’ Cove School which was erected at the Town limits to accommodate children living north and south of Dartmouth school section. About that time Mr. Walker also built the Summer House in the Park.
On Maple Street a start was made on the $27,000 St. Peter’s Church which was to be the first brick edifice in town. John Cawsey of Halifax contracted for the stonework, and Rhodes Curry and Co., for the remainder.