Monday, August 15, 2016

Ye Olde Shoppe

From Dave Brigham:

Because I have a fascination with old-money WASPs, several years ago I was struck by a desire to figure out what family in the United States has the oldest money. Could be a Mayflower family, I thought, somebody with a stodgy British name like Winthrop or Winslow or Whittemore.

Here are some famous descendants of Mayflower families, presented in no particular order and without comment: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Orson Welles, Marilyn Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Alan Shepard, Clint Eastwood, Sarah Palin, Hugh Hefner and Anna Mary "Grandma Moses" Robertson. Of course, being famous doesn't necessarily translate into being rich.

In the heat of inspiration, I performed a few basic online searches before giving up. Recently, however, I thought to pursue this idea again after the appearance in my Facebook feed of a list of the oldest businesses in every U.S. state.

I found an article at Forbes.com that has more or less answered my question. The duPont family (French immigrants who built their fortune on gunpowder and maintained it through a chemical company that the family no longer owns) gets credit for holding on to their fortune the longest, dating back to 1802, according to this article. The Rockefellers (oil) and the Mellons (real estate, land and banking) are on the short list, as well. (Side note: I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Carl Hoffman's Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art.)

Now, on to the business at hand. Facebook recently tossed an article by news aggregation site Thrillist my way, headlined "The Oldest Surviving Business In All 50 States."

"Down every main street in America, the old guard of independent 'Mom and Pop' business are an increasingly endangered species," the article beings. "Doors are closing and windows shuttering, with glossy chains, yoga studios, and 24/7 banks popping up between our antiquated favorites and local stalwarts."

I'm proud to say that I once worked at the oldest business in New Hampshire: Tuttle's Red Barn. Calling itself the oldest known family farm in the United States (a claim disputed by Virginia's Shirley Plantation, which is naturally also on the list), Tuttle's grew much of its own produce (strawberries, corn, rhubarb) and sold it alongside plants, flowers and high-end grocery items. I worked in the produce department there from April 1989 until August of 1990, when I moved to Boston. My boss was a cool dude who told great stories about seeing Willie Dixon play live, and about riding naked on his motorcycle to the Woodstock concert in 1969.

After approximately 380 years in business, the Tuttle family sold the farm and its buildings in 2013. The place is now called Tendercrop Farm.

I haven't been to any of the other establishments. How about you? Tell your story in the comments section, if you wouldn't mind.

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