The W.W. Welsh Turn of the Century Ledger


W.W.Welsh, c. 1900.

On August 1, 1899, Edwin Smith purchased a box of cigars. On May 1, 1900, Mrs. Mary Bean bought 2 yards of linen. These intimate details of daily life in Rockville are found in a ledger from the Welsh store, donated at our annual meeting in June by William Wallace Welsh’s great-granddaughter, Ms. Margaret Welsh May.

The handwritten entries in this leather bound book a foot and a half high and over two feet wide when open contain fascinating glimpses into the daily transactions people made over a century ago. The earliest dates are from 1899 and while most are from 1899-1900, some are as late as 1905. William Wallace Welsh came to Rockville after serving in the Civil War. He first worked for his future father-in-law, John Higgins, at his general store. In 1884, Welsh and a partner built a frame store close to the B&O Railroad station. The original building burned in 1894 and was reconstructed in a Queen-Anne-style brick store with fireproof brick construction and a cast iron storefront.

General stores provided communities like Rockville with both essentials and luxury items. People purchased everything from building materials to agricultural supplies to ordinary household sundries, as can be seen from the entries in the ledger. Wallace Conwall used it to purchase staples such as bacon, tea, and flour. Others, such as Margaret Beall, ordered their coal from Welsh, and George Linthicum and other farmers in the community purchased guano for fertilizing their fields. The ledger recorded people who were purchasing items on credit: selecting purchases, taking them home,and then settling the account weekly, monthly or when the crops came in. Some pages have notes attached which explain the circumstances for a late payment or establish a payment plan to pay off a balance. The transactions are from businesses and individuals, white and black residents.

Besides the variety of goods, the prices are similarly astonishing. Who wouldn’t want a dozen eggs for $0.12? Although the prices seem amazing, they need to be looked at in the context of the economics of the time. If the price is adjusted to today’s equivalent, that $0.12 would be about $2.84 per dozen, which is quite similar to the cost today. Another interesting feature of the ledger is its connection to the Lincoln Park community. In 1892, Welsh established what would become Lincoln Park by dividing 8 acres of land into lots and selling them to black families. The records of several lots can be found in the ledger with the cost of the building materials and labor. Residents of Lincoln Park also shopped and worked at the Welsh store.

Several of Peerless’ dedicated volunteers are hard at work creating an index to the volume so we can learn more about the people who shopped at Welsh’s store and their everyday lives through their accounts. My favorite entry so far? On October 3, 1899, Hazel Butt, a 20-year-old railroad worker (yes, Hazel was a man) purchased 10 cents worth of candy. His account is marked as paid.