John H. Stoutner: Milliner, merchant and man about town

Sepia Saturday 389: Sixth in a series on piecing together the origins of my maternal grandmother Elizabeth (Stoutner) Laurence’s fashion sense.

The last post focused on Uncle John H. Stoutner as a possible influence on my grandmother Liz (Stoutner) Laurence’s sense of style.

In the mid early 1900s, my grandmother’s uncle operated a women’s millinery and clothing store in their Gloversville, Fulton County, N.Y. hometown. But what led him to become a merchant? What more could I discover about his life and career?

An artistic home

Apartment of John H. Stoutner, Gloversville, N.Y., with his desk in the foreground (undated). My mom said my grandmother’s Uncle John was “aristocratic” and “artsy.” His apartment decor certainly bears this out. Scan by Molly Charboneau

In addition to the photo of his shop featured in last week’s post, I have one more picture connected with Uncle John — a large photograph of his well-appointed apartment.

I always thought it looked more like a furniture showroom, but on close inspection there seem to be no repeat items. There’s one couch, one dining table with chairs, one credenza, one desk — with lamps and accessories for each.

My mom once shared what she remembered about him. “Uncle John had a hat shop and he was very aristocratic,” she said. “He was the ‘artsy’ member of the family.” The photo of his home certainly bears this out.

Making of a milliner

Uncle John was married twice — first to Jennie Fairchild in 1890 (according to the Gloversville papers) and later to Josephine L. Bye in 1897 (according to Iowa marriage records).

However, after both marriages ended in divorce, Uncle John appears to have embarked on a new, career-focused life.

By 1905 he had secured bachelor quarters in the home of lumberman Jacob Van Arnam — a move that favorably impacted his personal and professional life.

Jacob’s son Crosby became a close friend and eventual business partner — and the 1905 N.Y.S. census, excerpted below, gives Uncle John’s occupation as milliner for the first time.

1905 N.Y.S Census – John H. Stoutner in the Van Arnum home at 187 Kingsborough Ave., Gloversville, Fulton Co., N.Y. – Source: New York State Archives
Name Reln. Age Occupation
Van Arnam, Jacob Head 62 Lumberman
Van Arnam, Roseanna Wife 54 House Work
Van Arnam, Fitch Son 26 Lineman
Van Arnam, Crosby Son 22 Glove Cutter
Van Arnam, George Son 19 Leather Worker
Van Arnam, William Son 18 Leather Worker
Van Arnam, Hazel Dau. 11 In School
Stoutner, John H. Boarder 35 Milliner
Lavore, Edward Boarder 26 Glove Cutter

My grandmother was born in 1905 — so as she grew up, her Uncle John’s career in ladies’ fashion took off. The 1910 U.S. Census shows that John and Crosby were both milliners and employers. Crosby’s sister Hazel was a hat trimmer, possibly working in their shop.

By 1920, John and Crosby were retail merchants in the dry goods industry — and Hazel had graduated to dry goods saleslady.
Surely my grandmother’s family would have shopped at Uncle John’s store for clothing and accessories.

Man about town

Perhaps because he was a commercial buyer and seller, Uncle John’s comings and goings appeared in the Gloversville, N.Y. newspapers from time to time — summer jaunts to nearby Canajoharie, visits to Pittsburgh, buying trips to New York City.

And then there’s this: In 1895, a man named John Stoutner was awarded first prize in a waltz contest at the Booth & Co. employees’ picnic. Wait — a waltz contest? Was this my grandmother’s Uncle John?

More on this in the next post. Meanwhile, please visit the posts of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here.

© 2017 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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20 thoughts on “John H. Stoutner: Milliner, merchant and man about town”

  1. Wow, what a stylist! Upholstery on the sofa and wing chair at the table match…the fabulous leather chair in the foreground. Did you notice the cash register on the left? I would love to hear the story associated with each piece, the tapestry, the desk, and just what is in the back of the apartment? Was it above the store that he owned?

    Always interesting, Molly, and much appreciated!

    1. I know what you mean. The more I study this photo, the more I see. The railroad flat layout of the apartment suggests it may have been situated above a store — either his or someone else’s. One thing’s for sure, Uncle John certainly didn’t stint on home decor!

  2. The writing desk is very elegant but why is it and the other pieces of furniture placed ‘on the angle’?

    1. I think it’s because it’s a railroad-style flat and it might have been hard to move around if they were squared off. Or perhaps it’s because Uncle John was “artsy,” as my mother said 🙂

  3. What a very detailed photograph – which benefited from being enlarged so that I could pore over all the interesting furniture and artefacts. The desk is wonderful, similar to the main image in my own post. As Sue said, lots of little cubby holes; I’d love one myself!

  4. The desk in your main photograph reminded me so much of my father’s bureau with its little drawers and cubby holes. How wonderful to have an interior photograph of an ancestor’s home – it conveys so much of their life.

    1. You’re right. Now that I look at it again, it’s similar to your dad’s bureau. I imagine Uncle John used it for all sorts of business paperwork and personal correspondence.

  5. What a splendid photo to have! Interiors of private homes were seldom photographed without people so this would be hard to date as its almost timeless. I love the notion that your uncle was a prize winning waltzer. But surely he couldn’t win all by himself!?

    1. Thanks, Mike. I suspect Uncle John may have hired a professional photographer to take the promotional picture of his shop and had a photo of his home taken at the same time. However, no date on the shop photo, either. Yes, the waltz prize is intriguing. Stop back next week for details 🙂

  6. This is the 2nd dancing family member I’ve met in Sepia Saturday this week. The apartment looks very full, but everything looks comfy.

  7. The furniture arrangement in the photo is certainly different but I can relate. I love angles and try to angle as much of our furnishings as I can and still have the setup appear reasonable. To me it makes a room look more interesting. My husband, on the other hand, grumps about having to walk an extra ‘couple’ of feet to get around things but other than that, let’s me exercise my ‘artistic’ endeavors without too much complaint. 🙂

    1. This apartment appears to be a railroad flat. I lived in one of those once, and you pretty much have to angle everything to get it all in!

  8. What a handsome apartment. I love that style of sofa – looks comfy even today. I have no ancestors or relatives with such a fascinating career as running a hat shop or clothing store. Several had general stores, but I imagine they were selling groceries.

    1. Thanks for your visit, Wendy. I also have some general store owners among my ancestors. Before the era of supermarkets and big box stores, these smaller shops were hubs of the community and it took enterprising individuals to run them.

  9. This is a great series of posts you’ve written on your family and the background to their lives. Very interesting!

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