This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
{ Click on the image to expand the photo }

The Music Store

14 September 2012

click to enlarge
The neighborhood music store has mostly vanished from Main Street in America. Years ago, it was the shop that sold musical instruments suitable for beginners to  advanced musicians; displayed sheet music for the latest popular songs and dances; carried necessary supplies like replacement strings for your guitar or valve oil for your cornet; offered music lessons; and even hired out musicians for local entertainment.

Sometimes they even offered haircuts too.

This antique photo postcard is scratched and creased, but it shows just such a music store. And at the entrance stands a family orchestra of a mother and father with their 4 children. Father holds his guitar, while his daughter and three sons pose with their violins and mandolins.

This unknown family of musicians left no identification on the card, but if we look closely there are clues.

Above the shop doorway are two signs:

The Chicago Tribune
The World's Greatest Newspaper


Souders Laundering Co.

As it is unlikely that the Chicago Tribune advertised outside the Midwest, we will start in Illinois.

The name Sounders is not common but a search through turns up a few choices in Rock Island, Illinois.

In the 1910 US Census for Rock Island we find, Wallace Souders, age 35, occupation - Laundryman. The City Directory is even better and the 1907 edition has a listing for:
SOUDERS LAUNDRYING CO. THE (Wallace and M R Souders) successors to The American Steam Laundry 501-503 12th.

Wallace and his mother Mrs. Mae Souders ran a laundry business in Rock Island from 1907 until 1921, as the listing disappears after 1922.

So now we have a time frame and a place. Any other clues?

The music store signs are clear and next to the wonderful barber's pole is a window sign posting prices for a haircut and a shave. If you look through the window to the left, you can even see a certificate - perhaps the barber's license?  In this decade, Rock Island had three stores that sold pianos, and about 34 barber shops.

But the best clue I think is the family themselves. Their complexion and dress strongly suggest a heritage from the Mediterranean rather than the Baltic, and I would eat my hat if they were not recent immigrants from Southern Italy. Yet despite my best efforts, I can not find them in Rock Island, IL.

All three music stores were owned by men with non-Italian names, and who did not have a family of four children. And none of the music stores had an address that also matched an address for a barber shop. Though some shops were on the same street as a music store, just a few numbers away, not one of the 34 barbers had an Italian name.

One of the search tricks in, is to set no names but instead check only  birthplace-exact and place-exact. Using Italy (exact) and Rock Island (exact) produces interesting results. In 1900, Rock Island had only 10 people who had immigrated from Italy. That population increased in 1910 to 112, and in 1920 to 125. But the geography makes this a bigger challenge. Situated on an important crossing of the Mississippi River, the Quad Cities confusingly includes 5 cities; Rock Island, Moline, and East Moline, Illinois and Davenport and Bettendorf, Iowa. But even when you expand the search to include all these communities, there are surprisingly very few Italian names.

Predictably, most immigrants to Rock Island were of German or Swedish origin, but curiously there were a lot of people from Belgium, almost 400 in 1910. Russian immigrants, who almost always had Yid or Hebrew added to their nationality, followed with nearly as many - 248.  The 1900 and 1910 censuses recorded no one from Spain or Portugal, though there were a number of single men from Greece working as laborers on street and sewer projects. When Italian men lived with a spouse and family, they tended to operate a Fruit Stand, or a Confectionery. One Italian in Davenport had a listed occupation:  Macaroni Maker.  But not one was a barber, or a musician, or a music store owner.

There is just no way to know how large an area that Souders Laundry collected washing. With easy access to railroads, an Agency of a laundry might even be a greater distance outside of the Quad Cites than we would expect today.

And this guitarist and his family, though they may likely have come from Italy, could have been the fruit seller across the street, who has just acquired new string instruments for the family. So this photo puzzle will have to remain unsolved.

But look at the pride in those faces. Music was very important to this family. Both the violin and the mandolin, which has the same string tuning, have always been associated with Italian culture. Italian musicians from Naples were the first to popularize the mandolin in America. The musical traditions of immigrants helped to shape our American culture and this family is a perfect example of that legacy.

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday
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Queen Bee said...

What a wonderful image of the store and this musical family. You did an impressive job in trying to locate them.

Your post brings back the memory of my first visit to our local music store in 1973. My parents took me to rent a violin so I could participate in the elementary school orchestra. I still remember how fascinating the music store was to me with all the instruments. It was unlike any store I'd ever been in and made quite an impression on a nine year old.

Great post!

Christine H. said...

I love how you can see the reflection of the building across the street and the bare trees. The young boy on the left looks particularly proud. For some reason everyone but the mother has an instrument.

You're right, this family does look as if they are Mediterranean and Souders sounds Swedish to me.

Rock Island played such an important role as a stepping stone in westward migration. I see it come up all the time in family histories. My German and Swedish ancestors also lived there for awhile after first settling in Pennsylvania and before moving farther west.

Peter said...

Although you did not solve this riddle I want to applaud your efforts! The solution may very well be in the direction Christine is pointing: the family moved westward after a stay in Rock Island. In any case, thank you for yet again a great post.

Karen S. said...

I do think that you are right about where they come from, except maybe not the mother, she might be from some place else, and she is the only one not musical. Also not very happy with who ever is taking the photo. This was quite fun picking out everything in your photo, thanks! I now have to go back and check out the reflection in the trees as Christine mentioned, because I completely missed it looking at all the little details!

Little Nell said...

That's an interesting idea, a music store which offers a a haircut and shave. I suppose the modern equivalent would be book stores where you can buy a coffee. It's an appealing picture whoever the subjects are, but they all looks so serious.

Bob Scotney said...

It's a sign of the times but I do not know where within a 10 mile radius there is a music store that sells instruments of any kind. What there is just sell records, CDs and DVDs and no sheet music. In the barbers we are subjected to 'canned' music. How much better would it be to have musicians like those on your splendid card.

Wendy said...

I appreciate how you tried to identify this charming family (especially since you've shown me a trick on Ancestry that I had never tried). When I was indexing the 1940 census, I noticed too that Italian men typically were vegetable and fruit peddlers. Finally your observation about music stores struck a chord (har har) as I often wonder where piano teachers go today to buy instructional materials and sheet music for their students. Our local music store closed YEARS ago and is now a senior citizens "day care" and craft center.

Michael J. McCann said...

You've done some great detective work with this photo. Fascinating to read. The photo itself is an absolute delight. The children look rather serious, but Father is obviously in his glory. Thanks very much for sharing this.

Kathy said...

Another interesting musical post and great photograph. I didn't know that ancestry search tip either. Thanks.

Kristin said...

I agree - this is not Wallace and his mother Mae. Maybe try looking in 1900.

I thought they were perhaps a Romney family stopping to play before moving on. The mother/wife in the background usually danced, sang or told fortunes but not in a laundry setting.

Kristin said...

opps, I see you did look in 1900.

Alan Burnett said...

There really should be a name for this kind of post : the kind which starts off with an old crumpled photograph and then uses it as a springboard to social, economic and political history. Whatever it was called, you would be one of the acknowledged experts Mike.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

I always appreciate it when you walk us through how you sort things out, Mike. The photo tells so many stories, even if we don't know all of the details.

I remember music stores. I took violin lessons in school from 3rd to 5th grade. I remember going to the music store to rent the violin with my Mom, and getting a neat stand that folded up nicely.

I haven't thought about them being extinct.

Thanks for the in-depth post,

Kathy M.

Tattered and Lost said...

Proud to say my little town still has a music store on Main Street!

barbara and nancy said...

Our little town has a music store too, although I've never been in it. I'll have to check it out now that I find how rare they are.
I loved this photo and post. Wish it were easier to solve all the puzzles that these photos present.

Howard said...

Fascinating stuff. That postcard is absolutely stunning! I am very envious


Nice comment about the cultural heritage that created the mosaic called America. You certainly did an exhaustive research, but when I look at them, I don't see so much Italian, but perhaps more Balkan. Merely speculating here...
Kristin's comment about Romney seems sensible. Music is part of their culture and may have nothing to do with their daily business,
laundry. Maybe they didn't own the place but just worked there.

The Cedar Chest said...

Great detective work! I love that part about vintage postcard and photo collecting. A wonderful image, too.


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