Oh, look! – A charming view down Railroad Avenue in Hopewell in the early 1900s. In the foreground are the flowers that decorated the train station, and down the street from right to left are the house at the corner of Blackwell Avenue, then the front of a barn, the back of another barn, and the Chocolate Factory building beyond behind the tree.
The house is the home of Joseph and Keturah Everett Pierson, where they started living around 1890. The property also was used for the J. Pierson Livery Stable (which explains the barn immediately behind it).
But what’s that writing on the barn, and on the fence partially behind the tree – capital letters that seem to end in “TORIA“? Actually, this is an example of early mass advertising that used the Pierson barn and fence as a billboard, since it faced trains stopping at the Hopewell station across the street.
Luckily, we have a plethora of old photos of the Piersons to help figure this all out, kindly shared (and explained) by Bob Gantz.
First, to set the scene, here’s another view of the house from Blackwell Avenue, with the train tracks in the background.
You can see the barn adjacent to the house, more livery sheds extending out from the barn, and the back side of the Chocolate Factory behind.
And this c1900 view of two girls shows the scene looking down Railroad Avenue, with the Hay Press on the left (which burned down and was replaced by Hill’s Grain and Feed by 1902), the Hill’s train trestle and coal storage in the middle, and the Tomato Factory beyond, next to Hill’s lumber.
And you can make out the full sign – it says “CASTORIA.”
And what is Castoria? It’s a laxative for children, a substitute for castor oil, that was patented in 1898 and acquired in 1871 by Charles Henry Fletcher, who rebranded it as “Fletcher’s Castoria.” The major ingredient is Senna, a legume with leaves that are a natural laxative.
Fletcher also created one of the most significant campaigns in early mass advertising for Castoria. The ads featured Fletcher’s signature (“Chas. H. Fletcher“), reinforced by the tag line “Always bears the signature of...” As a marketing decision, the product was focused towards children, with slogans including “Babies cry for it,” and “Children cry for Fletcher’s.”
Lettering on the Barn
So now we can figure out the writing on side of the barn, even though we only have partial views.
This photo shows Pierson’s pigeons in front of the barn by Railroad Avenue. At the bottom we can see a glimpse of the start of the “CASTORIA” fence
At the top we see the beginning of the text on the barn – a first line with “The,” and a second line that matches the beginning of the “Chas. H. Fletcher” signature, with the top of the “C” crossing the loop of the “h.”
And this photo of a young man, with a view down towards the Chocolate Factory, reveals the end of the signature on the barn with the top of “Fletcher” – including the distinctive top line of the “F” extending above all the letters.
The line above is less clear, but with the initial “The” in the previous photo, this looks like the Fletcher tag line, “The signature of.”
This ad in Hopewell was just a small part of a much larger advertising effort. Fletcher’s Castoria was heavily promoted on ads and billboards in the late 1800s and through the 1920s.
So does the ad on this building now also seem familiar?
Some of the Fletcher’s ads that were painted on the sides of buildings in New York were still visible even at the beginning of the 2000s (see Wikipedia for examples).
Unfortunately, the Pierson barn was destroyed by fire in October 1922, so we no longer can see remnants of the Castoria signage.
But we still have another example from next door at the Chocolate Factory building. This image from the Gantz set shows the view down Railroad Avenue around 1900. The left edge of the Chocolate Factory is visible behind the second barn, with the slogans painted on the end matching the 1910 postcard – and even still partially visible today:
“Ho[pewell Chocolate Co.]“
“Make[rs of Hopewell Dainties]”
Thanks to Bob Gantz for these fascinating photos. We welcome contributions of additional historical photos and other materials that we can share on the History Project site.