The Rising Popularity of Roadside Markets

From Strawberry Preserves to Maple Sugar

Hello, again History Lovers,

After falling head over heels in love with the automobile, Americans began road-tripping. And it wasn’t long before rural entrepreneurs found a way to market farm products to passersby. Farmers built stands and started selling homegrown produce from roadside markets, very much like farmer’s markets of today. Some were small with just a few products for sale and others were cooperatives supplied by a number of local farmers offering many different farm products, and of course, all were seasonal.

Mrs. Bess M. Rowe, a journalist for The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women contributed an article in February 1922 on the thriving roadside market industry in Massachusetts. Orchards in the Mt. Nobscot area supplied peaches, apples, and pears for local markets. Area farmers produced strawberries, vegetables, eggs, honey, and dairy products. Some handmade home goods were also available.

Farmer’s market season in my area begins in June and goes through September. After reading this article I will better appreciate the “living history” aspect of today’s farmer’s markets.

Enjoy!

Massachusetts has ideal conditions for the development of roadside markets. Its numerous towns and cities are connected by splendid state roads which make transportation of products easy and also summon a steady stream of automobiles over these roads.

An astonishing variety of products is disposed of by the owners of these roadside markets, anything and everything from strawberry preserves to roastin’ ears, from maple sugar to braided rugs; passing directly from producer to consumer.

Massachusetts road markets are, naturally, concentrated in a few districts where the conditions are especially favorable. One group is located on the historic road from Concord to Lexington, where a constant procession of automobiles follows the route taken by Paul Revere on his famous ride; another group extends along the coast, south of Quincy.

Good Location and Great Produce

In planning to open a roadside market, certain points in location must be considered if the enterprise is to be a success. As the main dependence is on automobile trade, the market must be located on a road where automobile traffic is heavy and at a point where automobiles can easily park.

Another important point is such arrangement of products and signs or placards to attract the favorable attention of passersby. The most successful stands in Massachusetts have done this by means of attractive signs placed far enough away from the purchasing place so that cars can slow down before reaching the stand. These are often supplemented by signs at the stand itself. Many of these signs are most ingenious and attractive. What honey lover could resist an appeal like this:

Direct selling of farm produce in Massachusetts has been a great success, in many cases, and the plans followed by these marketers can be adapted with equal success in thousands of other places. The main requirements are: to find the right location and furnish what the people want, with due regard for honesty of purpose and for the other fellow’s rights as well as one’s own.

Roadside markets differ as widely as individual stores. Some offer only early or fancy stock. Some maintain an average standard and sell at an average price. As a matter of fact, each one must be adapted to its own locality, giving its own “public” what its own public demands. If the woman of the farm offering goods for sale has the time, she is the best one to deal with women buyers. Her woman’s imagination will stand her in good stead as to ways to make her wares attractive and ways to reach her customers’ minds. There are no set rules to be laid down. Given the good location and sufficient good produce, wits, and industry, tact and patience must do the rest.

Nobscot Mountain Orchard and Roadside Market

This summer the writer had the pleasure of visiting one of the most interesting, as well as one of the most successful roadside markets in Massachusetts, the one connected with the famous Nobscot Mountain Orchards, twenty-three miles from Boston. This fruit farm of eighty acres has 3,000 peach trees, 4,000 apple trees, 1,200 pear trees, and 2,500 quince trees. In 1915, 1916, and 1917, the market specialized in peaches and in these three years took in respectively $1,700, $1,300, and $ 3,400. In 1918 apples, preserves and jellies were added to the list and now in addition to all these, a charming tearoom caters to the comfort of guests the year around.

Current photo of the William Hagar House built circa 1730, home of the Mt. Nobscot Tearoom in the 1920s.

Mt. Nobscot Tea Room

The Mt. Nobscot Tea Room itself is worthy of a whole story. It is in the Hagar House, a historic residence built about 1730. The atmosphere of “the good, old days” has been wonderfully preserved in the old house. The tired motorist who has been attracted by the well-arranged market stand on one side of the road is now tempted to cross over to the tearoom and enjoy tea and a salad, or one of the more substantial dishes which are fast gaining fame for this happily located business.

The front door opens directly into the tearoom, a large colonial room with an enormous four-sided fireplace set diagonally so that each grate faces a corner. On one side there is a Dutch oven. The mantels and cupboards above the grates proclaim their many years of usage.

The back of the house itself is an old porch with a brick floor. Vines grow over it and here the tearoom guest who prefers a garden setting rather than in the house is served.

For the last two years, Mrs. Smerage has had charge of the tearoom. She cans and preserves a portion of the products that are shown in the roadside market stand across the way. During the War, Mrs. Smerage had charge of a community canning kitchen in Topsfield Massachusetts. The exceptionally high standard maintained in this particular kitchen, where they had less than 1% spoilage, won fame for her and after the war work closed, she started work for herself. Two years ago, she had to choose between putting her capital into her business or using it for her son’s education. She chose the latter and came to the Mt. Nobscot fruit farm to take charge of the canning work there and act as manager of the tearoom.

Mrs. Smerage says that the success that has come to her in all her work is due to the high quality she insists on maintaining. At the Mt. Nobscot Orchards, they do not try to sell the first-class fruit and then make quality canned and preserved products from culls. They reverse this order and make all of their canned and preserved stock from first-class products, and this method enables them to sell the products for a fancy price. They know that people will pay a high price for food products if they feel that they are getting their money’s worth. In 1920, Mrs. Smerage supervised the canning and preserving of $1,050 worth of strawberries alone. In 1921, in spite of a bad season, the amount of their strawberry products went up to about $1,400.

Strawberries for sale at a Roadside Stand

The tearoom enables the proprietors to keep business going the year around. The market stand, of course, is open only during the summer months. Although their farm produces only fruit for the market, they show a good variety of vegetables and other products at the stand. These are secured from the neighboring farmers, thus offering them a market for their products and at the same time giving a greater variety and better appearance to the stand. Altogether there is on this farm a well-rounded business that last year sold products amounting to over $12,500. — Bess M. Rowe

~FWM

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife–A Magazine For Farm Women, February 1922, Page 709; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota. Articles may be edited for length and clarity.

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