In 1900, Mahlon Haines met a Heiress from Lancaster aboard a ship returning from Europe and planned to get married. Her Daddy (at left) offered to set Mahlon up in business in York. This is the sixth panel within Patrick M. Reynolds’ profile on Mahlon N. Haines, the Shoe Wizard; part 1. (Source: York Sunday News, November 20, 1988, pg. B7; colorized by S.H. Smith, 2021)
The little known tale of Mahlon Haines and the Lancaster Heiress
In 1900, Mahlon Haines met a Heiress from Lancaster aboard a ship returning from Europe and planned to get married. Her Daddy offered to set Mahlon up in business in York. Is that the real story of how Mahlon Haines ended up in York? And, who was the Heiress from Lancaster?
Last month I presented two Family History Talks in Western Pennsylvania. Following one of the talks, I was shown two old newspaper clippings containing Patrick Reynolds’ heavily illustrated Pennsylvania Profiles. I remembered occasionally seeing these in local papers during the 1980s.
The Shoe Wizard, Mahlon N. Haines, was the personality featured in the clippings. I remembered seeing the clipping featuring the Shoe House. However the other clipping appeared to be part 1, because it ended with: Next: Haines’ Shoe House. Part 1 was new to me; it contained the tale of Mahlon Haines planning to marry a Lancaster Heiress, with her Daddy offering to set Mahlon up in business in York.
Both newspaper clippings were from September of 1985, so we got on Newspapers.com and searched that month in York papers. We only found the Shoe House one in the York Daily Record on September 28, 1985. However, after widening our search, we discovered both parts in the York Sunday News on November 20 and 27 of 1988.
Period newspapers at Newspapers.com, documents at Ancestry.com and an interview Mahlon Haines did for The Saturday Evening Post, which appeared in the April 3, 1943 issue; are used to provide answers to the questions raised. The 5-page article in The Saturday Evening Post, by David G. Wittels, was done to explore Mahlon’s efforts, schemes, and antics in selling War Bonds, however it does contain passages that directly shed additional light on Patrick Reynolds’ part 1 work about Mahlon Haines.
Quoting the first panel within Patrick M. Reynolds’ profile on Mahlon N. Haines, Part 1: “The Shoe Wizard, Mahlon N. Haines of York, made a fortune selling footwear in dozens of small shops he owned in South Central Pennsylvania during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Because Luther Burbank was called the Plant Wizard and Thomas Edison the Wizard of Electricity, Haines dubbed himself the Wizard of Shoe Merchandising. Mahlon was born in Ohio in 1875 … .”
Mahlon learned the tricks of the retail trade from his mother:
Quoting the second panel within Patrick M. Reynolds’ profile on Mahlon N. Haines: “His father died before Mahlon was a year old. To support her family Mrs. Haines moved to Washington, D.C. and opened a small clothing store. There she taught Mahlon the tricks of the retail trade.”
To expand upon this I’ll quote the 1943 interview Mahlon Haines did for The Saturday Evening Post: Mrs. Elizabeth Haines continued to operate their country store in Ohio following the death of her husband. Mahlon was nine and his sisters eleven and fourteen, when Mrs. Haines “sold her store and moved her brood to the big city of Washington, D.C. She promptly fell ill. For two unhappy years, bewildered in this huge place where no one knew Elizabeth Haines, she ran a rooming house on Fourteenth Street, near where the Willard now stands. The roomers often didn’t pay, and suddenly her savings were gone. That cured her illness. She went up to New York and talked Charles Broadway Rouss, an eccentric millionaire wholesaler, into giving her $500 worth of dry goods and notions on a bill of sale for her furniture. She moved her family into an abandoned saloon in the slums of near-by Anacostia and opened a tiny store next door.”
From that tiny store, Elizabeth Haines business grew rapidly, expanding several times until in “1892-93 she put up a $50,000 building at Eighth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E. In less than ten years from the day she got $500 worth of goods on her furniture she opened the largest department store in the world owned and operated by a woman.”
While working in his mother’s store, she controlled most of Mahlon’s savings.
Quoting the third panel within Patrick M. Reynolds’ profile on Mahlon N. Haines: “After graduating college Mahlon worked in his mother’s store for $15 per week of which he was allowed to spend $3. Mom put the rest in a bank account over which he had no control.”
As reference, in 1896, Mahlon Haines graduated from the Maryland Agricultural College, now the University of Maryland. Following graduation, I’ll again quote the 1943 interview Mahlon Haines did for The Saturday Evening Post: “By the time he [Mahlon] was twenty-two [i.e. 1897], she let him run half the store, then doing a business of close to $400,000 a year. But she would not make him a partner, would not praise what he did, would not pay him more than fifteen dollars a week.”
On a European voyage, Mahlon fell in love with a Heiress from Lancaster.
Quoting the fourth and fifth panels within Patrick M. Reynolds’ profile on Mahlon N. Haines: “At age 25 Mahlon walked out on his mother. Taking $313 he managed to save, he spent it on a trip to Europe. He met an Heiress from Lancaster aboard ship. They fell in love and planned to get married.”
The 1943 interview Mahlon Haines did for The Saturday Evening Post supports the age-25 voyage; i.e. 1900: “He [Mahlon] broke away for the first time when he was twenty-five. On $313 he had saved from the fraction of his wages she actually turned over to him, he toured Europe for two months.”
To discover who might be the Lancaster Hieress, the dates of the Mahlon’s voyages first needed to be determined; since those details were not in The Post article. Ancestry.com shows Mahlon Haines’ passport No. 29319, was issued on June 30, 1900. The Washington Times, of Monday July 2, 1900, reported: “Mr. Mahlon N. Haines, of Capitol Hill, will sail for Europe Wednesday. His itinerary will include visits to the Paris Exposition, Germany, England, and Belgium.”
The Prince George’s Enquirer and Southern Maryland Advertiser (Upper Marlboro, MD) of September 7, 1900, reported: “Mr. Mahlon N. Haines, the successful young merchant and son of Mrs. E. A. Haines, of Haines’ Washington Store, has returned to America. During his stay in Europe he visited all the principal cities of Belgium, Holland, Germany, France, Scotland, England and Ireland. He was studying the business methods of the old country as well as the customs of the people. He expresses himself as very well satisfied with his trip and glad to get back to dear America.”
In reviewing newspapers for people from Lancaster returning from Europe early in September of 1900, the most prominent possibility is Peter T. Watt, who returned at the same time, after three months in Europe (Lancaster New Era, September 6, 1900). Peter had twin daughters, born May 22, 1883, from his deceased first wife Elizabeth Learmouth; one or both, may have been traveling with him throughout Europe. I’m still trying to make that discover via passports or ship lists on Ancestry.com, however, so far, have had no luck.
In 1878, this Peter Watt, along with James Shand, founded Lancaster’s Watt & Shand Department Store. Peter Watt, offering to set Mahlon Haines up in business in York makes sense.
The Heiress’ dad offered to set Mahlon up in business in York.
Quoting the sixth panel within Patrick M. Reynolds’ profile on Mahlon N. Haines: “Back home, in 1901, her daddy offered to set Mahlon up in business in York. The old man even rented an apartment in York for Haines and his Bride-to-be … .”
“Back home, in 1901,” should actually be Back home, in 1900; since in the 1943 interview Mahlon Haines did for The Saturday Evening Post it was reported: “on the boat back from Europe [i.e. returning in early September 1900], he had met a girl who lived in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Her father was rich and he wanted to impress her. As a partner in Haines Department Store, he could meet her father as an equal. As it was, he did not even have the money to woo her. His mother gave him only two to five dollars a week of his wages; the rest she banked for him. Now he called for a showdown. He figured he had $2300 coming to him; with interest, it was $2700. This he demanded.”
His mother refused to offer him a partnership in her Washington, D.C. department store and only offered him $200 of his savings. With that, Mahlon Haines decided to try his hand selling books and clothes in California. The train ticket cost $25 and the freight, for the trunks with all his samples, cost $140. Haines did well for a short time, selling primarily in San Francisco, but also in Los Angeles, and Portland.
However most of the time Mahlon Haines was in business out West, he was nearly always broke. “This condition he ascribes to three reasons: (1) his mother didn’t send him his $2500, but merely driblets of $50 or $100 when she figured he was really desperate; (2) in traveling around to do his selling, he acquired money-wasting habits such as eating out and tipping, and (3) the ten trips he took back East to see the girl in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.”
West Coast newspaper notices have Mahlon Haines out West as late as November 1903. That appears to be the time “the father of the girl in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who offered to set him up in business if he would light in one place. That ended the career of Haines, the Selling Agent, and was the conception of Haines, the Shoe Wizard. He picked York, twenty-four miles from Lancaster, as a likely spot for his talents, and rented a store at $112 a month. He rented an apartment for his bride-to-be, and started to decorate and furnish it.”
An argument with Mahlon’s future mother-in-law derailed everything.
Quoting the seventh panel within Patrick M. Reynolds’ profile on Mahlon N. Haines: “… But he got into an argument with his future Mother-in-law about the apartment’s wallpaper. When the dust settled Mahlon was jilted, alone and broke.”
Continuing from the 1943 interview Mahlon Haines did for The Saturday Evening Post: “Everything went wrong at once. At that high rent, the store couldn’t get going. His prospective mother-in-law didn’t like the wallpaper in the apartment, though he changed it twice, and they quarreled. His prospective father-in-law withdrew his promised backing. Suddenly Haines couldn’t pay his bills, and had to plead with his creditors to take thirty cents on the dollar. Broke, jilted, a failure, he got a stern final warning from his mother to come back to Washington. Instead, he got on a boat to Savannah and landed there with a dime in his pocket.”
Haines newspaper activity in Washington, D.C. does suggest Mahlon may have returned to his mother’s department store on occasions; however eventually he settles back in York. In September 1905, Mahlon Haines opens Haines’ Department Store at 131 West Market Street in York, PA. The following photo of Mahlon appeared in York newspapers on September 28, 1906; marking the first anniversary of his department store. Possibly it is the earliest a photo of Mahlon Haines appeared in York newspapers.
On June 5, 1908, Mahlon Haines places a notice in The York Daily, denying Haines’ Department Store is going out of business. Stating the business on Market Street has moved to new quarters on South George Street; with $2200 a year less expense, and reducing stock on some lines and greatly increasing in shoes; effectively marking the beginning of Haines, the Shoe Wizard.
So who was the Lancaster Heiress?
I believe the Lancaster Heiress was either Annie Watt or Katharine Watt; twin-daughters of Watt & Shand Department Store co-founder Peter T. Watt. If on an early September 1900 voyage, they were 17-years-old, while Mahlon Haines was 25-years-old.
While Mahlon was in California through November of 1903, he made ten trips back East to see either Annie or Katharine. By the time he accepted their fathers offer, near the end of 1903, one of them was his bride-to-be; at which time they were 20-years-old and Mahlon was 28-year-old. However an argument with Mahlon’s future mother-in-law derailed everything; she was actually Annie and Katharine’s step-mother Laura Watt; the second wife of Peter Watt.
Mahlon Haines’ shoe stores were on their way of being a successful enterprise when he married June Brown Irwin, from Union County, PA, in 1909. Katharine Watt married William W. Heidelbaugh in 1912, and Annie Watt married Henry B. Davis in 1913. Possibly some of their descendants might be able to share tales of the time Mahlon Haines courted one of them.
The following is whole Part 1 of The Shoe Wizard, Mahlon N. Haines, from Patrick M. Reynolds’ collection of Pennsylvania Profiles.
Click on this LINK for a yorkblog.com Full View of the photos and illustrations in this post.
Links to selected other Mahlon Haines posts:Reading the Headlines: A Quick Index to All YorksPast Posts