a link to the past

Back in February, when our daughter Nora was brand new, we received a comment on this blog.

“It’s really nice to see the millinery store building being used as a store and not torn down to make room for something else. My great aunts Jennie and Margaret Grumbine owned the store when I was a child, I remember going there when I visited Philadelphia.”

What a wonderful thing to hear! We’ve always wanted to know more about the history of this place and the people who created it. I wrote back to the author of the comment, Kathy Grumbine Miller of Lewistown, Pennsylvania. With the help of her 85-year old uncle, John Grumbine, she kindly answered some of my many questions about Jennie and Margaret.

Jennie, Margaret, and Jennie's husband. Child unknown.

Jennie, Margaret, and Jennie's husband. Child unknown.

The sisters were experienced milliners from Lewistown who moved their business to Philadelphia in search of a larger clientele. Sometime prior to 1932, they bought the building that VIX now occupies. They had it remodeled with the wonderful mirrored cabinets that remain today.

millinery box & bag

They did custom-made hats for middle-class ladies, in their choice of color and style. Customers would shop and try on hats in the front, and the hats were sewn in the back. All of the work was done by hand. The family kept a few of their hats, but unfortunately, none have survived. Only the hatboxes remain. I would have loved to see one!

Jennie and her husband, a widower, lived on Larchwood Avenue, only a few blocks from the store. Jennie also painted in her spare time. Some of her large paintings are still in Kathy’s family. I wonder what they look like!

Margaret Grumbine

Margaret Grumbine

Margaret never married. She lived with her sister and brother-in-law. Neither one had children. Jennie passed away at some point and Margaret ran the store without her for a while. Eventually, she, too, fell ill and closed the store. According to Kathy, the millinery remained open until sometime in the 1970s.

We are so glad to know a little more about these two creative entrepreneurs from another era, and so proud to honor them by supporting other artisans in the space they left behind. Perhaps Nora will follow in their footsteps someday.

A million thanks to Kathy and her uncle for answering my questions. I’m so glad she got in touch! Yet another reason to love the internet.

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Published in: on Friday, May 1, 2009 at 6:26 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a great story! Have you tried searching the net for the hats? Would be cool to see one.

  2. oh yes, I’ve tried! If anyone ever finds one, please let me know!!!

  3. I found this very interesting. These are my great aunts. I even have some of Jennie and Margarets hats in my closet. I visited them many times as a child.

  4. I forgot to post my flickr site!
    Many new to upload!

  5. […] of the Grumbine sisters who used to make ladies’ hats in our building many years ago. (See this post for more about them.) It’s a strip of silk ribbon labels, found in a forgotten drawer. They […]


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