1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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 Gladding's Inc. Records

 Department store, Providence, R.I.

 Records, 1813-1971. Bulk, 1902-1968.

 Size: 1 linear foot

 Catalog number: MSS 1072

 Processed by: Rick Stattler, May 2001

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Providence merchant Benjamin Thurber (1734-1807) was operating a dry goods store in Providence by 1766, and using a "Sign of the Bunch of Grapes" for advertising. This business was passed down through the extended Thurber family until the store and its inventory were sold to the partnership of Watson & Gladding in 1807. For more details about the early history of the store, please see the guide to the Benjamin T. Chandler Family Records.

            The partners in Watson & Gladding were George W. Gladding (1787-1839) and Matthew Watson. They continued to use the sign of the bunch of grapes in their advertising. Their original store was at No. 6 Cheapside (now North Main Street). Watson left the partnership circa 1815, and the store became known simply as "Gladding's." George W. Gladding brought his sons George F. (1815-1863) and Benjamin H. (1818-1880) into the business. After his death in 1839, the two sons ran it as the partnership of George F. Gladding & Co. When George died in 1863, Benjamin took over as sole proprietor.

            In reaction to the growth of downtown Providence as a retail center, Gladding's left its North Main Street home and moved into the Butler Exchange building at 93 Westminster in 1878. At this point it began to resemble a modern large department store. Shortly before B.H. Gladding's death in 1880, he took his son-in-law Joseph H. Comstock (1849-1887) as partner. The firm's name remained B.H. Gladding & Co. after Gladding's death. Comstock died in 1887, and the store was sold out of the family to a partnership led by Charles Hill, J.B. Childs and William Armour.

            Gladding's relocated in 1891 to a leased building at 291 Westminster Street at the corner of Mathewson Street, the location it is remembered for today. It was incorporated as the B.H. Gladding Dry Goods Co. in 1902, and re-organized in 1905 with William E. Aldred (1852-1913) as president. He was succeeded by his brother Arthur L. Aldred (1867-1933) in 1910, and then in 1932 by William's son Frederick W. Aldred (1877-1954). Leonard E. Johnson was named as president in 1955, and served through 1969. Gladding's purchased the 291 Westminster Street building from heirs of Theodore F. Green in 1969 for $600,000. The company was sold in 1972, bringing to a close 206 years of continuous business under the sign of the bunch of grapes. It was thought to be the longest continuous use of a trade sign in American history.

            After 1972, several owners continued to operate stores at under the Gladding's name at 291 Westminster, including the Shepard's Company (a former competitor) and Johnson & Wales University.



The Bunch of Grapes 1:4 (October 15 1910)

Greene, Welcome Arnold. The Providence Plantations, 296-297. Providence: J.A. Reid, 1886

Gladding, Henry C. The Gladding Book. Providence, 1907.

Interview with Leonard E. Johnson, May 11, 2001

"One Hundredth Anniversary of the B.H. Gladding Dry Goods Company," October 1905

Providence directories

Rhode Island Cemetery Database

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Scope and content:

            The complete minute books of the Gladding's Board of Directors from 1902 to 1968 comprise the bulk of this collection. Also included are historical research notes and memorabilia, and a folder of correspondence and certificates re trademark registration from 1922 to 1949.

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            These records were donated in 2001 by Leonard E. Johnson, a long-time president of Gladding's.

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Minute books

Box 1, folder 1. 1902-1920

Box 1, folder 2. 1920-1934. Also articles of agreement, 1909-1914.

Box 1, folder 3. 1935-1947

Box 2, folder 1. 1948-1958

Box 2, folder 2. 1958-1968

Loose papers

Box 2, folder 3. Advertisements, 1766-1966 and undated (photocopies)

Box 2, folder 4. Bills issued to customers, 1813-1915 (donated to store by descendants)

Box 2, folder 5. Correspondence re sale of company, 1902

Box 2, folder 6. Historical correspondence, 1907-1968 (mostly re gifts of memorabilia to store)

Box 2, folder 7. Historical notes and articles, 1905-1971.

Box 2, folder 8. Promotional materials

Box 2, folder 9. Trademark and patent papers, 1922-1949

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B.H. Gladding Dry Goods Company

Department stores - Rhode Island - Providence

Jenckes, Thomas A. (1856-1928)

Providence, R.I. - Commerce

Watson & Gladding

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