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Discovering the Sewing Machine Agents of Ithaca ca. 1880's

Thu, March 09, 2023 12:27 PM | Anonymous

What stores used to occupy the block where Restaurant Row is now? Back in the 1880s, the building that now houses Asia Cuisine among others was known as the “Bates Block” at 118-124 N Aurora St, and Mrs. Kittie Taylor, a “sewing machine agent,” sold sewing machines on the third floor of this building.

In August 1879, the Ithaca Daily Journal reported that sewing machines were now seen as a “necessity in every well-regulated household.” The writer also noted that “sewing machine agents” were enjoying “brisk new sales” of sewing machines. 

In downtown Ithaca, sewing machines could be bought at stores such as that owned by James T. Newman, also in the Bates Block, which sold pianos, organs, and sheet music. Mattress stores sold sewing machines as well and they could even be repaired at Ithaca Gun Works!  

Searching the 1880 census on The History Center’s HistoryForge project, we find that the “sewing machine agents” of Ithaca included men like John Northrup (on the Journal block), as well as 34-year-old Kittie Taylor. 

This last record is surprising because salesmen had somewhat sordid reputations. She may have had more freedom to do so because she was widowed. In 1880, the Ithaca Daily Journal published ads for the “new” Davis vertical feed, shuttle sewing machine, listing Mrs. K Taylor as “sole agent for Ithaca.” In her ad, Kittie Taylor asked potential customers to “call at” Room 16, Third Floor, Bates Block, which enjoyed large display windows to publicize their wares. 


Research and writing by Kelly King-O'Brien in 2023 in collaboration with the Tompkins County HistoryForge Project

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