John B. Varick Co. — New England’s Largest Hardware Business in 1915

John B. Varick Co., Elm Street, Manchester NH from a 1903 booklet.

John B. Varick Co., 809-819 Elm Street, Manchester NH from a 1903 booklet

This brief description of the JOHN B. VARICK COMPANY is the perfect way to begin this blog post.  “The John B. Varick Co. was established in 1845, on the same spot where the present Varick Building stands, by John P. Adriance, who came to Manchester from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. In 1849 John B. Varick, a boy of sixteen, came to Manchester from Poughkeepsie and entered the employ of Mr. Adriance. In 1851 Mr. Adriance sold out the business to Messrs S. James Dennis and John B. Varick [and the company was known as Dennis & Varick, see receipt below]. In 1855 Mr. Dennis retired and the firm became known as Varick, Storm & Co.”

 

1854 receipt from the firm of Dennis & Varick, Manchester NH

1854 receipt from the firm of Dennis & Varick, Manchester NH

In 1858 Walter Adriance, John B. Varick’s cousin, purchased Mr. Storm’s interest and the firm now known as John B. Varick & Co. In 1860 John B. Varick bought his partner out, and became sole owner. In 1884 the business was incorporated under the name of John B. Varick Co., with John B. Varick, president and treasurer, and Charles A. Adams manager. John B. Varick died in 1902 after having been actively engaged in the same business in the same location for over fifty-three years. The present officers of the company are Richard Varick, president, Charles A. Adams, manager, and Thomas R. Varick, treasurer.

Varick Warehouse No. 1 on Nutt Lane

Varick Warehouse No. 1 on Nutt Lane, Manchester NH

“The Varick Company is not by any means the largest, but, in the opinion of many good judges, it is the most complete and perfectly appointed general hardware establishment to be found in the entire United States. The company owns the new Varick Building [Elm Street], half of the Varick-Sullivan Building, Warehouse No. 1 [Nutfield Lane], Warehouse No. 2 [West Auburn Street], and the Depot Street store [Agricultural Warehouse], the last two named buildings being situated directly north of the Boston & Main Freight Depot with side tracks running directly to the doors where seven cars may be easily handled at once.”

“Because of the improved construction and

Varick Warehouse No. 2 on West Auburn Street

Varick Warehouse No. 2 on West Auburn Street, Manchester NH

modern sprinkler equipment insurance rates are the lowest possible. With no rentals to pay, with ideal freight conditions and low insurance combined with the fact that the company buys in large quantities on its own capital, there is little wonder that the company can sell its goods as low as any concern on earth.” [Source: the Granite State monthly, ed by Henry Harriston Metcalf and John Norris McClintock, 1916, page 138]

Now to provide a bit more detail about the John B. Varick CompanyJohn P. Adriance who initially started the company was John B. Varick’s uncle, as his mother and John P. Adriance’s wife were sisters.  Walter Adriance who later joined the company was his cousin, and son of the original owner.

Varick Agricultural Building on Depot Street. Originally the railroad tracks ran past it.

Varick Agricultural Warehouse on Depot Street, Manchester NH. Originally the railroad tracks ran past it.

John B .Varick Co.  was considered “a hardware concern” and yet they sold many items that you or I today might not expect to find in a typical hardware store.   The company  promoted “Hardware, Iron & Steel,” however they also offered an amazing assortment of jewelry, sporting goods and equipment, firearms, fishing gear, engines, household cleaning appliances, cutlery, tools, paints & varnishes, electrical, radio, contractors’ & automotive supplies, farmer supplies and seeds, safes, and even toys.  They also produced and sold a large number of postcards, many showing scenes and buildings from Manchester, New Hampshire and nearby locales.

1927 Manchester City Directory page showing a "brief" listing of offerings by the John B. Varick Co.

1927 Manchester NH City Directory page showing a “brief” listing of offerings by the John B. Varick Co.

The company was affected several times by fires.  The first on Sunday, Feb 7, 1892 at 2:51 a.m. “Fire broke out in John B. Varick’s immense hardware store at 809-813 Elm Street. Two alarms were immediately pulled in. The fire spread into some of the adjoining buildings before it could be extinguished. The enormous amount of water which had to be used to subdue the flames damaged the stocks of a great many stores in the square. The total damaged footed up to $100,377.  Insurance paid amounted to $80,432.50.”  [Editor’s note: a second source states the loss at loss $144,000]. They rebuilt and prospered.

1902 John B. Varick Co. receipt for purchase of turpentine

1902 John B. Varick Co. receipt for purchase of turpentine

In 1895 Thomas Rice Varick funded the building of an athletic complex on the site of the former Beech Street Grounds, the current site of Gill Stadium. It was renamed Varick Park and used as such until 1913 when it was rebuilt and called Textile Field.

When John B. Varick died in 1912, his son Richard Varick

1912 John B. Varick Co. receipt for baseball shoes.

1912 John B. Varick Co. receipt for baseball shoes.

became president, with son Thomas Rice becoming treasurer.  They continued to grow and expand the business.  In 1914 disaster struck the main store on Elm Street again, along with the Dearborn building in the rear. Their losses were great, but they rebuilt and again the company continued to prosper.

The Fire and Water Engineering Magazine of 1914 offers this description of the conflagration: “The five story brick building and a three-story annex of the John B. Varick Company of Manchester, N.H. one of the largest hardware concerns in the country were destroyed by fire caused by an explosion which occurred in the basement at 2:30 A.M. June 24, with a loss estimated at $400,000. Nine firemen were injured. The buildings are in the heart of the retail section of the city, and were occupied by stores, lodge rooms, etc. The fire was most spectacular and the peril was increased by the inflammable nature of the stock in the Varick store.

Photograph of the 1914 fire at John B. Varick Hardward Co. on Elm Street in Manchester, NH. Firemen are pictured with a steam fire engine extinguishing the fire. Manchester Historical Association Photoprint Collection.

Photograph of the 1914 fire at John B. Varick Hardward Co. on Elm Street in Manchester, NH. Firemen are pictured with a steam fire engine extinguishing the fire. Manchester Historical Association Photoprint Collection.

The firemen who were injured were hurled through a window by an explosion of powder and chemicals. The firemen and spectators were further endangered by flying bullets when quantities of cartridges exploded. It was not until the firemen had been fighting the flames for more than three hours that the large quantity of powder and cartridges in the sporting goods department on the third floor was ignited. For some time after this there was incessant explosions and the fire quickly worked its way into the upper floors and through the roof. Chief T.W. Lane immediately on his arrival called the entire department into service. The fire occurred within 200 feet of the Barton and Folsom fire of last January. The loss as a result of the two fires includes two of the most important blocks in the business section. The Varick company has been in business on this site 51 years, and this is the third time it has been completely wiped out by fire, once in 1888 and again February 7, 1892. The fire in the basement spread swiftly, until, extending back from Elm Street 100 feet, the entire basement was a seething mass. Under the sidewalk and throughout the entire extent of the basement were stores of oils in large quantity, and as the flames reached them explosions, followed, which scattered the burning liquid in all directions and furnished material for the flames to feed upon on a character that water seemed to have little effect in subduing. When the windows were broken a sheet of flames leaped across the sidewalk and a distance of more than 40 feet across the main street, showing the fearful energy behind them. One of the engines which rendered splendid service at the fire was the large new pattern motor pumping engine, made by the Fore River Shipbuilding Corporation at Quincy, Mass., which happened to be in Manchester for demonstration purposes. The engine arrived there the proceeding day and its demonstration came earlier and was more practical than was expected.”

By 1920 the main store spanned 807 to 819 Elm Street, the agricultural store stood at 24 Depot, and another warehouse at 19 to 25 West Auburn Auburn Street.  Both Richard and Thomas Varick were living in a house located at 136 Lowell Street.

Rice-Varick Hotel circa 1927, formerly the new Manchester House hotel.

Rice-Varick Hotel circa 1927, formerly the new Manchester House hotel, Manchester NH.

In 1927 the John B. Varick Co. purchased the New Manchester House hotel from Herbert E. Clark, located at 32 Merrimack Street. In 1928 it was being run as The Rice-Varick Hotel.  By 1932 a Grill and Dining Room, and a Barber Shop had been added.

Ulric Bourgeois, a local photographer, worked for the John B. Varick Company until the 1930s when he left to start his own business.  He is well-known for his photographs of mill worker and of the local “Hermit of Mosquito Pond,” Charles Lambert.

Rice-Varick Hotel lobby circa 1927

Rice-Varick Hotel lobby circa 1927, Manchester NH

In 1935 Thomas Rice Varick died, followed by his brother Richard in 1943.  By 1949 it seems that the entire enterprise had been sold to the Gould Family as shown the the city directory listing as follows:
1949 Manchester
VARICK JOHN B CO
Thomas D. Gould pres
Thomas F. Gould treas
Arthur A. Bassett genl mgr
John L. Sullivan clerk
Hardware, Jewelry, Paper Dealers, Steel Bars & Sheets, Electrical Supplies, Builders

Rice-Varick Hotel ballroom, circa 1927

Rice-Varick Hotel ballroom, circa 1927, Manchester NH

Supplies, Contractors’ Supplies, Contractors’ Equipment, Furriers, Kitchen Furnishings, Paint, Oil, Varnish, Agricultural Implements, Sporting Goods, Leather Goods, Trunks & Luggage, Automobile Accessories
801-819 Elm; Agricultural Store 24 Depot Warehouses: Nutfield Lane, W. Auburn Street, Valley Street

The Gould family owned the enterprise until the 1950s when it appears they had difficulty, being involved in 1955 with a lawsuit.   The John B. Varick company closed its doors by 1951. At that time, 1951-1954, the Varick building remains with Varick’s Jewelers, F.H. Brown manager (817 Elm).  By 1964 the jewelry store has closed.

Rice-Varick Hotel bedroom circa 1927

Rice-Varick Hotel bedroom circa 1927, Manchester NH

In 1959 the Rice-Varick Hotel filed for bankruptcy.  The official Manchester NH Fire Department web site reports: “A fire on June 3, 1976 heavily damaged the former five story Rice-Varick Hotel at 32 Merrimack Street, a century old Manchester landmark.

A passerby pulled box #351 at Merrimack and Elm Streets at

Rice-Varick Hotel corner parlor circa 1927

Rice-Varick Hotel corner parlor circa 1927, Manchester NH

8:21 P.M. Within 20 seconds the fire department was on the scene but the fire had a good start. The blaze started in the southwest corner of the top floor. Fifty people were evacuated from the building, which was being used as a rooming house.”

And so ended the era of the John B. Varick Co.

 

====PARTIAL GENEALOGY OF JOHN B. VARICK====

John B. Varick of Manchester’s hardware company fame, was the 2nd great nephew of Col. Richard Varick who was on General George Washington’s staff, and who was the 1st Mayor of New York City.

Abram Johannes Varick, son of Johanns “John” & Janekke “Jane” (Day) Varick.  HIS BROTHER was Colonel Richard Varick named above.

John Vrendenburgh Varick, son of Abram Johannes & Tryntje (Van Vredenburgh) Varick

Dr. Richard Abraham Varick, son of John Vredenburgh & Maria (Remsen) Varick, b. 21 April 1806 Dutchess Co. NY, died 10 July 1848; married Elizabeth Eliza Harris.

Portrait of John B. Varick, MHA Portraits, Manchester Historic Association Collection

Portrait of John B. Varick, MHA Portraits, Manchester Historic Association Collection Used with permission.

John Barnes Varick*, son of Dr. Richard Abraham & Elizabeth Eliza (Harris) Varick, was born 29 Jan 1833 in Poughkeepsie NY and died 18 Feb 1902 in Manchester NH. He was cremated and  buried at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Boston MA, on 2 December 1902. [Editor’s note: Findagrave states that his remains were “relocated” to Pine Grove Cemetery September 15, 1915 by 2nd wife Melusina. The assumption is that she wanted him buried near their son who died in January of 1914. President and owner of J.B. Varick Co. He married 1st) 15 June 1861 at Natick MA to Jane Isabella Rice dau of Thomas & Violet Rice of Newton MA She was born abt 1835 in Waltham MA and died 2 Feb 1867 in Manchester NH. She is buried in Saint Mary’s Cemetery in Newton MA. John B. Varick married 2nd) 21 February 1881 to Melusina Amelia “Mellie” Hopkins, dau of Casper & Myra (Vurtnett) Hopkins of San Francisco, California. She was born 4 July 1856 in Sacramento, California, and died 24 Nov 1942 in Santa Barbara California. She is buried at Pine Grove Cemetery in Manchester NH. After John B. Varick’s death, his widow Melusina married 2nd) 14 Dec 1904 in Manchester NH to her husband’s cousin, Dr. William R. Varick, of Manchester NH, son of Remsen & Jane E. (Buel) Varick. He was born  in Poughkeepsie NY, and was a life member of the NH Historical Society. By 1940 she had removed to San Francisco, California where she was living in the Maurice Hotel.

Portrait of Thomas Rice Varick, MHA Portraits, Manchester Historic Association Collection

Portrait of Thomas Rice Varick, MHA Portraits, Manchester Historic Association Collection. Used with permission.

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The Granite State Monthly, 1902, Vol 32 included in his obituary: “While Mr. Varick’s personal affairs occupied most of his time, he was identified with several business establishments and financial institutions in Manchester, being, at the time of his death, president of the People’s Gas Light company, director and auditor of the New Hampshire Fire Insurance Company, director of the Amoskeag National Bank, and trustee of the People’s Savings bank…His favorite social organization was the New York State Society of the Cincinnati….he was also a member of the Holland Society of New York…a director of the Derryfield Club, and a member of the Masonic Order.  It is said no man in New Hampshire, except those who have followed the sea, has crossed the Atlantic as many times as had Mr. Varick.  He made over fifteen trips to England or the continent, finding unfailing delight in the voyage each time. He was on board the fated ocean liner, Oregon, which sank while approaching New York, a number of years ago, and was the last person to leave the vessel.”
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Children of John B. & Isabelle (Rice) Varick:
1. Thomas Rice Varick, b 3 October 1863 in Manchester NH, d. 22 July 1935 in Manchester NH; He m. 26 June 1889 in Manchester NH to Mary Miller, daughter of Nathaniel Jones & Sarah (Peters) Miller. She was born in Portland Maine, and d. 24 Jan 1924 in Manchester NH.
2. Richard Varick, b. 22 January 1865 in Manchester NH, d. 20 Sep 1943 in Boston MA; single, director of J B Varick Co.; buried Pine Grove Cemetery, Manchester NH
Child of John B. & Melusina (Hopkins) Varick:
3. Remsen Varick, born 11 Nov 1883 Manchester NH, and died 14 January 1914 in Manchester NH; He m. 5 Feb 1910 in Manchester NH to Florence Marguerite Morrill, dau of Charles F. & Hattie S. (Tozer) Morrill. She m2d) 12 June 1920 Manchester NH to Robert Charles Murchie, son of William & Agnes Janet (Kelley) Murchie.

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