Pogues’ Department Store
In his popular Times Past column, historian Jonathan Smyth looks at the Pogue brothers, Henry and Samuel, from Belturbet, who established one of the American Midwest's largest department stores that ran until the 1980s. It was once described as the Macy's of its day.
The H & S Pogues’ story is a tale of two men who in 1863 founded what was America’s largest Midwest department store and Cincinnati’s most famous and fanciest retailer of dry stock goods. The Pogues had a thrilling back story, hailing from ‘near starvation’ and ‘adversity’, according to Cynthia Kuhn Beischel, author of ‘Lost Tea Rooms of Downtown Cincinnati: Reflections & Recipes’.
The ‘H’ in the name stood for Henry Pogue and the ‘S’ for his brother Samuel. H & S Pogues began as a storefront on West Fifth Street, eventually moving to the snazzier location of West Fourth Street where they expanded rapidly, swallowing the neighbouring properties, and converting them into a giant department store occupying a six-acre site. Henry and Samuel’s brothers also took up positions in the firm.
Our story begins on a family farm in Drumcalpin, Belturbet, where Isabella Pogue’s husband Thomas died in 1838, leaving her a widow with nine children to rear. Isabella Pogue was one of 16 siblings, the daughter of Andrew Crawford and Ann Irvine of Hollybank House, Arva; as a teenager Ann Irvine from Bilberry Hill, married Andrew who was much older than her, in his 50s.
Isabella and Thomas Pogue had 11 children: William, born 1823; Mary, 1824; Ann Eliza, 1826; Isabella, 1828; Henry, May 5th, 1829; Thomas, 1831; Samuel, June 1st, 1832; William, 1833 (their first son William most likely had died); Joseph, 1835; Sarah, 1836; and Margaret, 1838.
The 1840s proved a hard time for the widowed Isabella and her children and, at the invitation of her brother John Crawford, she chose to emigrate to America in 1850. Henry Pogue remained behind in Cavan until the following year, been under the apprenticeship of William Moore in Cavan Town who had refused him permission to take early leave of his indenture. The Pogue family were of Scotch Irish descent and Henry was noted for his lifelong adherence to the Presbyterian faith.
Henry arrived in Cincinnati in 1851 and worked from that time until 1863 as a clerk for a dry goods store (textiles and clothing). From 1863 he was appointed head of Pogue & Jones small dry goods store on West Fifth Street.
Two years later, Henry and his brother Samuel bought out John Crawford’s dry goods company on 100 West Fifth Street; Crawford was the leading merchant of Cincinnati at the time and his daughter Mary was to become Henry Pogue’s wife. The Pogues’ business moved to Fourth Street on January 1, 1878; Henry and Samuel were then joined in the venture by their brothers Thomas and Joseph. Ten years later the company was re-branded ‘H & S Pogue’. Samuel was appointed company president, and Henry, ‘secretary and treasurer’.
With financial empowerment, the Pogues acquired stately homes to live in. Henry and Mary, bought a fine house on Park Avenue, East Walnut Hills, Cincinnati and in the words of theCincinnati EnquirerSamuel built ‘a fine residence’ costing $920,000 on Harvey Avenue, Avondale, built of ‘blue limestone’ and ‘carved freestone trimmings’, ‘ornamented with columns of polished granite’.
In ‘Representative Citizens of Ohio: Memorial—Biographical’, published in1917, we are informed that H&S Pogues, ‘built up one of the greatest department stores out-side of New York City. Their store was a model of that time in every respect, convenient, extensive, tastily kept, stocked with a large and carefully selected line of general merchandise and managed under a superb system. Scores of competent assistants were employed, and the total annual business reached gigantic proportions. This great store was patronised not only by the people of Cincinnati by the thousands, but by large numbers from nearby cities and towns; for its prestige and reputation soon became widespread, the many patrons knowing that here they would receive uniformly honest and courteous treatment’.
As Henry Pogue approached his final hours, on Thursday afternoon of January 15, 1903, he sat patiently in his armchair, waiting on his boys Henry Jnr and John Crawford Pogue to return from Princeton College. TheCincinnati Tribunereported that they made it back 25 minutes before he died, their train having been delayed by three lengthy hours.
Henry was said to have remained conscious to the last with that ‘wonderful energy’ watching the clock tick away the minutes till his sons came home. On seeing them arrive, he let out a ‘happy sigh’ and when the end came, his wife clasped one hand and ‘his son Henry the other’. His daughters were also present, Mrs William Walker Smith, and Misses Elsie, Natalie and Margaret Pogue and his brother Samuel, and nephew Joseph Trevor. When news of Henry’s death broke, Samuel closed the business for four days until the following Monday. Henry Jnr took over his father’s position as secretary and treasurer of H&S Pogues.
The Cincinnati Tribune gave a fine account of Henry’s personality and values, stating: ‘Henry Pogue was essentially a family man, never joining any clubs or secret societies, he has been for years treasurer of Central Presbyterian Church at Mound and Barr Street, which he joined when he came to Cincinnati, in 1851. He was one of the most charitable men in Cincinnati, and he never told of his gifts, but many of the institutions in the city are better off because Henry Pogue was a Cincinnatian’.
To his credit, Henry Pogue had encouraged many young people starting out in business, freely offering advice when it was sought.
After a succession of mergers, Pogues firm disappeared from the high Street in the 1980s. A Facebook page, ‘H&S Pogue Company of Cincinnati’ was started in 2010 to celebrate the company’s history and its members include descendants of Henry and Samuel Pogue.
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