Mohican Originally Known As The Smith Building
Construction on the Mohican Building, originally known as the Smith Building, began in 1891 across from the First Baptist Church which was being built at the same time. It wasn’t until a small chain of grocery stores, The Mohican Co., moved into most of the first floor in 1908 that the building became simply known as the Mohican.
The building would be nearing completion in September, the Watertown Daily Times detailing the city’s newest addition–
It is not known among residents to a very great extent that over one hundred men have found employment for the past three months on the new W. H. Smith block and new Baptist Church, located on opposite corners of State Street at its junction with Public Square. But that is so. The busiest part of the busy square has this summer been found at its “lower” or eastern end.
And now there looms above the neighboring buildings two handsome, substantial structures of pleasing styes of architecture, the achievement of skillfulness in planning and intelligence in execution of those plans. Though not completed yet, they allow the observer to form a conception of what they will be when the work is finished.
The Smith Building, 106 feet frontage on State Street and 92 feet depth, stands a beautiful business structure at a height of 78 feet above the sidewalk, where but once year ago there was a high unsightly hill and two tumbled-down old fashioned story and one-half houses. The building will be fitted up timely, many of the offices and part of the stores and several flats being already engaged, giving a promise that it will not long stand idle in this thriving city.
On November 2 of 1891, the Northern Business College would officially begin holding their classes there, moving from 8 Williams Street. The college would hold both day and night classes and later, in 1925, become known as the Watertown School of Commerce and were located on the top floor of the building which was one of the tallest structures, if not the tallest, in town at the time.
The school would remain in this location until 1947 when it would relocate to 268 State Street, then again to Sandy Creek Valley Road in 1968. By the following year, it had over 12,000 graduates in its 80 year history.
Many stores would take up shop in the months that followed, from dry good stores, plumbing, specialty hat stores and the list goes on. Many where uprooting from other blocks in Watertown, causing a domino effect of shuffling. In 1892, the elevator, complete with oak interior, was completed by the same outfit from Rochester that installed one in the Flower Building. The Woodruff at this point did not have one, but that would soon change to keep up with the other, newer buildings in the city.
The building would also become home to The Bijou Theater, an early venue for small live vaudeville shows and wrestling. It would show movies as well, at a time when instead of being measured by minutes, films were measured by the number of feet of film. It’s unknown when the Bijou would go out of business, but the competition of Wonderland and, later, the much larger Olympic Theater built in 1917 may have played a factor.
On August 14, 1908, the Watertown Daily Times would report on the impending arrival of the Mohican Co. at the Smith building–
The Mohican Co., a concern that operates a string of grocery stores in eastern cities, and which is also known as the Frank A. Munsey Co., will take possession of the stores in the Smith building on Public Square, at present occupied by Haller & Jones and Lane’s Restaurant, on or about Sept. 1. The Mohican Co. will immediately install one of their large grocery stores there. Neither Haller & Jones nor the restaurant people have yet decided where they will move.
Not everybody was happy with a chain grocery store arriving in town, particularly members of the Socialist party who made it their point of contention of what was wrong with the country in general, spreading fear of how the Mohican would “crush” smaller, independent local grocers who would, in hind-sight, see some good in Socialism. At one such outing–
The speakers argued that such an institution as the Mohican tended to eliminate the middleman and do away with the middle class in the commercial world. The store and its effects were neither approved or condemned, the subject being discussed in its broadest sense.
Nevertheless, the Mohican Co. proved to be popular amongst consumers because their ability to buy in large quantities earned discounts from wholesalers which they passed along to the consumer with lower prices. It’s a concept that, 100+ years later, still works while at the same time lead to the eventual (between seven and eight decades later) downfall of the mom and pop grocery stores which had, to some degree or another, started the slow decline with the advent of the likes of the Mohican Co. and Elkhorn Markets.
The Mohican Co. would buy the building outright in 1920 after its ownership had bounced around from Smith to Miram Inglehart, former mayor, to Byron Taggart who sold half his interest to Charles Remington. After Charle’s death, his widow and Byron Taggart would sell their shares to the Mohican Co.
On May 31, 1936, the Mohican bakery would catch fire from an undetermined cause, resulting in its closure for three plus weeks to repair $20,000 worth of damage. Per the Times–
The bakery has been rebuilt throughout. New floors have been laid, sidewalls have been reconstructed and the old ceiling, which was greatly damaged, has been replaced with new material. The interior of the building has bene painted in light colors so as to provide the employees with adequate lighting facilities.
The exterior, including windows, was also restored and the store would reopen the last week of June.
What most people recall most fondly about the building was their trip to the bakery and its many offerings. Some of the comments over the years from the You Haven’t Lived In Watertown, NY, If– Facebook Page include:
“Can remember watching the bread being wrapped in paper and wound in the string coming from the ceiling on cones.”
“I loved the wine drop cookies too!”
“I always got the apple turnover.”
“Best jelly filled donuts in the country.”
“I went there with my Dad. It smelled like a bakery should smell and the cookies were to die for. Good times.”
“The Mohican: the best bakery while growing up in Watertown. I loved loved loved this place. The smells from the bakery were mouth watering.”
December 9, 1963, would mark the first time since 1908 that a Mohican market would not be operating in the 72-year-old building. Donald Sponable, operator of the “Little Mo’s” Mohican market for the previous two years, would move grocery and bakery to West Main Street. The Mohican building would meet the wrecking ball in 1964, making room for a parking lot.