General Store #25

The General Store, located at its original site on Court Place, is attached to the rear of the Stephens-Black House. It is a rectangular structure of one story with an attic. It was constructed in stages beginning ca. 1840, but most of the structure was demolished in the 1940s. It was restored and reconstructed by Historic Richmond Town in 1964.

The store was built as part of the Stephens-Black House, the home of merchant Stephen Dover Stephens (1808-1883), his wife Elizabeth Johnson Stephens (1811-1883), and their five children. The main part of the house was built ca. 1838, and the first section of the store wing was added to the rear of the house ca. 1840. The store was subsequently expanded three more times prior to 1874.

The store was a popular gathering spot. The village of Richmond was a bustling place, particularly on trial days, and the store was a place for neighbors to meet and catch up on the news of the day. It also served as the village post office. Stephens offered a wide variety of goods for purchase, including flour ground at nearby Geib's Mill, spices, muslin and ribbon, household goods, nails, and turpentine.

In 1870, the Stephens family sold the house and store to Mary Black, who moved to Staten Island from Manhattan with her husband Joseph and their family. The Blacks had twelve children living with them in 1870; they also had one domestic servant and one worker in the store. Their oldest son, James, probably headed the store for a time during the 1870s, before possibly departing Staten Island. Parents Mary and Joseph Black both died around 1876. Their eldest daughter, Victorine, married and left the household, while her sisters Josephine, Sarah, and Mary Black successfully operated the store and post office from around 1880 to 1920.They were remembered by a contemporary as "delightful ladies who knew all the town news and gossip: past, present and future...they were enabled, since they possessed the only public phone in the vicinity, to garner much information concerning local private lives...For all their inquisitiveness, these ladies were kind to small girls who came in to do errands and nothing was said if we helped ourselves from the cracker barrel or took a handful of brown sugar from the bin or a few prunes from the prune box."

During the many years that they ran the store, the sisters saw great changes in the store and in their community. As America moved from a predominantly rural society to a more urbanized one, factory-made products replaced ones made at home and national brands outsold local goods. Customers began to rely more heavily on retail catalogs and to travel to Manhattan to do their shopping. These trends spelled the eventual downfall of the general store.

In 1926, Sarah, the last Black sister, sold the house and store to Bertha and Willett Leslie Conner. The Conners were descended from prominent early families of Staten Island and were parents of 16 children. Willett's businesses included real estate and he also served as postmaster. After Willett Conner's death in 1932, Bertha Conner continued to operate the post office in the store wing. By 1944, the store was so dilapidated that all but part of the first section was torn down, and two years later Mrs. Conner sold the house. The demolished sections of the store were reconstructed by Historic Richmond Town in 1964 with funding from Marjorie Wells Proctor in memory of Elizabeth Stephens Wells, granddaughter of the original owner.

The General Store is currently furnished to represent a general store of the late 1800s and early 1900s. It is open to visitors.

Sarah Hermann