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RVA Legends — H. W. Rountree & Bro. Trunk and Bag Company

A look into the history of Richmond places and people that have disappeared from our landscape.

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201 – 217 North Fourteenth Street
Built, circa 1893
Demolished, before 1961
Architect, Carl Ruehrmund

Some people just come with a lot of baggage.

(Everything But The House) — antique H.W. Rountree & Bro. Leather Steamer Trunk

The line of Trunks and Traveling Bags, Suit Cases, Etc., is represented with two factories and half a dozen flourishing retail stores. The retail business is carried on, however, in conjunction with other lines as shoes, clothing and the like. Most of the department stores have special trunk and bag departments.

(Chronicling America) — from a Times-Dispatch advertisement — 27 April 1907

One factory of this line takes rank among the largest concerns of its kind in the country. It supplies the retail trade of the city largely and sells besides all over the country. It has an especially fine trade throughout the South, particularly in Texas. This establishment has a fine modern plant.

(Chronicling America) — from a Times-Dispatch advertisement — 27 April 1907

It is the originator, and makes a specialty, of the roll back tray trunks that are much in demand at present. Materials for this trade in part exist here. The lumber is a home product. The leather and other stock comes from Boston and Chicago. The business is growing. [RVCJ03]

[RVCJ03] — Henry W. Rountree, President of H. W. Rountree & Bro. Trunk and Bag Company.

An understatement.

In 1875, Henry W. Rountree and his brother took a gamble and went into the luggage manufacturing business. It was a bet that paid off handsomely, and the business thrived for 141 years until it closed for good in the winter of 2016. (Richmond Magzine)

(VCU) — 1889 Baist Atlas Map of Richmond — Plate 4 — showing 1881 location of H. W. Rountree at 1300 – 1302 East Franklin Street

As a business speculation, it was a good one. When founded, post-war Richmond was in the midst of a construction boom, creating lots of jobs, bringing in travelers in droves. Indeed, the need for baggage handlers was so great that the Richmond Transfer Company was created in 1865, a business that would also last into the next century.

August 2018 — showing former factory location of H. W. Rountree at 1300 – 1302 East Franklin Street

By 1881, the Rountree’s were located at the corner of Governor and Franklin Streets [CDRVA], a four-story factory that was then the world’s largest manufacturer of trunks and bags. (Richmond Times-Dispatch) They would quickly outgrow that location; the rapidly expanding railroad industry of the late 19th century would spur a need like no other.

(Chronicling America) — Times-Dispatch advertisement — 17 June 1910 — featuring Teddy Roosevelt showing off his Rountree trunk

The Civil War had seen the first use of railroads to deliver troops to battle as early as 1861 at First Bull Run. The post-war era saw this use of railroads continue and increase. By 1880 there were 22,200 passenger locomotives and 17,800 freight locomotives in operation, the latter transporting 23,600 tons of freight. [SOP] Travel by rail opened up the country to greater western expansion and became the principal means of travel in the country until the middle of the 20th century.

All those passengers needed bags, and H. W. Rountree & Bro. were happy to oblige.

August 2016 — showing factory location at 201 – 217 North Fourteenth Street & ancillary supporting buildings

In 1889, Henry Rountree was able to secure a patent for his roller tray trunk, a novel device where an internal compartment would roll up into the trunk lid when opened, revealing a larger compartment beneath. It was the first of his eleven patents in the baggage domain space. (Richmond Magazine) Armed with the power of intellectual property, business continued to boom, so much so that by 1893, they occupied a brand new factory building on Fourteenth Street, and consumed much of the city block between Broad and Franklin (now Bank) Streets. [RVCJ93]

August 2018 — showing former factory location at 201 – 217 North Fourteenth Street

Then between 1955 and 1961, two things happened which had a transformative effect on the company: construction of Interstate 95, and the consolidation of the Commonwealth’s office complex around Capitol Square. These events led to the reconfiguration of the streets, producing the new Fourteenth Street that we have today, and the construction of the VDOT Highway Annex Building.

By this point, the Rountree family was no longer part of the equation, having sold it to the Tuerke family in 1954. The Tuerke’s sold to the King’s in 1959, who in turn moved the company westward, landing near Willow Lawn. They stayed in business for 57 years, eventually with five different locations, but the glory days were over. (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

(H. W. Rountree & Bro. Trunk and Bag Company is part of the Atlas RVA Project)


Sources

  • [CDRVA] Chataigne’s Directory of Richmond, Va. J. H. Chataigne. 1881.
  • [RVCJ93] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1893.
  • [RVCJ03] Richmond, Virginia: The City on the James: The Book of Its Chamber of Commerce and Principal Business Interests. G. W. Engelhardt. 1903.
  • [SOP] Sources of Power: How Energy Forges Human History. Weissenbacher, Manfred. 2009.

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