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Sweet Tooth

Burt’s, the Duchess Chocolate Shop, Main Street, Warren, OH / circa 1910

For those unfamiliar with Sanborn fire insurance maps, they are a source of considerable and varied information, facts that would be valuable for someone underwriting a fire insurance policy. Lumber yards are obvious; hardware stores somewhat less so, though they often store combustibles like turpentine and oil-based paints, or flame-driven ovens for baking. Even less obvious are candy manufacturing facilities, cauldrons of molten sugar kept boiling 24/7 and often unattended.

In the 19th century, a substantial portion of confections were produced locally. Large manufacturers (like Hershey or Mars today) had begun to form, but even some of their products were produced at secondary facilities. A town like Agincourt — with a late-19th century population under 10,000 — would certainly have had a candy shop with its busy back kitchen. Sadly, the Duchess Chocolate Shop in Warren, Ohio (pictured above) is not that place.

Few institutions embody the essence of early 20th century small-town American life like the corner malt shop, offering a mirrored, tile-floored, wood-paneled intimacy where sweets of all sorts were proffered to all ages. Van Kannel’s Sanitary Drug at Broad and James had a lunch counter with a fuller menu than Burt’s is likely to have enjoyed. So I suspect there’s room in the story for a specialty store such as this — perhaps even a void long needing to be filled — purveying locally made candy.

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