Tin Peddlers

When you hear the word “peddler” what comes to mind? Looking at it from today’s perspective it would probably be someone who sells beverages or hotdogs at a ballgame, or possibly a dealer surrounded by empty boxes displaying his or her wares at a flea market. But over the centuries there were many other varieties of peddlers. One of the more common ones was the tin peddler.

If you research the word “peddler,” an interesting definition pops up. Wikipedia says it may be derived from the Latin word “pes,” or “pedis” meaning “foot.” Traders would often travel on foot to sell their wares.

Yesterday’s peddler often traveled about in a horse drawn wagon to maximize their product offering. Many communities, including Ashland, relied upon these traveling merchants to bring pots and pans, and other goods to their doors. Stores were few and far between, and often located in the center of town far away from the farms on the outskirts of town.

Today’s story is about a business in town that started from a peddler’s wagon. The year is 1848, and a tin smith named John Clark from Acton arrived in town with his peddler’s cart. He liked the area and decided to make Ashland his center of operations. He began distributing his wares to other peddlers in the area from his store on Front Street and the business prospered. Around 1860, Clark sold the business to Edwin Perry, one of his employees, and a man named Lyman Patch. The name of the business was E. Perry and Co.

This partnership lasted about four years until Patch sold his share back to John Clark. Now it was known as Clark and Perry. Looking to expand the operation, Clark and Perry added hardware to the tinware line. This lasted until 1877 when Franklin Enslin bought out John Clark, and changed the name to Perry and Enslin. Time marches on, and with the surety of death and taxes, Perry passed away in 1900. Enslin changed the name to Franklin Enslin & Co.

According to Kay Powers’ research, Enslin had as many as 35 peddler’s carts in his operation. A fact I didn’t know was these peddlers often picked up paper rags from the surrounding communities to sell back to the paper manufacturers. Eventually the paper mills used wood pulp to manufacture paper, and the need for paper rag diminished. This also reduced the amount of peddler’s wagons that were needed. The role of Enslin’s peddler operation now focused on plumbing and heating apparatus.

Enslin was an educated man. He graduated Ashland High, and attended business college in Boston. Prior to his involvement with Perry in 1877, he formed partnerships with George W. Jones and eventually A. A. Coburn. They operated a grocery store on the corner of Main and Summer streets under the name Coburn and Enslin, on land purchased from Captain Stone. This partnership eventually dissolved with the business split between Coburn and Enslin, each selling different products from different sides of the building.

In 1866, Franklin Enslin married Mary Valentine from Union Street, and had a son William in 1873. William passed away in 1893 at the young age of 20, and his mother died 12 years later in 1905 after suffering a stroke. Eight years later in 1913, Enslin sold the Franklin Enslin & Co. business to Russell and Clarence Greenwood, and decided to retire.

Enslin did eventually remarry 23 years later to Kate Valentine Enslin. I’m not sure what the prior relationship was, but it was her first wedding at 61 years old. But this marriage lasted 6 years. In 1934, Franklin Enslin died. Again, from Kay’s research, the obituary in the Framingham News stated, “As quietly as he had lived, Franklin Enslin, one of Ashland’s oldest, best known, and beloved residents, passed away last evening at his home following 10 weeks of illness.”

It is interesting to see the graves of the departed in the older sections of Wildwood. Sometimes a little research provides the connection between the families and their placement “on the hill” as we say.

Thanks again Kay for providing that research.

Steve Leacu for Ashland Directions
April 2014