The John E. Bassett & Co. (Hardware Store), New Haven Connecticut
The John E. Bassett & Co. store was reputed to be the oldest existing hardware store in the United States and was the oldest business in New Haven, having been continuously operated by a surviving partner. It possesses a remarkably early cast-iron store-front frame and one of the earliest remaining hoists (manually operated) in the state. It went out of business in the mid 1960s.
Titus Street began in the hardware business as a youth in 1784 in the structure which was his residence in the corner of the big lot on Chapel and State Street. The present store building was built in 1828 after Mr. Street's retirement. At the close of his business career he was considered to be one of the three wealthy men in the city; the others being Eli Whitney and William Leffingwell. Titus was the descendant of Reverend Samuel Street, the first Congregational minister in Wallingford. His father, Samuel, also resided there. Titus was the father of Augustus R. Street, founder of the Yale Art School. Prior to his death in 1841, Titus Street occupied the Reynolds residence on Elm Street, near Orange, which he had purchased from Pierpont Edwards, the eminent lawyer.
Mr. Titus Street began business in his residence on Chapel Street with the usual assortment of a country store in 1784.
In 1792 Mr. Street took Samuel Hughes as partner and conducted business under the name of Street & Hughes.
Between 1802 and 1821, "Owing to the unsettled condition of mercantile affairs incidental to the War of 1812, making it difficult to collect money" the partnership was dissolved and reformed at intervals, becoming successively; Street, Hughes & Co.; Street, Sherman & Co.; Hughes, Sherman & Co.; Hughes & Sherman. Mr. William Sherman retained an interest in the firm during the years the changes were made. Mr. Street retired in 1821.
From 1821 through 1838 Mr. Samuel Hughes carried on the business after Mr. Street's retirement and took his son, E. B. M. Hughes, as partner. Samuel Hughes died in 1838 and bequeathed the hardware store to his son. It then became known as E. B. M. Hughes.
Mr. John E. Bassett came into the firm in 1855, and it became John E. Bassett & Co. E. B. M. Hughes remained as senior partner until his death in 1864.
In 1865 Mr. H. N, Jarvis became associated with Mr. Bassett as partner and remained three years. He then returned to Colorado to farm.
In 1889 the firm name became The John E. Bassett & Co., and expanded to include buildings at 318-320 State Street. John E. Bassett was President and George J. Bassett was Secretary-Treasurer.
Overall dimensions: Approximately 22'-0" x 116'-0", three stories, three bays. A rectangular store building with a one-story brick extension to rear.
First floor: Simple rectangular open commercial plan with storage spaces, counters and shelves.
Upper floors: Small office spaces and loft areas.
The store once connected with a store at 318-320 State Street through a door on the east side, ten feet from the southeast corner of the present store. The door is now a fire exit leading to a parking lot. The building was not changed in the destruction of the adjoining store.
Present shop windows and entrance within cast-iron frame are not original. Wood-engraving of 1856 shows entrance to have been close to front plane up two risers and hung with paired wooden doors below lintel of lunette. Display windows had double-hung three-over-two-light wooden sash. Lights were set in heavy muntins. Muntins of upper sash were bifurcated in upper zones forming arched heads on principal lights and space for smaller light between muntins and arched head of sash. Muntins of lunette above door had corresponding design.
Upper windows have been altered from six-over-six light double-hung sash to casement windows. Interior fittings and changes in first floor windows and entrance apparently date from 1889, when premises were expanded.