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Views of Narberth Past

Caldwell Grocery, about 1898

Image source: Collection of the Lower Merion Historical Society

Addresses in view: 101 Forrest Ave. (†1908), Water Tower (†1919)

modern view of the historical image seen from the same viewpoint
6 Dec 2019

Narberth's first re-development?

J. B. Caldwell and Son Grocers operated during the 1890s and 1900s on the corner of Forrest and Haverford avenues. It was the first and, at the time, the only grocery in fledgling Narberth. The house stood for only about 15 years; in 1908 it was replaced by the Y. M. C. A. Thus, it may well qualify as the very first tear-down and re-development in Narberth.

In the 1900 census, this was the household of George Brinley, grocer, and his wife Zulama. She was born Zulama, or Zulena, Schroeder in New York to a German father and a Cuban mother. The aroma of Zulama's Teutonic-Caribbean cooking wafting through the neighborhood on summer evenings at the turn of the century would have seemed very exotic to a town that was over 90% American born, 99.6% in the U.S., Canada or western Europe. After the building was demolished, the Brinleys moved to Washington, DC.[1]

The Enterprising Caldwells of Narberth

"Mr. [J. A.] Caldwell was born at Intercourse, Lancaster county, the son of Mr. and Mrs. John B. Caldwell. With his father and two brothers he moved to Narberth in 1894, before the borough was formed, and engaged in business."[2]

Engage they did! First, they bought the grocery business. Then in 1900 John B.'s sons John A. and Robert took over the coal yard across Haverford avenue. After they sold it to C. P. Cook in 1905, John A. was appointed to political posts in Norristown, then Harrisburg. With the firm of Schwenk and Caldwell, wholesale grocers, he did business in Pennsylvania and Maryland. As early as 1903, John began making his mark as a "Real Estate Man".

J. B. Caldwell photograph portrait J. A. Caldwell photograph portrait
John B. Caldwell (1839–1911) and son John A. Caldwell (1871–1927); source: and Our Town 12-3-1927

He and his partner William T. Harris were among the most prolific real estate firms in early Narberth. Together they built and operated "Narberth's first movie venture", the Arcade Theater, whose entrance was today's 211 Haverford Avenue (Capriotti Salon in 2020). John A. Caldwell opened a second office in Philadelphia in 1921 and appears as the seller on 49 transactions in Montgomery County between 1903 and 1935.[3] When Our Town reported his death in December 1927, it captioned his photo "Real Estate Man Dies".

Ad: Now is the time to buy a home before prices advance. Caldwell & Co.

Perhaps the most lasting contribution the Caldwells have bequeathed Narberth is 22 photographs of the early days of our town, including this image, that they donated to the Lower Merion Historical Society. Among those that enliven this website:


  1. Of the 847 residents of 1900 Narberth, only two were born outside the U.S., Canada or western Europe: one from China, and one from the West Indies.

  2. "Caldwell Funeral Held on Monday", Our Town, December 3, 1927 (PDF)

  3. Montgomery County Recorder of Deeds (free account required)

Before and after: move the slider to compare the unretouched scan with its digital restoration.