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John S. Trower

February 10, 2011

On April 29, 1911, The Washington Bee published a column headlined: “John S. Trower: Best Known and Probably Wealthiest Negro in the Country” The piece describes Trower as a self-made man of little formal education who was “interested in every movement in the uplifting of the people of his race” Trower, born in Eastville, Virginia in 1849, was the son of Luke and Anna M. Trower.

John S. Trower Portrait. Courtesy of the Germantown Historical Society.

He worked on a farm in Eastville until he was able, at age twenty-one, to accrue enough money to present his mother with the deed to the farm. Trower then traveled to Baltimore, attaining a job as an oyster-opener in a restaurant. It was during this time that Trower learned the majority of the skills he would later apply to his future catering business in Germantown, Philadelphia.
Trower left Baltimore in 1870, using his earnings as an oyster-opener to serendipitously make the world his oyster, as the saying goes. He opened his first restaurant on Chelten Avenue and, shortly thereafter, purchased the empty Savings Fund building to expand his burgeoning business.
Trower transformed the Savings Fund building into a four-story establishment of five-star quality. The first floor was composed of offices, dining rooms, a delivery department, and a “very imposing ice cream parlor”—so deemed by an article that appeared in the April 20th issue of The Colored American in 1901. The second room housed another dining hall, as well as a reception room. The basement and upmost floor were used for laundry and storage. Undoubtedly, Trower’s establishment (and consequently business) flourished in Germantown; however, Trower’s personal endeavors stretched far beyond the realm of the catering business.
John S. Trower was unarguably a humanitarian at heart. He was the chairman of the board of trustees of the Cherry Street Church, as well as the life appointed superintendent of the church’s Sunday school. He also guaranteed mortgages and loans for the church and constructed a building and loan associated for African-Americans of Philadelphia. Trower financed the building of the Zion African Baptist Church, as well as funding the Downingtown Industrial School. In short, Trower served as a dedicated and inspirational leader to African-Americans of his day, as well as the Philadelphia community as a whole.

Trower Receipt. Courtesy of the Germantown Historical Society.

“John S. Trower Best Known and Probably Wealthiest Negro in the Country.” America’s Historical Newspapers. The Washington Bee. 29 April 1911. Web. 6 Feb. 2011.

“The Race Prospering: Afro American Police, Business Men, and Other Officials in a Busy Town in the Keystone State.” America’s Historical Newspapers. The Colored American, 20 April 1901. Web. 6 Feb. 2011.

Washington, Booker T., “John S. Trower, A Successful Caterer and Man of Business.” The Negro in Business. Jenkins & co., 1907. N. pag. Web. 4 Feb 2011.

One Comment leave one →
  1. permalink
    October 23, 2017 9:43 am

    This was a great find of history I never knew about a location I visit frequently.

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