R. H. Stearns

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Richard H. Stearns
R.H. Stearns & Co., Tremont Street, Boston, 1914

Richard Hall Stearns (25 December 1824 – August, 1909) was a wealthy tradesman, philanthropist, and politician from Massachusetts whose self-titled department store became one of the largest department chains in Boston and the surrounding area.

The headquarters and main store was in the R. H. Stearns Building on Tremont Street near Park Street in Boston.

Early life[edit]

Stearns was born in Ashburnham, Massachusetts on December 25, 1824.

Soon after his birth his family moved to New Ipswich, New Hampshire. At the age of seven, he was left an orphan and taken in and raised by his uncle on a farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts; from that age he earned his room and board with farmwork.

He was educated in district schools and attended Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts for one year. After his studies, he taught school.[1]

R. H. Stearns and Company[edit]

In 1846 Stearns moved to Boston and worked in the store of C.C. Burr. A year later, Stearns opened up his own business in a small shop which later grew into a large store and company, R. H. Stearns and company.

R. H. Stearns and Company became a fixture in the downtown Boston shopping scene for over a century, and also opened a few branch stores in the greater Boston area. The store catered to the "carriage trade" (well-off customers) and was particularly noted for its woman's clothing, the stereotypical Stearns customer being a white-gloved older woman of subdued upper-crust demeanor, although well-crafted children's items were also sold, as well as men's clothing, silver and crystal – but not appliances.[2][3][4]

In the early 1920s, R. H. Stearns and Company was bought by James Nelson and Bob Maynard.[citation needed] In the mid 20th century, Carl N. Schmalz (1898-1979), son of a general store owner in Huntley, Illinois, was president and later board chairman;[5] Schmalz arranged the sale of the company to Edward Goodman, former president of Abraham & Straus, in 1975.[2] The business closed in 1978.[4]

By the mid-1970s the changing face of the retail marketplace caught up with the store, and it did not have the financial backing like Filene's or Jordan Marsh, who were both owned by large national retail holding companies. At the time of Stearn's demise Filene's was owned by Federated Department Stores, and Jordan Marsh was owned by Allied Stores.

R. H. Stearn operated through the Christmas shopping season of 1977, and closed down in January 1978 after holding a liquidation sale.

Personal life and public service[edit]

Stearns served in the Massachusetts Legislature for two years and also on the Boston Educational Board.[6]

Stearns married Louise M. Waterman.[7] His sons Frank Waterman Stearns and Richard Hall Stearns, Jr. (b. April 25, 1862) were members of R. H. Stearns and Company after R. H. Stearns's death.[7] Another son, William Foster Stearns (b. April 18, 1859;) was an 1882 graduate of Amherst College and a Congregational clergyman.[7] There was another son, Frederick R. Stearns.[citation needed]

Stearns died in August 1909 in Poland Springs, Maine, at age 85 of natural causes.[6]


  1. ^ William Sidney Rossiter, ed. (1914). Days and Ways in Old Boston. Boston: R. H. Stearns and Company (by Rumford Press, Concord N. H.). pp. 130–131. Retrieved July 19, 2015. 
  2. ^ a b Charles Boston. "The R.H. Stearns Company: Prim and Proper Boston Retro Shopping". Shopping Days In Retro Boston. Retrieved July 19, 2015. [better source needed]
  3. ^ BAK. "R. H. Stearns". The Department Store Museum. Retrieved July 19, 2015. [better source needed]
  4. ^ a b adamg (April 23, 2014). "Downtown's other lost department store". Universal Hub. Retrieved July 19, 2015. 
  5. ^ Bacheller, Nancy S. (2009). Huntley. Images of America. Arcadia Publishing. p. 60. ISBN 9780738560670. Retrieved July 19, 2015. 
  6. ^ a b "Richard H. Stearns (obituary)". New York Times. August 16, 1909. Retrieved July 19, 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c Albert Nelson Marquis, ed. (1916). Who's Who in New England. 2 (2nd ed.). Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Company. p. 1015. Retrieved July 19, 2015.