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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mail Pouch Barns in Rock Springs Park?

Annually dozens of big name companies held picnics at Rock Springs Park. One such company, known more for their product than their name, The Bloch Brothers Tobacco Company, “opened the picnic season on July 13, 1927,” according to The Beaver Daily Times.

The company began when two brothers, Aaron and Samuel Bloch, entered the tobacco business as “stogie” manufacturers in Wheeling, West Virginia, fourteen years after the end of the Civil War. At that time, tobacco companies often used cigar wrapper clippings as a form of chewing tobacco. The Bloch Brothers took this one step further and conceived an idea that would revolutionize the chewing tobacco industry. Why not flavor these clippings and package them in paper bags?

Starting on a very small scale the brothers would flavor and package the new-type tobacco in paper bags that bore the names of the stores who sold direct to customers. Immediate success in this venture led Aaron and Samuel to market their own brand. Taking a mail pouch as their characteristic symbol, they made their first sale of West Virginia Mail Pouch on October 15, 1879.

The change to this new type of “scrap” chewing tobacco caught on in the Wheeling area immediately. The fame of West Virginia Mail Pouch began to spread to neighboring areas and the brothers began to advertise. Their biggest form of advertising was large painted signs on the sides of barns. These barns can be still be found in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and California. The barns, usually hand-painted in black or red with yellow or white capital lettering, read: "Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco Treat Yourself to the Best."

Initially, barn owners were paid between $1 and $2 a year for the advertisement, equivalent in 1913 dollars to about $20-$40 today. But more importantly, they received a much desired fresh coat of paint to preserve the integrity of the wood. Mail Pouch painted their message on one or two sides of the barn and painted the other sides of the barn any color the owner wished. Many of the barns were repainted every few years to maintain the sharp colors of the lettering. Some of the barns are now listed as National Historic Landmarks by the Secretary of the Interior.

Other groups to hold picnics at Rock Springs Park in the Summer of 1927 were The Tri-State American Legion, New Brighton Community, Duquesne Light and Power, Tri-State Oil Men, United Presbyterian Sunday Schools of Beaver Valley, Tri-State Odd Fellows, United Tri-State Colored picnic, Tri-State Moose Lodges, Burgettstown Chamber of Commerce, Crafton, PA Sunday Schools, Pennsylvania Railroad Employees, and many others. The Beaver Daily Times went on to state that “The present park owners have secured a lease for twenty-five years and have spent in new improvements and facilities approximately $200.000."

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