Each year, we celebrate Charles Broadway Rouss's generosity, extraordinary vision, tenacity and unwavering devotion to Winchester. Continue reading for an overview of this extraordinary man.
Who was Charles Broadway Rouss?
The Winchester City Council continues to meet at Rouss City Hall and the volunteers of Rouss Fire and Rescue Company still respond to city emergencies. “For more than 50 years he has been almost continuously closely identified in all that concerns the public here,” said former Winchester Mayor R.T. Barton at Rouss’ funeral in 1902. Or, as Rouss biographer A.V. McCracken wrote in 1896, “There are bands, baseball clubs and every sort of organization in old Winchester which bear the name of the New York merchant…The name Charles Broadway Rouss will go down to unborn generations of Winchesterians as a synonym of all that is charitable, good and benevolent.”
At age 15, Rouss left Winchester Academy to work for Jacob Senseny, who owned a mercantile on the southwest corner of Court Square (now part of the Wilbur M. Feltner Building on the Old Town Mall). Senseny paid Rouss $1 a week.
When not working for Senseny, Rouss sold pins and needles at the city’s marketplace (now site of Rouss City Hall – photo on right). He saved $500 and opened his own store near the corner of South Loudoun and Boscawen streets on his 18th birthday in 1854. By 1860, his worth topped $20,000.
By the Civil War’s end in 1865, he was $11,000 in debt. In 1866, he left the family farm near Charles Town, WV and set off for New York to “fight Yankees with brains instead of bullets.” New York merchants were unwilling to lend Rouss capital, but did give him “stale” goods that had sat unsold on their shelves. The first day he sold $1,000 in goods. Soon he was out of debt and owner of a 40-store empire, worth more than $200,000.
After the economic crash of 1875 and with $50 in capital, he launched his third empire, auction houses and soon he was collecting $40,000 in sales daily. The mainstay of the auction business was his mail-order catalogue, the Monthly Auction Journal. An 1897 copy of the catalogue lists everything from ammunition to zither strings in 72 pages.
When he died in 1902, Rouss was worth nearly $10 million.
Rouss’s Winchester Contributions
$30,000, almost half of the price, toward the cost of a new city hall
$25,000 to the city’s various fire companies
$30,000 to help the City of Winchester purchase Thatcher Spring, now Rouss Spring, which allowed the city to build its first water plant (served as the city's main water supply until 1956)
$17,500 for the fence and mortuary chapel at Mount Hebron Cemetery
$5,000 to the Winchester Memorial Hospital
We're celebrating the recent Rouss City Hall renovation and commemorating C.B. Rouss Day on Wednesday, February 26, 2020 from 4-6 pm. See the renovated building, get a guided tour (offered every 30 minutes), enjoy refreshments, and talk with the architects. See you there!