Early Butcher Shops

Whitefoot’s Meat Market at 336 N. Milpas has the distinction of being the last retail butcher shop serving Santa Barbara, Montecito, and Carpinteria. In the mid 1870s, however, though the population totaled only 3,000 people, at least four butcher shops along State Street served the city; Charles E. Doud’s shop provisioned Montecito, and Rodriquez and Estroga catered to Carpinteria. The reason for the decline, of course, lies in the evolution of grocery stores which, back in the day, carried only canned, boxed, and bagged items as well as crockery and feed. Today’s mega-markets have bakeries, fish counters, delicatessens, produce departments and meat counters, a few of which approach the quality and service of the old neighborhood butcher shops.

Early Days

In the early days of California, with nearly 90% of the American populace having been raised on a farm, the business of butchery was an accepted and necessary fact of everyday life. If the butcher didn’t provide the service for you, you had to slaughter and dress those hogs yourself, and you knew how to do it.

In 1855, in the newly-American village of Santa Barbara, some town dwellers wanted the business to be less visible. They began to complain about the old habit of driving cattle through the streets to the slaughterhouses. Especially disturbing were the huge piles of offal that lay strewn about the abattoirs, much to the delight of various local carrion eaters that flocked to the sites to gorge themselves on the wretched refuse. Each night the town dogs raised a hideous storm of barking as they vied with each other for their share of the bounty.

The Gazette reported, “Just above our office is one of these butcher’s establishments, reeking with filth, to say nothing of the foul odors constantly wafted along.” Another slaughterhouse stood at the edge of town near Victoria and Laguna streets, next to the Catholic Cemetery.

By the 1870s, slaughterhouses had moved to the outskirts of town and only the meat markets remained on State Street. As was customary, clients placed an order with the butcher who delivered the meat at several times during the day. Customers selected their cuts of meat from open displays.

At the shops, whole beeves, hogs and chickens were on display all day long. To sweeten the odor, and perhaps aid in preservation, pine boughs provided a canopy for the carcasses, which were laced with garlands of rosemary and bunches of sage. At night, the meat was returned to the ice house.

Butchers combated flies by hanging spirals of sticky flypaper from ceilings and several times a day conducted “fly drives” by taking palm fronds and walking shoulder to shoulder through the store, waving the fan and driving out the flies.

Inquiring as to the fluctuating prices of various cuts of beef in 1887, the Daily Press learned prices changed as buying habits changed. “Don’t you know that we buy our beef carcasses by the pound, and that shins, necks, and other inferior pieces all cost the same?” asked one exasperated butcher who’d had to raise the price of sirloin to 20¢ a pound because he couldn’t sell shin bones for soup and had resorted to tossing the liver to the neighborhood cats.

Early meat markets carried both fresh and salted meat. They traded with local farmers for butter, eggs, hides, pelts, and tallow. They created homemade sausage, corned beef, salt pork, and bacon. Much of their meat came from local sources. Durham cattle raised by Thomas Hope was highly praised, as was the stock belonging to Colonel Hollister. Marveling at the marbling, the Press enthused, “ It will make the eyes of an epicure glisten to visit I.K. Fisher’s market and view the beef.”

The Kings of Prime

One group of men came to dominate the meat market business in Santa Barbara from 1870 until well into the 1900s. The small dynasty began when John Jacob Astor Savitz left his Pennsylvania home in 1859 for the promise of a better life in California. He arrived in Santa Barbara in the early 1860s and settled down to raise cattle and a family. Becoming a prominent member of the community, he served as deputy sheriff in 1868.

In 1869, Charles Edmond Sherman, Savitz’s brother-in-law, arrived in Santa Barbara with 65¢ in his pocket and no experience in the meat business. Presumably tutored by his brother-in-law, and with meat purchased from Savitz, Sherman opened a small meat market on the southeast corner of State and Ortega.

Born in Bellevue, Iowa, Sherman was orphaned at age 11. He started working on a farm in exchange for room and board and the privilege of occasionally attending the public school. After six years of farm labor, he set sail for Panama, intent on joining his brother in Petaluma, California. Over the next several years, the teenager engaged in threshing and teaming in Redwood City and ran a hotel in partnership with his brother in Bodega Corners in Sonoma County.

In 1863, he and his brother decided to start a livery business in Nevada. They acquired two light rigs and set off across the Sierras. Along the way they traded the liveries for mules and, farther along, the mules for cows. Arriving in Nevada with 25 cows, there seemed to be nothing to do but go into the dairy business. Charles later joined others in the livery business, but, due to “lax business practices,” the funds disappeared and he returned to Bloomfield, California to drive a stage.

In 1866, Charles returned to Iowa where he met and married Cecelia Savitz, originally of Pennsylvania. He brought his bride to Santa Barbara where, with the help of her brother, he set himself up in the meat market business. He soon became partners with another newcomer, Canada-born William Ealand.

Sherman and Ealand first opened a slaughterhouse in Sycamore Canyon in 1870. As the population grew and water became scarce, they formed the Aliso Mutual Water Company and drilled a water tunnel (adit) into the mountain near the intersection of today’s Sycamore Canyon and Stanwood Drive.

By 1872, they were partners in the meat market business as well. They owned the State Street Market at 644 (636) State Street (Verizon) and Ealand’s Market on State between Cota and Ortega. (At one time, the partnership grew to include four retail markets in addition to a large wholesale business.) During this time, John Savitz owned the New California Market at 711 State Street.

Charles E. Sherman became prominent in city affairs. Besides being a member of the chamber of commerce, he served on the city council for one term and as county sheriff from 1880-1882.

Charles Sherman and William Ealand and their families lived next door to each other at 625 and 621 Chapala. (Sherman’s old home became Chad’s Restaurant.) By 1901, Ealand’s son, Charles William, and Sherman’s son, George, had been brought into the family business. George ran the California Market and Charles W. ran the Bon Ton Market at 919 State Street.

William Ealand died April 1, 1907; Charles Sherman died sixteen days later. The partnership had dissolved earlier that year, and Ealand’s sons had reincorporated as Ealand Packing Company at 636 State Street, Sherman’s original market on the corner of State and Ortega streets. They ran the State Street Market and others for many more years.

As the years passed and the population grew, the number of butcher shops increased as well. In 1940, with a population of 34,500, Santa Barbara boasted 116 grocery stores of which 20 were chain stores. Five of these stores fronted State Street and 10 fronted Milpas. Most had meat counters. Nevertheless, Santa Barbara had 17 separate butcher shops, 10 of which stood on State Street. Despite changing times, people were not ready to give up the personal service of a local butcher.

Today, the last retail butcher shop in town, Whitefoot’s at 336 N. Milpas, continues to thrive and do business in the former 1934 meat department of the old S & K (Fairway) Market.

(Next column: “The Last Butcher Shop.”)

(Sources: Obituaries, articles by Stella Haverland Rouse and Walker Tompkins, city directories, contemporary news articles, historic maps, Myrick’s Montecito and Santa Barbara)