American Tea Rooms

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From the Land of Tea

In this installment of "From the Land of Tea," we take a look at a web page that was funded by my Patreon supporters, who had access to it one full year before the public.

  • Patreon Release Date: October 14th, 2021.
  • Public Release Date: October 14th, 2022.

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American Tea Rooms!

All of the material you have access to here -- the fabulous tea cups, the instructive booklets, the nostalgic postcards, the boldly graphic matchbook covers, and all of the historical information researched and shared from the mind of the woman who is making it all happen -- can easily fit into one 8 x 10 foot room in an old Victorian farmhouse, but you would never see it without the investment of the time it takes to produce such a site and the caloric input such a site requires in the form of food for the writer, graphic designer, and database manager, as well as the US currency needed to pay for the computers, software applications, scanners, electricity, and internet connectivity that bring it out of that little room and into the world. So, as you can see, this site is the darling of many, and it is growing at a rapid rate ... but although it is "free," there also is a cost. Your financial support underwrites this cost.

Each new web page or sample pdf is circulated to Patrons as an unpublished galley proof or advance copy. After one year access for Patrons, each web page will be released to the public, while book pages will be available to the public as printed books, and copies will be sent to Patrons who subscribe at the upper two tiers.

Patrons have access to a Private Patreon sub-forum within the Lucky Mojo Forum, and will be accorded special Red Star Avatar badges at the Forum.

American Tea Rooms on Vintage Postcards

Today's topic is American Tea Rooms as shown on old postcards, some dating back more than 100 years. The tea rooms may be gone, but the photos linger on. Each postcard has a caption explaining it, and some have additional text dedeveloped by looking up the name of the tea room's proprietor, when it was given on the card.

As you can see, some American tea room postcards simply exist to promote a particular place, but some were owned by people who were, in their own way, minor local celebrities, making their tea rooms more open to sociological investigation. I want to honour the work of local librarians, historical societies, state and federal archivists, paywall newspaper archives (Lord, i wish they were free!), and curious deltiologists who contribute so much background information, which allows me to realize and understand the breadth of the material culture of tea rooms in America.

To place this work in context, please read the following introductory pages

The postcards below have already been integrated into their respective United States tea room archives by state and city, so this is just a sampling of the amazing diversity that awaits you if you go to the Vintage Tea Room Postcards Category of the site and browse through our holdings. Enjoy!



The Villula Tea Garden in Seale, Alabama, founded by Helen Dudley Jeorg and her husband Robert Jeorg in 1947, when she was about 52 years old; she had previously operated another tea room in Columbus, Alabama

Helen Dudley Joerg at the Villula Tea Garden in 1961, at about the age of 66.

This article, published in 1978, described the history of the Vullula Tea Room, as told by Mrs. Jeorg, then 83 years old and still quite active.

Special Sesquicentennial Supplement II

Ledger-Enquirer, Sunday, May 7, 1978. S-19.

Villula Tea Garden Popular

By John Gagley

Enquirer Staff Writer

SEALE, Ala. - Villula Tea Garden patrons swear by this cozy little place in the country - even if there is no tea garden here.

The Villula Tea Garden is really a charming, old fashioned southern restaurant operated by a charming, old-fashioned southern lady who believes customers should be treated like family.

Helen Joerg, 83, is the well-known proprietor and hostess who still bustles about her "tea room" dining hall greeting her many friends.

"Sometimes on a Sunday the room will be full," said Mrs. Joerg. "There'll be people here from seven different communities, and I'll know everyone in the room."

One gets the feeling soon from talking with Mrs. Joerg that pleasing her friends is the reason she's still in business after 30 years here.

"You know, that's really the thing about it," she confided. "It makes you feel good to have pleased somebody."

It would be hard to estimate the pleasures Mrs. Joerg has provided her friends and regular customers. Although it may seem she has picked an unlikely place for a restaurant, she has regular customers who journey from Columbus, Eufaula, Auburn, Opelika, Dothan, Montgomery and points beyond.

They come for the excellent southern food, or the gift-shop decor and atmosphere of what Mrs. Joerg calls her "tea room." The place is really a souvenir shop-restaurant. Woven cane chairs a fireplace and wooden floors help create a homey feeling.

But some make the trip to Seale because they obviously enjoy Mrs. Joerg's company.

It would be hard for anyone not to. She seems born to have been a hostess. Her open friendly manner puts guests at ease and makes them feel at home.

"Tea rooms are practically extinct now, you know. Everything’s commercial these days," she offered by way of explaining her business. "I don't know of any other tea room. We lose money every month, but I love it. I love the folks who come here.

"Of course, I've had to slow down as far as staying open too much at night," she continued. "Now, we're open only for lunch every day and at night by appointment."

Mrs. Joerg had a tea room in Columbus for a while before moving to Villuia in 1947 with her late husband, Robert. She also worked as a hostess at the Columbus Country Club.

During that time, she recalled, she served meals and chatted with the likes of Amelia Earhart, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Gens. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and George Patton.

More recently, former Fort Benning Commanding Gen. Willard Latham was a regular customer. And a "mighty nice one" in Mrs. Joerg's view.

There are those, however, who come for the first time and expect to find an Oriental style tea garden. Mrs. Joerg told of one such group who came expecting "little wooden bridges and so on" but had a good time anyway. They were Japanese.

"You don't think," she added with a smile, "that Tea Garden is perhaps a bit misleading, do you?"

Even if you can't get Lap Sang Soo Chong, you can buy canned jellies and preserves, as well as dolls and other knick-knacks. If you're lucky, you may even convince Mrs. Joerg to sell one of her miniature oil paintings of landscape scenes.


Long Beach

The Red Cross Tea Room, Long Beach California, real photo post card, circa 1910; the decor is unusual, for in addition to the customary potted plants and painted garden lattice-work, there are oversized painted silhouettes of parrots in the window and on the walls.



Lighthouse Tea Room and Museum of the Historical Society, Stonington, Connecticut.



The Latch String Tea Room in a Tropical Garden, 718 Magnolia Avenue, Orlando, Florida; the building is a glass-walled structure built of tree-trunks and poles, looking out on a lavish garden of tropical plants; there is a bright fire on the massive stone hearth, and dozens of potted plants crowd about on the floor, on benches, and on wall-shelves

The first notice i can find of the Latch String Tea Room is in the the Orlando telephone directory for 1929. The Latch String is located at the address indicated on this postcard, 718 Magnolia Avenue, which is at the corner of Magnolia and Colonial Drive. It was owned by Mulford B. Foster, who operated two businesses on the site, the Tropical Arts Nursery and the Latch String Tea Room. Foster was an artist who travelled the world in search of rare plants, and in addition to selling paintings, he sold potted plants, including Bromeliads. The Tea Room was situated on a piece of property about the size of three or four lots and was said to have been planted with 200 different species of ornamental plants. In the 1929 phone book, Foster himself lived across the street from the Nursery and Tea Room, at 711 Magnolia Avenue.

According to an Orlando history site, the Latch String Tea Room survived well into the 1950s, but by now the Tropical Arts Nursery, the Latch String Tea Room, and Mulford Foster's home have all been demolished and the beautiful showplace garden has been replaced by a 7-11 convenience store, gas station, and parking lot.

(For those unfamiliar with a latch string, it is a traditional rustic device in which pulling on a string lifts a latch that opens a door. When the string is inside the building, the latch cannot be lifted from the outside, and the door is effectively locked. However, when the string is poked through its hole and hangs outside, the door can be opened by pulling the string, which lifts the latch. It was once an idiomatic phrase to declare one's hospitality by saying, "The latch string is always out at our house," because to leave your latch string out was a sign that you were open to visitors. It is in this sense that Mr. Foster wished to make it clear that he welcomed guests to his nursery and to the Latch String Tea Room.)


Rock Island

The Tea Room at L. S. McCabe and Co. department store, Rock Island, Illinois, circa 1908; the decorations are tastefully arrayed paper flowers, the layout of the tables is spartan.

To place a tea room in a department store, unless it is very extravagantly furnished and set well away from the shopping areas, is to make of it a nice convenience, but rarely a social destination. Proving my point, the tea room at the L. S. McCabe Dry Goods Co. department store in Rock Island, Illinois, is scarcely a meeting place of mystery; it is, rather, a stolidly Republican rendezvous sans romance.

Perhaps the Presbyterian plainness of this tea room can be understood by reading the "Biography of L. S. McCabe," as found in "Portrait and Biographical Album of Rock Island County, Illinois: Containing Full-Page Portraits and Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County, Together with Portraits and Biographies of All the Governors of Illinois, and of the Presidents of the United States; also Containing a History of the County, from its Earliest Settlement to the Present Time," a pay-for-inclusion "Who's Who" published from 1885 and well into the 20th century by the Biographical Pub. Co. of Chicago, Illinois.

L. S. McCabe has been a factor in the commercial history of Rock Island County since 1868. He is a native of Delaware County, New York, and was educated in the common schools and academies of that locality. Coming west in his young manhood, Mr McCabe took up his residence in Rock Island County. He taught school for two terms in the southern part of this county during the time that the Hon. W. H. Gest, the present circuit judge, was county superintendent of schools.

In 1870 his business career as a Rock Island merchant was begun, and his steadily increasing business has been co-incident with the growth and prosperity of the city. He possessed a firm belief that both Rock Island and Moline had bright futures before them, and later his real estate ventures resulted in the platting of several large residence additions in both those cities, and in these he was either the principal associate or sole owner. He consistently showed his confidence in the future development of this locality by repeated investments in the business district of the city, until he became the owner of the largest area of business property in the commercial center of Rock Island. His active brain has been influential in organizing and developing many of the prominent and successful industries and business enterprises of the county. He was a director and vice-president of the Moline Central Street Car Lines when they were being built and equipped with electricity. This was one of the first electric street railways built and operated in the west. He was also an owner and promoter of Prospect Park in Moline, and later when his traction and park holdings were absorbed by the newly formed Tri-City Street Railway Company, he became a large stockholder in the latter company.

Mr. McCabe was one of the promoters and organizers of the Central Loan and Trust Company of Rock Island, and upon its formation became a director and its first vice-president.

In 1902 he was elected by the Republican party to represent the Thirty-third District in the State Senate, and after serving his term of four years, he declined to again become a candidate for that office, as his business interests demanded so much of his personal attention. He had always been an adherent to Republican principles, but the office of State Senator was the only one for which he had ever been a candidate.

Mr. McCabe is a member of the Broadway Presbyterian Church. He is a charter member of the Rock Island Club, but has never been much identified with fraternal societies or lodges. Being for thirty-six years at the head of one of Rock Island’s principal mercantile institutions, his sympathies, advice and aid were much sought and invariably given to every important public undertaking for municipal improvement.

As a diversion and pleasant relaxation from the cares naturally devolving upon the head of a great mercantile house, Mr. McCabe has become an extensive farmer and breeder of blooded beef cattle and swine. He owns and operates several farms both in this county and in Scott County, Iowa, and among his chief pleasures are the entertaining of friends at his summer home on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi, the showing of his great herds of Angus cattle, and the discussion of his various farming projects and in planning their improvement and development.

South Dakota

Rapid City

The Old Mill Tea Room in Rapid City, South Dakota, circa 1925; within the hand-hewn beams of the old mill, the eclectic tea room decor consists of twisted crepe paper ribbons, Native American hand-woven rugs, and potted palms.

See Also


Thanks, as always, to dear nagasiva yronwode for help with scan clean-ups and social media.

catherine yronwode
curator, historian, and docent
The Mystic Tea Room

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