ST. ALBANS — This four-piece place setting from the BFA china service represents a mystery. When was this china acquired and by whom? How was it used? Research reveals that the china was purchased in the late 1930s – early 1940s from the Salem China Company, an enterprise dating from 1898 in Salem, Ohio.
In addition to manufacturing dinnerware, this company also mass-produced and distributed novelty and souvenir ware, flatware, crystal, and Corningware. It was also the American distributor of teapots for the James Sadler Company of England. As to the cost of a place setting, Peoples Drug Co., in a store promotion in the 1930s, offered a thirty-two piece set of dinnerware at $2.98. During this same time period, about 130 railroad carloads of Salem dinnerware were used as promotions by American Stores in Philadelphia.
This service was probably bought for the school by the Parent and Teachers Association, precursor to the BFA Boosters Club. There is mention in the 1941 PTA records that $7 was allocated to purchase more dishes. Among the activities of the PTA, with help from the Mothers’ Club, were banquets for various BFA clubs and teams, senior suppers, and fundraising events. In 1949, the St. Albans High School/BFA Alumni Association began holding its annual dinner meeting at BFA, both in the gym (then on the main floor) and “downstairs.” Bette Sunderland Dunsmore, BFA Class ’60 and former Chair of the Home Economics Department, shed some light on the downstairs dining facility prior to the addition of a cafeteria in the fall of 1964.
When BFA opened in 1930, the original floor plan shows a very different configuration of rooms on the bottom floor of the Academy. Entering BFA through the front doors and going downstairs led to a large dining room on the northwest side where students who lived too far to go home for lunch could eat a brownbag lunch. For many years, until the addition of the cafeteria and hot lunch program, BFA students enjoyed a lunch period of one hour and twenty minutes. On the southwest side was what Bette described as a butler’s pantry where the dishes were stored. The Home Economics kitchen was adjacent and served as the preparation site for banquets.
As the BFA student population grew, several changes were made in this area to accommodate more classroom and office space, and the pantry disappeared. The BFA dishes were packed away and forgotten until the next renovation when they were rediscovered. Several pieces were displayed in the HideAway, the school restaurant. Eventually the dishes were boxed and stored again. For a time, a cup and saucer was given to teachers retiring from BFA.
The Museum would appreciate more information on the BFA dinnerware. Please contact us at 527-7933.