Saturday, March 31, 2012

River Bank Refreshment Saloon

River Bank Refreshment Saloon

Location: Fronting the River Front near the Colonial Hospital, Whanganui, New Zealand

Opened/Closed: 1871 - ?

The River Bank Refreshment Saloon is another one of those random finds that's rather intriguing.

The business is obviously being started by a woman--a widow is my guess. And we know from the history of that era that "refreshment rooms" were generally intended for women. At any rate, Mrs. Peter Ross makes it pretty clear that this is a "convenient and comfortable resort" for the ladies--and not, by rather obvious implication, for the gents. Who else to appreciate the rooms that had been "tastefully and elegantly fitted up"--apparently by Mrs R. herself?

The refreshment saloon (or salon) was a mid-nineteenth century Victorian invention. Although not exclusively for women--there was a prominent one established in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for Civil War soldiers--they tended to be associated with ladies and young children as they only served non-alcoholic fountain beverages. In general, they were considered "respectable" establishments where a lady might indulge in a tasty treat without a male escort in tow. New York's Central Park boasted a Ladies Refreshment Salon in its early days; the Calvert Vaux-designed building was constructed in 1865. It later became a "mixed" restaurant before being converted into the Casino, a swanky, high-society nightclub, in 1929. (The building is now gone, having been demolished in the mid-1930s for a playground.)
Whanganui, New Zealand (1886)
At the time that the River Front Refreshment Saloon was opened, Whanganui (then spelled Wanganui) was a young town. White immigrants battled with the Maori for control over land and territory, and these conflicts erupted into the Land Wars of the 1860s. The first Town Bridge had just been completed that same year (1871), which I assume made the River Bank area more commercially viable. With all the travel through and around the town, I imagine that Mrs. Peter Ross regarded a ladies refreshment saloon as a good and safe business decision. And as a pleasant space removed from the catcalls and hurly burly of the waterfront streets, at least for European women.

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