Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

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March 15, 2014

NIAGARA DISCOVERIES: Lockport Exchange Coffee House

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Long before Tim Horton’s, Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, Lockport and many other cities had what was called an Exchange Coffee House.

The first coffee house was opened in Constantinople in 1475. The drink was served hot, black and very strong. In 1529, when the first coffee house opened in Vienna, patrons were adding the now familiar cream and sugar to their drink. Over the next 100-plus years, coffee houses spread across Europe. The coffee craze reached London in 1652, when two Turkish men opened the “Turk’s Head.” Sixteen years later, in 1668, Edward Lloyd opened a coffee house that attracted men engaged in the shipping and insurance trades. It eventually became Lloyd’s of London. Jonathan’s Coffee House was the birthplace of the London Stock Exchange. 

Each coffee house catered to a specific professional clientele that gathered to exchange information and, of course, gossip. Even the clergy frequented their own coffee houses. Not everyone approved of these establishments. Women believed they made men “as unfruitful as the deserts” and in 1674 King Charles II issued an edict in which all coffee houses would be closed.

“Whereas it is most apparent that the multitude of coffee houses ... have produced very evil and dangerous effects … his Majesty has thought it fit and necessary that the said coffee houses be for the future put down and suppressed.”

You can well imagine the public outcry over this (just think if our government tried to shut down Tim Horton’s!). This edict was soon repealed and by 1700 it was estimated that London alone had between 300 and 1,000 coffee houses. It wasn’t long before coffee houses were springing up in the colonies as well. After the “Boston Tea Party,” drinking coffee, rather than tea, was considered a patriotic duty.

Our Founding Fathers met in coffee houses in Boston, New York and Philadelphia to plan for the new government. The Tontine Coffee House (1792) was the original home of the New York Stock Exchange. When a new Exchange Coffee House was constructed in Boston in 1809, it was the largest, tallest and most ornate building in the city. It was also built entirely on speculation and when the builder could no longer pay the bills, he fled to Alabama. Less than 10 years after it was built, it burned to the ground in a spectacular fire.

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