Franklin Peter Dilley, was born in 1849 in Sandusky, Ohio, a small city situated on Lake Erie between Cleveland and Toledo. He was the second son of Stephen and Matilda Dille (no “y”), his father a Pennsylvanian and his mother Ohio-born. Little is known about Dilley’s early years other than he was educated in local schools. In the 1870 U.S. Census, at the age of 22 he was living in a Philadelphia Ward Ten boarding house, his occupation given as “clerk in store.”
The store was a liquor house called Seltzer & Miller, located at the time at 410 North Third Road. This enterprise, which claimed founding in 1847, advertised as “importers of wines, brandies and gins” and “fine rye and bourbon whiskeys.” The company also was “rectifying” whiskey, that is, blending raw whiskeys and perhaps adding other ingredients to achieve the desired flavor, smoothness and color. Their flagship brand was “Silver Brook Rye,” a label they trademarked in 1876.
Stelzer’s full name was Franklin P. Stelzer, whose origins were in Ohio. Dilley’s mother’s maiden name was Stelzer and she had named her son, Franklin P., after a man I am assuming was her brother. In short, Stelzer was the uncle to whom Dilley (now spelled with a “y”) had been sent for employment. Stelzer had married into the Meck family. His wife, Louisa, was the daughter of Isaac Meck, a prosperous farmer and hotel owner in Liverpool, Pennsylvania. It was Louisa’s younger sister, Maria Alice, who seemed on the brink of spinsterhood.
One can imagine that Franklin Dilley, living in a boarding house, might find the idea of a real home life attractive. Maria Alice, for her part, likely saw the years ticking away and this go-getter young nephew of her brother-in-law as a likely catch. Whatever the motivation, the couple wed on October 24, 1871. The couple would have two sons, Ralph S. (for Selzer) born in 1872 and Edgar M. (for Meck), 1873.
The marriage made Stelzer not only Dilley’s uncle but also his brother-in-law. They worked together in the liquor house successfully for the next decade. Needing larger quarters, about 1873 the company moved to 1017-1019 Market Street. In 1886 Stelzer retired. (Miller’s departure is not recorded.) The business was turned over to Dilley who soon changed the name to F. P. Dilley & Company and moved to 25 North Tenth Street.
The new owner kept the Silver Brook Rye label and added several rectified whiskey brands of his own including “Franklin Old Special Blend Rye” and “Dilley’s Whiskey No. 5,” his flagship brand. He did not bother to trademark either label. His trade appears to have been both wholesale and retail, for the latter trade selling his whiskey in glass bottles sized in quarts, pints and quarts. The bottles featured paper labels in several designs.
In Dilley’s day the competition among liquor houses had grown intense. Customer loyalties were enhanced by providing them with giveaway items. For the saloons, restaurants and hotels featuring Dilley’s whiskey he provided back-of-the-bar bottles with enameled lettering. As shown, scattered throughout this post, he also featured advertising for his Dilley’s Whiskey No. 5 brand on shot glasses. These items likely were gifted to both wholesale and retail clientele.
While bar bottles and shot glasses were standard fare in the liquor trade, Dilley stepped out of the crowd by issuing a 5 by 3 1/8 inch tan leather wallet with his advertising. On the back it displayed an 1891 calendar decorated with blue flowers. The wallet also contained a declaration from Dilley that: “Just Dealing, Unfailing Promptness and Strict Attention to Details…Enables Us to Best Serve the Interest of Our Patrons.”
Possibly needing additional financial resources, about 1890 he brought in as a partner a Philadelphia businessman named William H. Hunsicker. That collaboration, however, was relatively short-lived and in April 1893, the dissolution of the co-partnership was announced because of Hunsicker’s declining health. The parting appeared cordial with Hunsicker recommending that his friends and customers continue to patronize Dilley’s establishment. Having sent his son Roger to Princeton University for his college education, Dilley welcomed him into the business following his graduation.
The Dilleys, father and son, continued to pilot the liquor firm throughout the early 1900s, including a move about 1914 to a new location at 210 South Front Street, adjacent to the Susquehanna River. With the coming of National Prohibition, the company that had survived for at least half a century closed forever. At that point — or perhaps earlier — Franklin and Maria Alice left Philadelphia, moving 135 miles west to the rural community of Liverpool in Perry County, Pennsylvania. Shown here, it was a quiet village on the banks of the Susquehanna. The 1920 census found them living there, recording Dilley’s occupation as “gentleman - retired.”
That same year, Franklin died, age 71. With his widow, two sons, and other relatives gathered at his gravesite, he was interred in the Liverpool Union Cemetery. His headstone is shown here. Marie Alice would join him there five years later. Nothing in life or death indicates that their marriage was anything but a love match. Dilley had risen in Philly because of the helping hand of an uncle, not by exploiting his bride.