Today the western end of Water Street is primarily residential. However in the 19th century Water Street was very much the chief commercial thoroughfare of the community. The streets leading from the grid of the town down to the wharves were prime locations for merchants and businesses serving the port. In 1851 a new establishment – West India House – opened a the corner of Pownal and Water at the head of the Pownal Wharf. The proprietor was a few years short of thirty and was the oldest son of a lately deceased unsuccessful Saint John merchant, James Holman.
Samuel Chadbourne Holman had briefly worked in Boston but he obviously believed that Charlottetown provided a better opportunity. Prince Edward Island was a growing colony and Samuel’s contacts in New England made importing from the United States easier, this at a time when many Island merchants were still relying on shipment of goods from Great Britain.
From his advertising in Haszard’s Gazette it appeared that he sold just about anything from sleigh bells to cigars but he specialized in wholesale groceries and naval stores for the many ships visiting the harbour. Some things such as “high-proof rum” fell into both categories. Some of the groceries seem exotic even today; tamarinds, raspberry vinegar, green gage plums, saleratus, and quinces. Naval stores included oakum, pitch, pine tar, varnish, navy and pilot bread, oil clothing and sou’westers. Rounding out the offerings were hard goods such as chairs, shirtings, whips, carriage springs, and scythes (40 dozen on offer).
Helping in the shop was Samuel’s youngest brother, Robert Tinson, who had also experience of employment in Boston. Alas the new business on Pownal Wharf was not to last for long. In the summer of 1852 Samuel left for Boston, possibly to acquire new goods for the store. However he was killed in an accident on the wharf at Augusta Maine in August of that year and shortly afterwards the goods were seized and sold as they had been pledged against debts to a Boston merchant. Samuel left a wife Sarah, and young daughter with the same name who died soon after and whose tiny headstone can be seen in the Elm Avenue Cemetery.
Samuel’s other brother, James Ludlow Holman, was also an aspiring merchant and he had chosen St. Eleanors to start his enterprise. Robert and Samuel’s widow moved to the growing western town where she later re-married. Within a few years Robert Tinson Holman had started his own store in nearby Summerside. It was to be almost sixty years before the Holman business returned to Charlottetown and by then the commercial centre had moved far from Water Street to the area around Queens Square. While Holman’s is remembered by many, West India House at the head of Pownal Wharf survives only in yellowing newspaper advertisements.