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Posted on June 29, 2020 at 2:19 PM by kkocher kkocher
On the morning of May 12, 1890, on a stroll along First Street (then called Warehouse Street) from Jefferson (then called Railroad Street) to High one would see a row of seven buildings containing a meat market, two groceries, two dwellings, a cotton seed warehouse, a candy shop, and a restaurant. Most were two stories. All were wood. By evening the same day, this streetscape had been reduced to ashes. At 9 a.m. the fire bell rang calling attention to the black smoke rising from Milton Jackson’s home at the center of the block. Schools, businesses, and factories closed sending all able bodies to aid in fighting the flames. Fearing spread to the rest of downtown, Mayor E. W. Butler telegraphed the Mayors of Athens and Atlanta for aid. Fortunately, the fire was brought under control and outside assistance was not necessary.
On that newly vacant ground S. W. Booth saw opportunity. Booth’s grocery and gunsmith shop (Grocery & Gun - sounds like a trendy magazine!) had been located diagonally across the street in rented space for more than a decade. Sam seized the opportunity to build his own building on the northwest corner of the intersection of First and Jefferson streets, as the plaque in the parapet attests.
The building looks now much as it did then with a few changes. The front had a wide wooden shed roof sheltering a the sidewalk and the ground floor windows which, rather than the large storefront window of today, were set in each of the three recessed bays created by the pilasters which originally rose from grade all the way to the parapet. The First Street side also had a shed roof at the ground floor protecting a platform which was no doubt used as a loading dock. You can still see the joist pockets for the platform today.
Sam Booth continued his successful business model after moving to his new digs. As the Madisonian recommended, “Call on S. W. Booth when you want anything in the way of family groceries, or want your gun fixed.” It was also the “headquarters for fishing tackle of every description.” For a time, when C. B. Markham was clerking for Booth, you could purchase bicycles from him. Markham would later strike out on his own building a bicycle shop on E. Jefferson.
The use of upstairs appeared to vacillate between boarding and meeting hall. No mentions of offices appear in available newspapers of the time. In 1895 Booth advertised desirable bedrooms at reasonable rates. We know the Masons were meeting here by 1898 when they had a “delightful oyster supper” prepared by Booth, their treasurer. The Masons were no longer using the hall by 1905 but we know the space still existed because of an angry statement in the Madisonian by J. R. Booth, S. W.’s nephew who had taken over the building and business. Evidently, a circular had been distributed advertising a new restaurant on the second floor and a grand opening banquet. This was the first Booth had heard of it and proclaimed there would be no restaurant ending with, “The dance, banquette, etc. advertised is not in keeping with my idea of propriety. I am not that sort of man.” When the building was plumbed in 1912, it was noted that a number of comfortable sleeping rooms were being arranged on the second floor.
As mentioned above, when he retired Sam handed reins of the business to his nephew, J. R. Booth, the change taking place around 1902-03. J. R. kept the business for a few years, but in December 1905 he announced a cost sale with the aim of closing by the first of the new year. He noted the store would be for rent. Within a month Edgar Pou and J. O. Crooke had rented the store and opened the Pou Grocery Co. These gents sold their wares here until 1908 when they moved to another location. Guy Parrish and Eugene Emerson then moved in to open their grocery. Parrish & Emerson conducted business here until 1911 when the building transitioned to another use thus ending twenty years of being a grocery. In the 110 years since, the building has had numerous uses, including again as a grocery. What those were we will save for another day.
Posted on June 17, 2020 at 10:27 AM by kkocher kkocher
It was a new millennium and Stephen A. Turnell was on the hunt for a new business. He had just sold the Hotel Turnell, that grand Victorian edifice that once occupied the corner of Jefferson and Hancock Streets. His search was apparently both categorical and geographical as the March 16, 1900 Madisonian reprinted clippings from two Monroe newspapers heralding Turnell’s recent visit and his likelihood of relocating there to live and start a business. Yet on the same page it was reported that he had just purchased his brother’s grocery business at the corner of Jefferson and First Streets. The next week he advertised the opening of his store.
Was the Madisonian poking fun at their Monroe brethren by publishing these contradictory stories on the same page? We don’t know. What we do know is, that at the first of the year 1900, S. A. Turnell had signed a 99-year lease for the property where his brother’s store sat as well as neighboring property stretching toward Main Street. By July he had Daniel Towns tearing down the wooden buildings on this block of Jefferson Street much to the delight of P. V. Carbine, owner of the neighboring hardware store, who was “gratified that Mr. Turnell [was] tearing away these old eye-sore buildings to erect a handsome brick building.” Carbine noted this would improve both insurance rates and business activity. After demolition, Towns was contracted to excavate the foundation of the building.
Turnell hired Watson Contracting Co. of Athens to construct to two large, brick store rooms (currently Gussie’s, Gigi’s, and half of Morgan Stanley). The lower store room “cornering on Jefferson and First streets, with a spacious and well arranged cellar, [was to] be used for groceries and heavy staple goods.” Mr. Turnell would be in charge of this section. The other was to be “devoted to dress goods, notions, hats, caps, boots, shoes, etc., a large line of which [would] be carried.” P. S. Burney was to be in charge of this department. Late August 1900 saw the installation of skylights, awnings, sidewalks, and finishing touches to the building.
The Madisonian visited the store the week prior to opening and declared it one of the prettiest in Madison. They went on, “the interior has been arranged in the most approved methods making it an exceedingly attractive store.” And they mentioned it was big. Everyone mentioned it was big. An ad for a nearby business gave their location as, “opposite S. A. Turnell’s Mammoth New Store.” Eventually Turnell would come to call it The Big Store. Of course, the Grand Opening for The Big Store would itself need to be big. It lasted the entire week of September 17, 1900 with Baldwin’s Orchestra “discoursing sweet music” every afternoon from four to seven o’clock and remaining open until 10 p.m. each night. Everyone received a souvenir.
Big wasn’t big enough. Less than six months after opening, Turnell closed the gap between his store and the Atkinson Building with an “annex.” This explains why the tall parapet is not centered on the building. The Madisonian trumpeted that he was “a hustler from hustlerville and [was] selling stacks of goods.” You could buy just about anything at the store which Turnell described as an “Emporium of Style and Fashion”: everything to eat, shoes, ladies ready-to-wear, gent’s furnishings, and of course the “Famous Mallory Plow” (Turnell was part owner of the company that manufactured the plow).
For several years ads for The Big Store appeared in the Madisonian hawking the myriad of goods to be found there. It all came to an end in the Spring of 1909 when Steve Turnell filed for bankruptcy. The stock of goods was sold to Macon Salvage Co. for 45 cents on the dollar and the fixtures were sold to George Coates of Atlanta for 35 cents on the dollar. This would not be S. A. Turnell’s last enterprise in Madison, but there would no longer be a Big Store. Not unlike abandoned big box stores of our day, the building was divided into several spaces to become several smaller stores – two of which S. A. Turnell would occupy for his next enterprise.
Posted on June 5, 2020 at 1:41 PM by kkocher kkocher
J. W. Jones purchased the lot at the corner of W. Washington and S. First streets around the turn of the twentieth century, shortly after the Colored Farmers Alliance Store at this location had been destroyed by fire. The 1901 Fire Insurance Map shows a two-story brick building with a corner entrance standing on the lot presumably built by Jones. This map indicates that the first floor housed a restaurant. We assume this eatery was owned by and catered to an African American clientele as this area of Madison was the nexus of Madison’s black businesses. For the next sixty years or so, through the years of Jim Crow and segregation, this building provided a place for African Americans to conduct commerce.
Unfortunately, the names of many of those businesses have been lost to time. While old Madison newspapers are one of the best resources to learn the names of businesses past, black businesses tended to advertise less often or not at all. The name of the restaurant in 1901 or the pool hall on a 1909 map can be found nowhere in the newspapers of the day. Incorporation was something that legally required advertisement, so we know that eleven gentlemen incorporated the Star Drug Company, Madison’s second and longest-lived African American drug store. Among them was Dr. J. F. Smith.
We do not know when James Franklin Smith arrived in Madison, the first mention of Dr. Smith in the Madisonian was in 1917. A native of Alabama, he was a graduate of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. He practiced a short time in Florida before coming to Madison. James married Eva Kennedy in 1917, and according to a 1991 article by Mrs. Neal, Eva was the operator of the Star Drug Store. Upstairs, Dr. Smith had his office. An old photo with the building in the background shows his sign in the parapet: “J. F. Smith, Physician & Surgeon.”
Smith was not the only medical professional associated with the building. The September 24, 1926 Madisonian had this snippet under the title, Trained Nurse: “Sara B. Alford, colored graduate nurse, will return to Madison, and will accept all calls. Can be reached at Star Drug Co. Telephone 9106.” J. F. Smith would eventually come to own the building. The upstairs space contained not only Smith’s office, but rental space for other businesses. A 1959 article describing a fire that gutted the upstairs of the building noted that “Dr. Smith’s office, a Negro barber shop, and a radio repair shop were destroyed.” Smith continued to see patients here until retiring in 1961 after 52 years of practice.
Star Drug’s tenure was not as long as Dr. Smith’s practice. In 1928, the name changed to “The Progressive Star” for unknown reasons. Also unknown is when the drug store closed-up shop. The ground floor became the realm of restaurants again. This was the location of the notorious “DeMo's” cafe mentioned in Raymond Andrews’s memoir, The Last Radio Baby which he described as famous for fried fish, fights, and “sin.” In 1958, the Freezette, Madison’s popular ice cream shop on Hwy 441, opened up "a branch grill on West Washington St. for the colored." Folks could find The Corner Grill here in the 1970s. After this time, several offices occupied the building, primarily Conner Realty, later NBC Realty.
During the years following the fire and into the 1990s, the building underwent changes – stuccoing the brick, shortening the windows, closing the door to the upstairs, moving the main entrance from the corner – which significantly impacted the historic character of the building. So much so that when Madison’s National Register of Historic Places District was established, the building was listed as "noncontributing." The Downtown Development Authority of Madison purchased the building in 2013, later selling it to Algin Realty with an agreement to historically rehabilitate the building. The stucco was removed prompting the National Park Service to change its NR status to "contributing." Further work is underway reversing past changes and returning the building to the original look. The first floor will house Algin’s Madison office and the upstairs will be living space.