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Posted on June 29, 2020 at 2:19 PM by Ken Kocher
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.
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