Jan 11

Anything in the way of a vehicle, harness, coffins, and undertaker goods.

Posted on January 11, 2022 at 9:30 AM by Ken Kocher

R.N. Booth building on 1901 map.

Leonard Marbrey Thompson arrived in Madison around 1890 and soon formed a partnership with G.M. Dexter, a carriage maker and undertaker. L.M. Thompson announced in 1893 the dissolution of the partnership and the opening of his business as an undertaker, embalmer, and dealer in carriages and wagons. He stated that he was prepared to provide caskets and coffins of the best quality at the lowest prices. Thompson had “two good hearses – one for the white people and the other for the colored.” His place of business was located in the rear portion of the Hotel Turnell which was located at the corner of Jefferson and Hancock (current location of The Sinclair, Community Roots, and Dolce Caffe). Thompson constructed a large blacksmithing shop and a two-story carriage repairing facility on the adjacent lot.

 Thompson then relocated carriage sales and undertaking business to the building owned by R.N. Booth on the southwest corner of Washington and Hancock. This building had an interesting feature: while being a wood frame building, its eastern wall was constructed of rubble granite plastered over and scored to mimic stone block. This wall was one of the few remnants still standing after the 1869 fire which devastated downtown Madison. At this location Thompson’s business grew. The Madisonian reported in 1897 that he was “receiving new vehicles almost every day, and is putting them up and rolling them out almost as fast as they come in.”

 Mr. Booth died in 1896 and Thompson purchased the building from his estate in 1901. He announced that he would build a handsome two-story brick building where all aspects of his business would be combined. Demolition and construction got underway in 1902 with local mason W.B. Dickson laying the brick. Meanwhile, Thompson temporarily moved back to his old shop in the hotel. By the end of April, the building was nearly complete. The original construction announcement indicated that the building would be 50x100 feet – about half of what we see today. Physical and documentary evidence point to the original building being about 50x135 feet with an additional 64 feet for added before 1909. Possibly Thompson kept his blacksmithing operation at the lot on Jefferson Street for a few years before adding to the new building.

LM Thompson building on 1909 map
L.M. Thompson opening newspaper adThompson opened for business in his new building, which also retained the granite wall, in May 1902. The enterprise was as much a manufacturing concern as a retail establishment. The building not only contained carriages and wagons for sale, but was also a place for their manufacture and repair with sections devoted to woodworking, iron work, and painting. Of course, the undertaking business was here as well. His youngest son, Brooke, joined the undertaking business becoming a skilled embalmer and all agreed he was well suited for “discharge of his delicate duties.” Sadly, while the business continued to be a success, L.M. Thompson’s health began to fail. He sojourned to Hot Springs, Arkansas with hopes that "taking the waters" would improve his health. He died there a month later.

Thompson’s sons, W.C. and Brooke, announced that the business would be “continued as formerly at the old stand” under their direction. Each of the departments were to be given careful and competent personal attention. Two years later, tragedy struck with the death of Brooke Thompson from a sudden attack of appendicitis. W.C. Thompson soldered on, providing and repairing vehicles of all types and shepherding the dead to their final resting place. He did this for another six years when in 1916 he became the County School Superintendent. Clinton (the “C” in W.C.) split the business in two parts selling the undertaking, buggy, and wagon business, located in the front, to George Shaw and Carter Shepherd and the woodwork and blacksmith shop, located in the presumed rear addition, to J.C. Caudle.

From this point on, these two sections of the building were treated as separate which is reflected in their stories – all for another time.

140 e washington c1905


Nov 15

Richter Seed House

Posted on November 15, 2021 at 11:45 AM by Ken Kocher

After the 1886 Charleston Earthquake, which was strong enough to damage buildings in Madison, the City Council declared the Town Hall Building (currently Laughing Moon) unsafe and sold the property to Martin L. Richter. The lot extended from Main Street to First Street. Like all the western half of this block at the time, the rear of the lot was vacant. It remained so to at least 1895 as shown on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of that year. Six years later, with an update of the map, a small, wood framed, “iron clad” building labeled as a warehouse appears. This was M.L. Richter’s cotton seed house. The building was a simple, 20’x 30’ side gabled box entered through warehouse doors front and back with no windows. Presumably, the corrugated metal siding was seen as a fire prevention measure.

1904 plat and 1921 map

The Madison Oil Company, in 1904, leased a small area of the property directly behind the seed house for the construction of scales. These scales weighed wagons laden with cotton seed. The 1909 map shows the addition of an open shed at the rear equal in size to the main section. A small 10’x 10’ room sat at the rear of this open shelter centered on the east side of the building. This was most likely an office. A construction project in 2014 uncovered the walls of this office and the shallow, brick-walled pit which would have held the workings of the wagon scale. The location of the scales allowed the weighing and offloading of commodities between the warehouse and the office all under shelter.

Sometime in the 1940s, the building was converted to a dwelling. A 1964 photo shows the building looking a bit more residential with windows, a front entry door with stoop, and a central chimney though still clad in corrugated metal sheets. The rear remained unenclosed.

137 S First - 1964

The building took on another use in 1976 when Elizabeth Prior moved her Playtime School from a suite in the adjacent building. An ad in the February 12, 1976, Madisonian announced the move noting the house was being remodeled to have two separate playrooms and two separate work rooms indicating the enclosure of the rear addition. The metal siding was removed replaced with Masonite lap board completing the transition from warehouse to residential character. The Playtime School operated here until 1987 when Helen’s Beauty Shop moved to the building. Helen Woodson styled hair here for 2+ decades having purchased the building in 1998. Following her retirement, the Woodson family sold the building in 2014.

The new owner embarked on a plan to return the building to its seed house form. After removing more material than necessary, the project and building were abandoned. The structure sat vacant in this state until the Madison-Morgan Conservancy purchased the building in 2020 with its Endangered Properties Fund. MMC has rehabilitated the property, interpreting the building's original use, as its offices. While vertical boarding has been substituted for the missing corrugated metal, one can clearly read the original warehouse and the location of the rear office. The front has been returned to a windowless wall with a wide doorway. Additionally, the building has sustainable systems and is Earthcraft certified.

Seed House front 2021


Oct 21

Perkins Place

Posted on October 21, 2021 at 9:23 AM by Ken Kocher

I1941 Sanborn mapn our earlier blog, Fill ‘er Up, we followed the evolution of gasoline sales in Madison from the turn-of-the-20th century to the 1920s. Curbside pumps were certainly an improvement over the early days practice of dipping gas from an open barrel. Nonetheless, gassing-up autos parked at the side of the street could be at best a nuisance and at worst a hazard. The 1920s would change all that with a transition to drive-in stations generally dedicated to a specific oil company.

Madison’s early forays into drive-in station maintained a traditional view of where business should occur – downtown. Corner properties on Main Street drew the most interest due to their dual access and high traffic. Of course, these properties were already built out, so to accommodate pumps and auto lanes, some demolition would need to occur. Madison’s first drive-thru gas station would be on the corner of Main and Washington, the location of the Broughton Building, which was a two-story building. Although later on Americans were willing to sacrifice substantial buildings to the automobile, the owner of this property, who was leasing the property for a gas station, was not willing to entertain complete demolition. The solution? Remove most of the first floor.

1920s Gulf LogoThe June 29, 1923, issue of the Madisonian reported that W.D. Cavin had secured the contract to tear away the lower floor of the corner store recently vacated by W.E. Shepherd. W.A. Perkins (Ab), who ran a tire and battery business in the adjoining building, was having the work done. The result, which included a ladies’ restroom on the second floor (the plumbing done by Charles Cavin), was “a modern and up to date station in every respect.” He named it Perkins Place and sold “that Good Gulf Gas.” Perkins painted the first floor yellow, and it was referred to in ads and articles as “the Yellow Front” or “the Yellow Corner.” This color choice may seem odd to those of us who remember the primarily orange Gulf Logo, however the 1920s logo, while still orange, was much lighter and would have worked well with a yellow.

 Ab and his wife took an apartment over the filling station in January of 1924 putting him “in a position to provide quick, efficient, and continual service.” The station became “one of the most popular resorts in town for the radio fans” when Perkins purchased a $300 radio through an Atlanta concern, supposedly the first to be shipped to that city. It was fully described in the Madisonian, “A loop antenna takes the place of the aerial, and the instrument is a six-tube supper-heterodyne, made by the Radio Corporation of America. It is equipped with a second harmonic and radiola loud speaker. Such distant points as Portland, San Francisco, points in Canada and Cuba, can be heard distinctly.”Perkins Place gas station c.1926

Ab Perkins appeared to thrive on the extremely competitive nature of the gasoline business. He placed a newspaper ad in September 1924 to correct the report that he was interested in the Texas Filling Station. “I am running my own business and am not trying to buy any place that will cut competition.” The Madisonian noted, “Ab’s the cat’s derby when it comes to telling the public what’s what and why.” Perkin’s called out the newspaper in 1926 for “giving him a black eye” by incorrectly reporting that no local dealer had met the last cut in gas made by Pan-Am Oil Co. The paper admitted that it had failed by being misinformed by a presumed reliable source.

Pan-American Oil Co. and Perkins Place were again mentioned in the same article six months later when Pan-Am purchased the lease of the building from Ab. Consequently, the this came to be known as the Pan-Am corner in the ensuing years. W. A. Perkins was not out of the gas game though. He had already built a new station at the intersection of Augusta and Athens roads (441 & 278) where he continued to sell Gulf gasoline. Those locating gas stations had already begun to think outside the downtown box.

 We’ll continue with the history of the Pan-Am corner in a future blog.