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Jeffries Hardware, c. 1890 - 1920
A brief chronology of the early years of Jeffries Hardware, c. 1890 - 1920. Attempting to reconstruct a sequence of events of a century and more ago from fragments of information (and sometimes, from figments of imagination) brings both risk and frustration to the front. Having thus read the foregoing disclaimer, proceed at your own peril.
In Early Columbia, The Beginnings of a Small Kentucky Town (1976), author Ruth Paull Burdette referred to Town Lot # 68 (from the south corner of the Square to the exit corner of Jamestown street) as "one of the most important [lots] in town." She noted that in 1806, John Field, "step-son of William Hurt, the pioneer. . .built a store building where he ran a business from 1806 until the 1820s" (p age 12) on the corner where the Jeffries Building now has stood for almost sixscore years.
Nearly eleven decades after Mr. Fields' building went up, The News interviewed an unnamed "old citizen of Columbia, whose memory runs back sixty years or more," The gentleman spoke of that corner of the Square, stating, "Where the Jeffries Bros. building stands was an old brick [building], in which McBeath & Baker sold goods." (Adair County News, August 20, 1913.) Other sources identify "McBeath" as George W. McBeath, and "Baker" likely was Samuel M. Baker, who in 1850 lived near Mr. McBeath on Burkesville Street. Decades later, Mr. Baker, who died in 1870, drew a handful of mentions in the newspaper as having been a "prominent merchant" of Columbia. In January1922, John Ed Murrell (born 1852) of The News mused in passing about an unspecified era when "Sinclair Wheat and Alfred Gilmer sold goods on the Jeffries corner."
In the Beginning: Smith & Jeffries > Jeffries & Harris
At some point, likely between the mid-1880s and the very early 1890s, Mr. Charles "C.A." Smith, a rather prominent farmer of Adair County, opened a business in Columbia, location not specified. According to News editor C.S. Harris in late 1904,
"Mr. W.F. Jeffries, a native of this county (sic; Mr. Jeffries was a native of Russell County but moved to Adair County early in life), began business in this town about ten or twelve years ago, joining Mr C.A. Smith, now deceased, in selling fertilizers, seeds and farm machinery."Mr. Smith passed near the of 1895, and Mr. Harris' comment about Jeffries & Harris two-year existence fixes its starting date as the same year. If indeed Messrs. Smith & Jeffries were business partners for four years, that pushes Mr. Jeffries association with the firm back to 1891 or thereabout.
The Solo Years: W.F. Jeffries Goes it Alone
As implied in Mr. Harris' words above, he and Mr. Jeffries amicably dissolved their partnership in the fall of 1897, on the eve of the latter starting publication of the Adair County News. The first issue of the paper carried November 3 as the cover date. Pages three and four of that edition are missing but the next edition carried two items of interest. One, a text blurb, stated
"W.F. Jeffries handles all kinds of agricultural implements, buggies, saddles, etc., and is having a fine trade, but is ready and willing to increase his business. In order to accomplish his purpose he lets the public know what he is offering the trade through The News."The other, a display ad, referred to the eponymously named establishment as "dealers in Agricultural Implements, field seed a specialty." Other offerings included such diverse items as wagons (several varieties), bridles, saddles, barrels, hardware -- and churns.
Shortly thereafter, a series of notices beginning in early December 1897 informed readers, "All persons indebted to the old firm of Jeffries & Harris either by note or account, are requested to call and settle at once and save cost," indicating the partnership had recently been dissolved. Apparently, not everyone paid heed to this plainly worded notice, as another soon appeared, this one from attorney S.L. Powell, stating "All notes and accounts due Jeffries & Harris are placed in my hands for collection. . .")
An Aside: Mr. Jeffries' Other Ventures
Mr. Jeffries embodied the entrepreneurial spirit. In the early fall of 1897, the "Personals" column noted "W.F. Jeffries is delivering [fruit] trees for the Knoxville Nursery." Toward the end of 1898, he was elected Secretary of C.S. Harris' Adair News Co., and for a period of at least five years (1898-1902) he served as the local agent for Corcoran & Daisy's Lebanon Marble Works, suppliers of grave markers. And, in 1902, he and son Horace along with several other prominent residents of Columbia including James Garnett, Judge W.W. Jones, R.F. Paull, and J.O. Russell, invested in the newly formed Mutual Oil and Gas Co., which had leased
"532 acres in the oil bearing district of Wayne County--a section whose productions are now attracting the attention of oil men throughout the entire country and beyond a doubt will prove one of the greatest producers of Amber Oil in all this Southern country."A New Partner: Son Horace Joins the Firm
Mr. Jeffries carried the hardware firm solo from the fall of 1897 until January 1900, when his son Horace joined the firm. The first ad for W.F. Jeffries & Son appeared in the January 17, 1900 edition of the paper. Horace, who had been teaching for a number of years, also continued with that profession for a while.
Several weeks earlier, the father and son Jeffries had purchased, for the sum of $1,200, the corner lot where Jeffries pere was already doing business (and quite possibly where Mr. Smith had started the establishment some years earlier).
A New Business House: "A Handsome and Convenient Building"
After a couple of premature announcements, work started in the summer of 1902 on the erection of a two-story brick business house on the corner, two stories high and measuring thirty feet wide and eighty feet deep, one that would "add greatly to the appearance of the public square." A later article somewhat grandly stated, "When finished it will be one of the most imposing business houses on the square."
(The third floor wasn't added until the early 1920s. When the property was to offered at public auction in early 1979, the ad stated the lot was 31' x 131'; the main building was an 31' x 81' three-story brick structure with full basement; that the 31' x 22' at the warehouse at the back of the lot was connected to the main building by means of a suspended walkway; and the storage lot between the two buildings was heavily fenced.)
In order to continue business during construction, W.F. & Horace moved their entire stock of goods to "their iron building on the rear of the lot," and in mid-July 1902, general contractor C.R. Hoskins of Campbellsville got his crew busy. By month's end, only dust and memories remained of the old building, and the footers for the new edifice were curing.
In the language of the time, Mr. Hoskins pushed the work. Come early October, the brick masons had reached the second story and the advent of November found the brick work completed with tinner L.V. Hall busily engaged in roofing the structure. The bricks for the building were produced locally on "a piece of ground, on Greensburg road, belonging to Mr. S.D. Barbee." Mr. Hall had moved to Columbia about three years earlier. Within twelve months he had married Miss Lillie Powell, a resident of Burkesville Street.
Dawn of the new year found the building ready for occupancy and the elder Mr. Jeffries departing for Louisville to purchase a complete line of goods to fill the shelves. Remarked the newspaper, "They are now comfortably situated, ready to entertain their friends and to sell goods in their line as cheap as the cheapest."
Changes: Son T.E. Becomes a Partner; Mr. W.F.'s Passing
Almost exactly two years after the new store opened, "Mr. T.E. Jeffries took an interest with his father and brother in the hardware and implement business in this town" effective January 1, 1905, and the firm became W.F. Jeffries & Sons.
Over the course of the next five and a half -- almost six -- years, the business did well, but in the early autumn of 1909, the senior Jeffries fell ill and passed on October 27. The News stated that
"He had been confined to his bed for twenty-two days and only at short intervals was really conscious of his real condition. The cause of his death was bilious poisoning. . ."C.S. Harris, writing as the editor of The News and as Mr. Jeffries' long time friend and one time business partner, spoke eloquently of the deceased, referring to him as "a true, upright citizen, a man of conviction and courage, without policy, rigidly honest and thoroughly reliable under all circumstances and conditions. . ." and adding, "We feel that one of our best friends has been taken. . ."
Later in the year, a notice signed by Horace and T.E. appeared in the paper over the course of a few weeks:
"ATTENTION! The firm of W.F. Jeffries & Sons will continue the same as in the past and the courtesies here-to-fore extended will be cheerfully carried out. The outstanding business will necessarily have to be settled, therefore, all persons indebted to the firm are requested to call and pay. Until the old business is closed up we will be compelled to sell for cash. The undersigned are thankful for past favors, promising to do their best to please in the future."Hail and Farewell: Jeffries Hardware > Davis Hardware
At some point, the brothers changed the name to Jeffries Hardware (there are also a few references to it as "Jeffries Bros." in the newspaper) and ran a successful operation until the spring of 1920. By then, both Horace and T.E. were having health issues and their mother Caroline was in her 75th year, so when the opportunity to sell the going concern (just the business, not the building) arose in the spring of that year, ownership passed to R.L. Davis, his sons Shreve and Fred, and Miss Mollie Caldwell, R.L.'s sister-in-law.
The following week, a long thank you card from the Jeffries family graced the front page of The News, in which they thanked their many loyal patrons and requested that their long-time customers continue trading with the new owners. The piece also included this bit of poignant reverie:
"For the present, we go out of business but the happy years spent in the brick, in the southeast corner of the square, will continue to bring up the most pleasant memories of by-gone days."With change in ownership came a change in name, and "Jeffries Hardware" faded from the Adair County business scene for nearly three and a half decades.
Epilogue: Jeffries Hardware Co. -- Again!
The following article appeared in the February 17, 1954 edition of the Adair County News:
HARDWARE FIRM CHANGES OWNERSIn March 1970, about a year after Lynn Jeffries' death, the Messrs. Oscar Pyles and Elbert Burton bought the firm but kept the Jeffries Hardware name. As with the change in ownership half a century earlier, the Jeffries family retained ownership of the building, and the venerable edifice continued to house the business for another decade.
This story was posted on 2020-07-26 10:57:57
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