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Jun 17

The Madisonian Building (no, not that one, the other one)

Posted on June 17, 2023 at 9:46 AM by Ken Kocher

While most folks today refer to the two-story building at 131 E. Jefferson as “the Madisonian Building,” the building at 139 E. Jefferson has the bona fides for the title. Though not the first building to house the newspaper, it appears to be the only one specifically built for this purpose. While we do not have an exact date of construction, mainly because copies of the 1903 and 1904 newspapers are missing, all clues point to 1903. The lot is shown as vacant on the 1901 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. A 1905 article on the construction of the Bearden Building (131 E. Jefferson) notes it as next door to the Madisonian Office. Lastly, a September 1903 reprint of a Madisonian article in the Monticello News describes the sounds surrounding the newspaper office – the piano at the Hotel Morgan, the laborers at the Buffalo warehouse, and the songs of the prisoners in the jail – all of which surround the building in question.

1909 Sanborn Map1909 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map

E.H. Wise and W.T. Bacon had purchased the paper in 1895. After Wise retired around 1901, Bacon embarked on a campaign to improve and expand the Madisonian. In his newly constructed building Bacon installed an improved printing plant consisting of a 2 ½ horsepower Blakeslee gasoline engine powering a big Cranston cylinder press on which the newspaper was printed. The engine also powered 8x12 and 12x18 Chandler & Price job presses, i.e., presses for printing jobs such as stationery and invoices for local businesses. Also installed was a Chandler & Price paper cutting machine (which cut the first sheets of currency for the First National Bank) and a Mustang mailing machine to address newspapers for the post.

137 E. Jefferson 1920Madisonian Building 1920

The building was laid out with two small offices in the front and the printing plant in a large space at the rear. The gasoline tank for the press engine was in the basement. Presumably, the Madisonian occupied one office while the other was rented. Over the years this second office had various tenants, but today we will focus on two business schools, separated by decades, that occupied the space. The first was Ella Burney’s Business School. Ella High Burney graduated from Wesley College and had positions at the R.E. Lee Institute and Shorter College. In 1917, she returned home living with her parents. About this time, she opened a Business School in the Madisonian Building while also working for the Madisonian as its society editor and bookkeeper. She severed this tie in 1919 and moved her school to her residence on E. Washington St.

Fifteen years later, Mrs. Willimore Jones opened a business school in the same building. Mrs. Jones had originally opened a New Deal School at the White Boarding House in the fall of 1934 dealing in general adult education sponsored by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. This sponsorship was short lived, but Mrs. Jones continued the school, moving it to the Madisonian Building and naming it the Madison Business School. In conjunction with the school, she opened an Employment and Rental agency. This evolved into a Real Estate and Insurance agency.

139 E. Jefferson 19371937

The Madisonian described the school thusly, “The Madison Business School educates these scholars in professional fields, such as stenographic work and accounting, preparing those who feel an immediate need to begin office work without further preparation of a college education.” Florine Smith, a former pupil, put it another way in a letter to Mrs. Jones, “I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your ding-donging on us to learn this and that, for when you get a job you will have to know it. I still remember that and I am not only remembering but doing now, since I have a job.” Miss Smith was not an anomaly. By the time Willimore T. Jones moved the school next door to the upstairs of the Bearden Building in 1940, she had 230 graduates “now employed.”

Several other businesses shared the building with the Madisonian over the years. We will explore them and the later years of the Madisonian’s occupancy in a future post.


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