View All Posts

Jul 13

The Bearden Building

Posted on July 13, 2023 at 12:36 PM by Ken Kocher

While we know quite a bit about the date of construction of the Bearden Building, early occupancy is a bit murky. Construction began in early July of 1905 with T.N. Lanier doing the brickwork. By August it was nearing completion with a front “of beautiful, pressed brick.” The initial reporting was that J.W. Bearden was erecting a number of brick offices of the Buffalo cotton yards. While the lot was physically connected to the cotton yards which Bearden owned, which could be all the statement meant, it does not appear that the building ever held offices for the yards. Early reporting also indicated that Bearden’s brother Gabe would open an up-to-date restaurant on the second floor and that Alston Trotter would have an insurance office there. Neither of these appear to have come to fruition. 131 E Jefferson 1920-07

We do know that Dr. R.W. Trotter moved into the ground floor in October of 1905. In the early 1910s Dr. Trotter relocated to a space above C.F. George’s Drug Store but returned to his old space in 1915. With the United States entry into the Great War, C.H. Baldwin, W.C. Thompson, and Dr. Trotter were appointed as the local exemption board for the army draft. Examinations to place in the space above Trotter’s office. Drafted into their positions, Trotter received $4 per day while the other members of the board received no compensation. The Madisonian labeled it, “One of the most disagreeable and thankless jobs ever imposed upon an unwilling citizen.”

 Dr. Trotter was one of the most highly esteemed citizens of the city, known for his gentleness and tender care. He could often be seen sitting in a chair in front of his office under the attractive awning. By 1919, Trotter began to have health issues eventually leading to limited office hours. He moved his office to his home in 1923. Dr. Trotter died in 1925. His office in the Bearden Building was occupied by S.A. Rigsby who opened printing office, the Madison Printery. The business was short lived, lasting less than a year.

131 E Jefferson 1909 Sanborn map

 Meanwhile, in the left side of the building, the Postal Telegraph Company had moved here from the Hotel Morgan by 1909 if not earlier. Most folks are familiar with Western Union Telegraph (if they know any telegraph company), but not Postal Telegraph. Even the 1909 and 1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps mislabel this building “W.U.T.” (Western Union Telegraph) – Western Union was not here but in the Richter Building. Nonetheless, by the 1890s, Postal Telegraph was the only major competitor to Western Union and Madison had an office managed by H.H. Waters with Miss Bertha Freeman as his assistant. When Waters left in 1918, Miss Freeman assumed management for two years.

postal telegraph

 H.H. Waters was back at the helm in 1927 when the Postal Telegraph Company moved from the left side to the right side of the building. They did so to have more light and better ventilation, this side not having a party wall and therefore windows. The Postal Telegraph Company operated from this office for the next sixteen years when changes in the telegraphy industry prompted a change in occupancy. We will cover this in a future blog post.

Madison Moments, a weekly blog highlighting Madison's rich history, is a creation of the Madison Historic Preservation Commission. This volunteer board protects the community's wealth of historic resources - most notably the Madison Historic District, first listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Learn more about the commission.


You must log in before leaving your comment