Mar 17

An Ornament to the Town - the 1887 City Hall & Engine House

Posted on March 17, 2023 at 11:40 AM by Ken Kocher

Firemen at courthouse 1880sFollowing the condemnation and sale of the Town Hall Building (now Laughing Moon) due to damage arising from the Charleston Earthquake of 1886 (we’ll tell that story another time), the City Council proposed “adding to this [sale] amount and erecting a council chamber and truck house.” The first two proposed sites were “no go’s.” The space originally eyed was “the grass flat between the corner of the court house square and Mr. Burney’s residence.” This appears to have been actually in the street at the corner of E. Jefferson and Hancock streets. Unsurprisingly, this caused “considerable objection” with the opinion that it would “be an obstruction that will mar the beauty of our broad streets, as well as an injury to the property of Mr. Burney and the hotel." On November 29, 1886, the council accepted a design by Daniel Towns and resolved to build it on the site of the market house. This would have placed it on the square with the courthouse. The Market House can be seen in the background of this 1880s photo of Alpha Fire Co. It is the structure that looks like a steeple beyond the Braswell Monument. The construction of building was to be let out to the lowest bidder.

City Hall 1912The lowest bidder turned out to be Daniel Towns who built it for about $4000.00. By March 1887 the walls were fast rising. The location, however, was not on the square but facing it from Jefferson Street. This side of the square had been vacant, except for the corner Foster & Ackerman Building, since a fire consumed the block in 1873. While the roof was being placed on the building in April, the city council purchased a fire bell to be placed in the cupola. In May, the Madisonian reported that the building, nearing completion, was substantially built and beautiful in appearance. They also threw in some second-guessing stating, “Yet we think our city fathers would have put the public money to far better use had they erected a building that could be used for a school house.” Nonetheless, the building quickly became more than a place for meetings, the mayor’s court, the police and fire station, and the “calaboose.” It was a community gathering spot.

August saw a dance held in the building, September saw Prof. Berger open a dance school there, and in December the ladies of Madison presented a dinner, supper, and “Kirmess” (small festival) to raise funds for the Madison Home Guards. When the county vacated the old courthouse, these types of festivities shifted to that building for a time, but the City Hall remained a center of community expression.

During WWI the bell in the cupola would toll one time each noon “as a signal for silent prayer and many hearts are lifted to God for the success of our Allies and our boys across the seas.” In the 1930s, City Hall was an informal gathering spot both for locals (“it is a right good place to learn local news and items of interest, as all classes congregate there at different hours of the day”) and visitors, many on the road looking for work (“city hall is a popular place at night with them and some find comfortable bunks or benches around the big stove almost every night”). Each spring the interior would get a good scrubbing in advance of elections including the big old stove which they graced with a polish that “chewers of tobacco will very soon abolish.”

City Hall c.1920Over the years City Hall saw various changes some which harkened changing times. Following the purchase of a motorized American-La France fire engine in 1916, the building received a new front and a cement floor. Another advance in transportation technology brought about an interesting cosmetic yet practical change. At the behest of the Kiwanis Club in 1925, Mayor Furlow had “Madison, Ga.” painted on the roof of City Hall. This was known as an airmark, an aerial navigational aid in the era before radar and GPS. Across the country, cities that could not yet afford to build an airport asked how they could participate in the dream of facilitating air travel. The short answer was to create airmarks that would help prevent accidents, drastically increase the efficiency of flying, and brighten the prospects of every city becoming host to an airfield. By early 1929, more than 2,000 communities scattered across the country had airmarks in place making Madison an early adopter.

Despite all this, sentiment began to gather that replacement of City Hall was in order. Mayor C. M. Furlow, as he approached retirement from office in 1929, suggested projects for his successors. Number three on his list was a new city hall. Mayor Furlow stated, “The treasurer of our city should have an office not adjoining the stables, public toilets, cages for prisoners, fire department, police headquarters, etc. In other words – an up-to-date office is needed so ladies may call and transact their business with the city with impunity.” However, this statement was made on the verge of the Great Depression and the likelihood of the community raising funds was unlikely, that is until 1938 when Public Works Administration funds came available for just such a project.

With the completion of the new City Hall in 1939, the building that is now the Welcome Center became vacant. The building would soon take on new uses which will be the focus of a future blog.

Feb 06

Furniture-Furniture-Furniture (Part I)

Posted on February 6, 2023 at 12:38 PM by Ken Kocher

No, this isn’t meant to be read like those old radio ads for U.S. 30 Drag Strip (Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!), this triplet signifies the evolution of a single business through three phases of ownership. The arc of this story spans more than 100 years of Madison history reaching nearly the present day. During this time, three buildings downtown would house this business as well a new building in the Highway 441 commercial area.

In 1907, William Harris Adams arrived in Madison from Mansfield to establish a furniture business. He chose the building at the corner of W. Jefferson and N. First Streets, now the location of the Bank of Madison Operation Center. Within ten years he had established a thriving business that the Madisonian deemed “the prettiest and most up-to-date furniture store on the Georgia Railroad” with a “substantial reputation throughout this section of Georgia for his high-class dependable goods.”

 W.H. Adams ad

Nonetheless, furniture was not to be his long-term business. W. H. Adams caught the automobile bug. He began selling Buicks as a sideline eventually turning to car sales as his main business. He sold the furniture business to Frank Stovall who began operating Stovall Furniture Co. January 1, 1919. Stovall continued in the same location renting from Eddie M. Cohen just as Adams had. Then, in 1924, Stovall moved down and across the street. In 1922, he had purchased the two Hough stores (now In High Cotton) apparently using them for warehousing. Soon thereafter, the stores were gutted by fire with the roofs burned entirely off. Stovall hired W. D. Cavin to combine the two into the one store we see today.1948 photo of Stovall Furniture

The new store had a large plate glass front, white pressed brick, prism glass transom windows that spelled out the name of the store, marble panels, and a tile entrance. The Stovall Furniture Company moved into the building June 1, 1924, and the Madisonian gushed over its beauty as well as the pianos, furniture, rugs, and smaller items therein. 1928 saw not only the addition of a line of GE refrigerators to the inventory but the construction of a cellar to hold the burgeoning stock. Stovall’s brother, Walter, aka “Sparky,” who worked with Frank, showed-off the new cellar, then under construction, to the Madisonian as workers removed the dirt and Sam Almand made ready to pour the concrete floor.

 Stovall continued the business through the depression being sure to cater to the needs of Madisonians by carrying a varied inventory including porch furniture; rugs and art squares; trunks, suitcases, hat boxes, and weekend bags (perfect for students preparing to go away to college); pianos; bedroom suites; Atwater-Kent Radios; and more. The newspaper often complemented the displays in the store’s windows such as a grouping of studio couches and occasional chair that they deemed necessities as well as luxuries in a home.

 Stovall Furniture adFrank wasn’t beyond a gimmick now and then, though. The store helped promote a show benefitting High School Athletics featuring the one, the only, the incomparable FAYSSOUX and his show of 1000 wonders, mysteries, thrills, and laughs. The promotion involved Fayssoux hypnotizing a man in the show window of the Stovall Furniture Co. Later that day Fassoux drove an automobile blindfolded starting at, you guessed it, Stovall’s.

The Madisonian announced an “Important Business Deal” on September 10, 1943, which would herald the third chapter of Furniture-Furniture-Furniture which we will cover in Part Two.

Feb 06

Furniture-Furniture-Furniture (Part II)

Posted on February 6, 2023 at 12:26 PM by Ken Kocher

Furniture-Furniture-Furniture Part One covered the first two phases of the evolution of the business started by W.H. Adams bringing us to September 10, 1943, when the Madisonian announced an “Important Business Deal.” The deal reported: the sale of Stovall Furniture, building and stock, to J.D. Harris, Sr. with his son, J.D. Harris, Jr. managing the store as the Harris Furniture Store. The paper later reported that Mrs. J.D. Harris, Jr. assisted in the operation of the store providing the “cultured, pleasing touch so much needed in the sale of furniture and the arrangement of the home.” Five years later, Harris Furniture was the first in Madison to sell television set that was purchased by Guy Thurmond for his home on East Avenue.

Harris Furniture showroom and parking

While there were small setbacks to be dealt with – the safe blown open by a yeggman (yeah, we had to look that up too) and water damage from the Farmers Hardware fire next door – Harris Furniture was always progressing. They added “an enormous lighted sign” to the front of the store, opened a used furniture store across the street, demolished the lumber shed to their right for a parking lot, and added a two-level addition to the rear of the building. The upper level of the addition contained seven themed display rooms. J.D. Harris owned this anchor business in downtown Madison for over thirty years.

Harris Furniture c. 1990

Then, in 1974, twenty-year employee Mark Mason purchased the business bringing onboard his nephew Charles Tamplin and eight-year employee Bob Bradberry as partners. Mason continued to operate under the Harris Furniture name. About a decade later, the business expanded into the adjoining Farmers Hardware building moving the used furniture sales from across the street. Now with 10,000 square feet of showroom, office, and service areas, plus the parking lot, this retail operation occupied nearly the entire Jefferson Street side of this block.

Twenty years later, another generation would take-up the reins in 1993. Just as Mr. Mason was ready to retire, Charles Tamplin had an accidental death. His daughter, Christy Henry, and son-in-law, Nelson Hale joined forces with Bob Bradberry to continue the business. With the coming of a new century, Harris Furniture moved out of downtown to a new building at 1590 Eatonton Road eventually changing the name to Harris Home Furnishings. May 2015 saw the closing of the store 108 years after W.H. Adams started selling furniture in Madison.

Harris Home Furnishings