View All Posts

Oct 06

Mr. Ben S. Thompson Deserves the Thanks of Our City…

Posted on October 6, 2015 at 12:25 PM by Ken Kocher

So began a short announcement in the July 14, 1916 Madisonian that Mr. Thompson was planning to “replace the old wooden Dexter building on Main Street with a modern, two story, brick structure, to be used for Fords and supplies, and as a garage.” While it is unclear whetherff the building constructed was two stories, the paper noted completion of the project in January 1917 declaring it “an ornament to Madison.” Mr. Thompson’s business thrived, expanding the following year to include the new Fordson Tractor.

And then disaster struck. Early in the morning of May 6, 1919 a fire broke out and by 10 a.m. the roof had collapsed. The city lamented the loss of “the finest service station found between Atlanta and Augusta and the pride of Madison.” Some wondered if Mr. Thompson would recover. Their answer came two weeks later when it was announced that Thompson had purchased the old jail lot behind the burned building with plans not only to rebuild, but to expand – to the tune of $50,000!

Thompson extended the brick building to Hancock Street placing a gable roof of steel trusses over the whole and sprinklers throughout. He was not going to lose it all to fire again! Always striving to be modern and up-to-date, Mr. Thompson installed Victory Visible Pumps for the sale of gasoline – the iconic glass-topped pumps of that era. According to Thompson’s own ad at the time, thompson 1920.jpg“There are less than a dozen of this model yet in Atlanta.” Thompson also constructed a steel “Umbrella Hood” over the pumps to keep the weather off his customers. Interestingly enough, the hood, pumps, and tanks were all located in the public right-of-way – basically in the street!

At some point these pumps were moved – maybe they were considered dangerous? In 1940, Ben S. Thompson decided to again provide gasoline service to his customers. He did so by removing about 30 feet from the front of the building and building a pump island in its stead. The Art Deco façade we see today is the result of this change. Mr. Thompson continued to do business here until, after forty years in this location, he sold the dealership to Otis Bonner in 1957.
Thompson’s building remains and is a palimpsest of scars bearing witness to the changes during his ownership. An inspection of the north side of the building reveals to the onlooker a distinct change in brick marking the extent of the 1917 building as well as filled-in windows from this first building. Also on this side, toward the front, one can see a partial, painted, Ford sign, lopped off in 1940. The granite foundation at the rear of the building is reused from the walls of the old jail. Lastly, the lobby of the City’s Meeting Hall, now housed in the building, contains a pair of the original interior garage doors.

Madison Moments, a weekly blog highlighting Madison's rich history, is a creation of the Madison Historic Preservation Commission in collaboration with other City Boards and Departments. This installment was contributed by the Historic Preservation Commission and written by Ken Kocher, HPC staff. 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.


You must log in before leaving your comment