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Posted on November 15, 2021 at 11:45 AM by Ken Kocher
After the 1886 Charleston Earthquake, which was strong enough to damage buildings in Madison, the City Council declared the Town Hall Building (currently Laughing Moon) unsafe and sold the property to Martin L. Richter. The lot extended from Main Street to First Street. Like all the western half of this block at the time, the rear of the lot was vacant. It remained so to at least 1895 as shown on the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of that year. Six years later, with an update of the map, a small, wood framed, “iron clad” building labeled as a warehouse appears. This was M.L. Richter’s cotton seed house. The building was a simple, 20’x 30’ side gabled box entered through warehouse doors front and back with no windows. Presumably, the corrugated metal siding was seen as a fire prevention measure.
The Madison Oil Company, in 1904, leased a small area of the property directly behind the seed house for the construction of scales. These scales weighed wagons laden with cotton seed. The 1909 map shows the addition of an open shed at the rear equal in size to the main section. A small 10’x 10’ room sat at the rear of this open shelter centered on the east side of the building. This was most likely an office. A construction project in 2014 uncovered the walls of this office and the shallow, brick-walled pit which would have held the workings of the wagon scale. The location of the scales allowed the weighing and offloading of commodities between the warehouse and the office all under shelter.
Sometime in the 1940s, the building was converted to a dwelling. A 1964 photo shows the building looking a bit more residential with windows, a front entry door with stoop, and a central chimney though still clad in corrugated metal sheets. The rear remained unenclosed.
The building took on another use in 1976 when Elizabeth Prior moved her Playtime School from a suite in the adjacent building. An ad in the February 12, 1976, Madisonian announced the move noting the house was being remodeled to have two separate playrooms and two separate work rooms indicating the enclosure of the rear addition. The metal siding was removed replaced with Masonite lap board completing the transition from warehouse to residential character. The Playtime School operated here until 1987 when Helen’s Beauty Shop moved to the building. Helen Woodson styled hair here for 2+ decades having purchased the building in 1998. Following her retirement, the Woodson family sold the building in 2014.
The new owner embarked on a plan to return the building to its seed house form. After removing more material than necessary, the project and building were abandoned. The structure sat vacant in this state until the Madison-Morgan Conservancy purchased the building in 2020 with its Endangered Properties Fund. MMC has rehabilitated the property, interpreting the building's original use, as its offices. While vertical boarding has been substituted for the missing corrugated metal, one can clearly read the original warehouse and the location of the rear office. The front has been returned to a windowless wall with a wide doorway. Additionally, the building has sustainable systems and is Earthcraft certified.
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