Leonard Marbrey Thompson arrived in Madison around 1890 and soon formed a partnership with G.M. Dexter, a carriage maker and undertaker. L.M. Thompson announced in 1893 the dissolution of the partnership and the opening of his business as an undertaker, embalmer, and dealer in carriages and wagons. He stated that he was prepared to provide caskets and coffins of the best quality at the lowest prices. Thompson had “two good hearses – one for the white people and the other for the colored.” His place of business was located in the rear portion of the Hotel Turnell which was located at the corner of Jefferson and Hancock (current location of The Sinclair, Community Roots, and Dolce Caffe). Thompson constructed a large blacksmithing shop and a two-story carriage repairing facility on the adjacent lot.
Thompson then relocated carriage sales and undertaking business to the building owned by R.N. Booth on the southwest corner of Washington and Hancock. This building had an interesting feature: while being a wood frame building, its eastern wall was constructed of rubble granite plastered over and scored to mimic stone block. This wall was one of the few remnants still standing after the 1869 fire which devastated downtown Madison. At this location Thompson’s business grew. The Madisonian reported in 1897 that he was “receiving new vehicles almost every day, and is putting them up and rolling them out almost as fast as they come in.”
Mr. Booth died in 1896 and Thompson purchased the building from his estate in 1901. He announced that he would build a handsome two-story brick building where all aspects of his business would be combined. Demolition and construction got underway in 1902 with local mason W.B. Dickson laying the brick. Meanwhile, Thompson temporarily moved back to his old shop in the hotel. By the end of April, the building was nearly complete. The original construction announcement indicated that the building would be 50x100 feet – about half of what we see today. Physical and documentary evidence point to the original building being about 50x135 feet with an additional 64 feet for added before 1909. Possibly Thompson kept his blacksmithing operation at the lot on Jefferson Street for a few years before adding to the new building.
Thompson opened for business in his new building, which also retained the granite wall, in May 1902. The enterprise was as much a manufacturing concern as a retail establishment. The building not only contained carriages and wagons for sale, but was also a place for their manufacture and repair with sections devoted to woodworking, iron work, and painting. Of course, the undertaking business was here as well. His youngest son, Brooke, joined the undertaking business becoming a skilled embalmer and all agreed he was well suited for “discharge of his delicate duties.” Sadly, while the business continued to be a success, L.M. Thompson’s health began to fail. He sojourned to Hot Springs, Arkansas with hopes that "taking the waters" would improve his health. He died there a month later.
Thompson’s sons, W.C. and Brooke, announced that the business would be “continued as formerly at the old stand” under their direction. Each of the departments were to be given careful and competent personal attention. Two years later, tragedy struck with the death of Brooke Thompson from a sudden attack of appendicitis. W.C. Thompson soldered on, providing and repairing vehicles of all types and shepherding the dead to their final resting place. He did this for another six years when in 1916 he became the County School Superintendent. Clinton (the “C” in W.C.) split the business in two parts selling the undertaking, buggy, and wagon business, located in the front, to George Shaw and Carter Shepherd and the woodwork and blacksmith shop, located in the presumed rear addition, to J.C. Caudle.
From this point on, these two sections of the building were treated as separate which is reflected in their stories – all for another time.