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CHAPTER IX
THE BUSINESS HOUSES OF WARRENTON-CONTINUED

 

A storehouse almost as old as either of the others mentioned was built and occupied by Peter Mitchel, a native of Scotland. A young man, also from Scotland, Thomas White, was admitted as a partner in the mercantile business conducted in that store. The firm name was Mitchel & White. In 1828, John White, at the age of sixteen, a younger brother of Thomas White, arrived in Warrenton and was employed by the firm. About four or five years later Mr. Mitchel retired from the firm. This business was afterwards conducted by the White Brothers. After years of successful business in Warrenton, Thomas White, in 1845, removed to Petersburg, Virginia, where he engaged in business on a large scale. He died in that city.

The storehouse was a large frame building, a story and a half high, with a broad platform in front two and half feet high from the ground, with double doors in front and a large window sash, with small panes, on either side. That old building was removed in the middle fifties. It was replaced by three hand-some brick buildings, built together. The first one to the south was probably the prettiest store in the State at that time, and John White kept perhaps the handsomest stock of dry goods and notions in North Carolina. The lawyers from Raleigh would buy largely for their families when they attended the court sessions. The windows were of plate glass and occupied the entire front, except the cornices in which they were held.

John White was a striking looking man, thoroughly Scottish in his complexion, appearance and talk; of easy manners and great probity of character, fine business qualifications, and. very much liked. Mr. White admitted John B. Thorne into business with him, the firm name then becoming White & Thorne; later the firm was S. P. Arrington, White & Co. Mr. White was sent by the State of North Carolina as Agent or Commissioner to England to purchase clothing and supplies for the, North Carolina soldiers, and with his family (except his son, W. J. White, and his daughter, Mrs. S. P. Arrington) ran the blockade out of Wilmington, North Carolina, on the famous Advance. Through Mr. White's efforts and good judgment, the North Carolina soldiers were better supplied with clothing, shoes and medicine, especially quinine, than any other soldiers in the Confederate army.

A store adjoining Mr. White's in the center of the block, was occupied during the war by B. R. Sherwood, a merchant tailor, who had a very large and fashionable trade. After the war it was occupied by T. C. Williams, of Norfolk, Virginia.

It was in this store, on the night of June 21, 1881, that the largest and most destructive fire in the history of the town started. It was said some young men were having a night supper in the basement, and through carelessness the conflagration begun. About one o'clock, at night, the alarm bell, that hung over the Market House on Court Square, begun to ring. There was then very poor equipment, only hook and ladder company in the town. So when the citizens assembled, the fire had made such headway, not-withstanding it was a very quiet night, no wind at all, that there was little hope of being able to put it out entertained by any one. Especially so, when they realized that only wooden buildings were on both the north and the south of the White block. The fire spread rapidly, both ways, when it burned the old Rowlett store, the cinders fell on the roof of Mrs. Maxwell's cottage, igniting its several times. There was some hope that the break in the buildings between the Bellamy Hotel and the Montgomery (Katzenstein) store would, save that block, but not so, the fire consumed every building on it, to the corner store, later known as the N. L. Shaw store. Some goods from the various stores were saved, also some books and valuables. This fire was a terrible disaster to the town, and one from which its people were years in recovering. The good store buildings that were destroyed were replaced by small and cheap wooden structures. It has been only in the past twenty years that commodious brick stores have re-placed the wooden ones.

To the north of the White Block, in my early recollection, was a double story frame store. When the war broke out, in 1861, the rear rooms of the lower floor were used as a postoffice and the large front room as a jewelry store' and watch repair shop, under the management of a Mr. King. Mr. King was a Northern man, with a wife but no children, and probably about seventy years old. He was a member of the Episcopal Church, upright in his dealings, of exemplary conduct, and in every sense a most worthy citizen. Unfortunately for him, though, he took a fancy for a young mulatto store boy, John A. Hyman, who afterwards became famous in Reconstruction days as a politician and congress-man, and taught him the plain rudiments of an education. That gave great offense to a part of the population; and just about the time the first company started from Warren County for the war, a mob, headed by two desperate characters of the town, entered Mr. King's store, and offered him and his aged wife great indignities. The members of the mob were engaged in the seizure of his goods and wares, defying all resistance, when a courageous young man, John Thomas Cook, born and reared in Warrenton, entered the store single-handed, and by his courage and determination, aided later by a few kindred spirits, drove off the marauders, and saved the old people from bodily harm. The mob, though, after-wards took Mr. King and his wife from their home, with scarcely a change of clothing, and without an hour's notice, hurried them to the railroad station, three miles off, bought their ticket, and put them on the cars for Philadelphia, attaching to the shoulders of Mr. King a placard, at least a foot square, on which was printed in lamp black letters "Abolitionist." Mr. Cook was a member of the same communion as Mr. King and had a great respect for him.

It is interesting to record that Mr. Cook entered the Confederate army, and was as brave in battle as he was at home. He died from wounds received on the battle field of Chancellorsville, and was buried in the family grave yard, on the outskirts of town, amid the universal grief of the citizens.

The large frame store on the corner of Main Street and the street running from Market Square eastward to Bragg Street, built by Emil Katzenstein and used by him as a storehouse, the upper floor being used as a residence for his family, was constructed after the fire in 1881 upon the lot on which had formerly stood the brick store of T. A. Montgomery. The Montgomery store was built in 1851, of brick made of the dirt taken from the basement and burnt on the lot. The wood work was done by Jacob Holt, as con-tractor, J. C. McCraw superintending the work. The storehouse was occupied first in the spring of 1852 by the firm of Montgomery & Plummer, T. A. Montgomery and William Plummer, son of Dr. Henry L. Plummer, They kept a general dry goods and grocery store Mr. Plummer died in 1853, unmarried, and the- business was' continued by Mr. Montgomery until he went to Petersburg, and en-gaged in business there. In 1870 he went to New Orleans, where he became a partner in the firm of David Haden & Company, and W. H. Moore & Company, doing wholesale china and crockery business. Mr. Montgomery died in New Orleans in 1873, and was buried there.

The Montgomery store from 1868 was occupied successively by W. A. Falkener, J. C. McCraw and Emil Katzenstein until 1881 when it was burned.

On the north of the Montgomery store was the Odd Fellows Hall on the corner of the alley and Main Street. It was a very large frame building of three stories, the lower floor (north half) being occupied as a drug store. The first owner of the store, as I remember, was a Mr. Perkinson, well known in the town as "Drug Perkinson," who came to Warrenton from Petersburg. It was afterwards owned and used as a drug store, by Jack Nicholson, who moved to Texas to live in 1867. The other half of the lower floor was used as a tailoring establishment, and later as a dry goods store.

The second story was always used as a Town Hall, called the Thespian Hall. The top story was used by the Odd Fellows for their meetings. The approach to the two upper stories was through a small door in the alley between the Montgomery store and the building now described, with narrow steps leading to the entrance on the west to Thespian Hall, and by still narrower steps to Odd Fellows Hall. This building was erected about the same time as the Montgomery store.

Northward from Thespian Hall across another alley, stood a historic building, on the corner of Main Street and the alley. It was the site of the first Warren County jail, nearly opposite the front door of the Courthouse. This jail was of rock, of two stories, low pitched, with very small windows, with iron gratings. It was used for the purposes of the county jail until 1852, when a new wooden jail was erected on the spot where the present stone jail stands. In the spring of 1868 this wooden structure was burned. A notorious prisoner, a murderer, was brought to the jail in Warrenton from Halifax County, for safe keeping. He was chained to the floor of his cell by a staple. He had secured the means of setting the floor on fire, it was thought from some of the other prisoners, as they hoped if he could burn the floor, loosen the staple and make his escape, he would assist them in getting out. However, the citizens were aroused in the dead hour of the night by the cry of fire. Soon a crowd assembled and tried in every way to break in the door, but without avail. A messenger had been sent to Louis Collins, the jailer, but he lived beyond the Foundry Branch, quite Henry L. Plummer. They kept, a general dry goods and grocery store. Mr. Plummer died in 1853, unmarried, and the business was continued by Mr. Montgomery until he went to Petersburg, and engaged in business there.. In 1870 he went to New Orleans, where he became a partner ,in the firm of David Haden & Company, and W. H. Moore & Company, doing wholesale china and crockery business. Mr. Montgomery died in New Orleans in 1873, and was buried there.

The Montgomery store from 1868 was occupied successively by W. A. Falkener, J. C. McCraw and Emil Katzenstein until 1881 when it was burned.

On the north of the Montgomery store was the Odd Fellows Hall on the corner of the alley and Main Street. It was a very large frame building of three stories, the lower floor (north half) being occupied as a drug store. The first owner of the store, as I remember, was a Mr. Perkinson, well known in the town as "Drug Perkinson," who came to Warrenton from Petersburg. It was afterwards owned and used as a drug store, by Jack Nicholson, who moved to Texas to live in 1867. The other half of the lower floor was used as a tailoring establishment, and later as a dry goods store.

The second story was always used as a Town Hall, called the Thespian Hall. The top story was used by the Odd Fellows for their meetings. The approach to the two upper stories was through a small half mile away. When he did arrive with the key the building was all ablaze, and the distress of the prisoners most pitiful. All were removed in safety to the Courthouse, and the' next morning were carried to another jail. The murderer was finally hanged for his crime.

On the site of the first rock jail a storehouse was built, and for some years was occupied by the firm of Turnbull & Stallings (Peter J. Turnbull and Orpheus Stallings). In 1855 or '56 it was converted into a bar-room and billiard saloon, and a restaurant in connection, and kept by J. I. Eades, already mentioned in this sketch. Until some time during the war, it was operated in a most expensive and luxurious style. In many of the counties of Eastern Carolina, it was as well known as Delmonico's in New York. Its patronage was very large, embracing the rich, the prosperous, and the well-to-do. In that day almost everybody patronized drinking saloons, and many of the gentlemen visited such places without hostile criticism. Mr. Eades undertook to conduct the same kind of place after the war closed, but without success, rather on account of having, unfortunately, contracted the drink habit, than for want of patronage. He was succeeded by various proprietors, the place being called The Arlington House by one of them. It was burned in 1881.

Next to the Arlington House on the north, there stood, in my early recollection, a two-story frame house, with a large basement. In the middle of the fifties the basement was occupied by O. P. Shell as a restaurant. It was kept on a large scale, in excel-lent taste and style, I think that he did not serve liquors of any kind. Above the basement, the store was used as a dry goods store, immediately after the war A. S. Webb conducted a business there.

After Mr. Webb went to Ridgeway to live this place of business was occupied by John R. Johnson and his son, William T. They conducted a large and successful business there, until it was burned by the big fire. During the time the old Brownlow hotel was being operated the rooms in the second story were used as an annex to the hotel, for sleeping apartments.

In 1855, the year of the yellow fever epidemic in Norfolk, Virginia, two gentlemen of that city, in the incipiency of the fever, came to Warrenton, and to the Brownlow hotel, and they were assigned to rooms in this annex. In two or three days they developed the fever. Notwithstanding that they were quarantined, some of the school boys and others succeeded in getting a peep at them, eluding the guard. There were no other cases in the town.

The next building to the north is a large wooden structure, built by Jere Draper, and used by him as a furniture" store and undertaking establishment. This house was built upon the lot upon which the William H. Bobbitt's and John M. Price's Carriage Manufactory stood. It was built of brick in 1852 or 53. The upper story, was used for painting and trimming the vehicles, and the lower floor for exhibition and sales room. Carriages and buggies of the handsomest and most expensive styles were built in this establishment, and sales were found for them in North Carolina and the adjoining counties in Virginia. This. concern manufactured the large six-horse omnibus which ran from Warren Plains to Shocco Springs, during the summer season, before the war. This omnibus was very large and very heavy, often carrying as many as thirty passengers on top and inside; and the death of a fine horse from over-strain and heat was not unusual. Mr. Bobbitt left Warrenton for Marion, N. C., in 1868. He died in that town. Mr. Price died near Warrenton, at the old Person place, in 1883. After the war J. Wesley Williams and William Watson, under the firm name of J. Wesley .Williams & Company, conducted the same kind of business in the same building, until the factory was burned in 1881.

Before the war a small store between the Brownlow hotel and J. M. Price's residence was used as a store-house by a Mr. Bingham, who came to Warrenton with Dr. Gregory, from Richmond. In two months after the war closed Ruffin Williams, from Franklin, brother of J. Wesley Williams, brought the very first stock of dry goods to the town, and opened them in that small store, but he afterwards moved to the Hyman brick store, and kept a large stock of goods. The next occupant of the store was a colored man, Jack Batchelor. He used it as a store room for as-sorted groceries and dry goods. The rear room was used as a residence for his family.
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Source:

Montgomery, Lizzie Wilson; Sketches of old Warrenton, North Carolina; traditions and reminiscences of the town and people who made it, Raleigh, Edwards & Broughton printing company, 1924.

2004 by Nola Duffy & Ginger L. Christmas-Beattie


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