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The Family Mercantile Business

My sister, cousin and I recently visited one of the old mercantile buildings that my family operated for many, many years. We visited the building that once housed the Stevens, Martin and Company Store in Carlton, Madison County. It was hard to see the store through all of the junk that was in there now. It is now an antique/junk store.

When my great-grandfather Walter joined the firm in Sandy Cross, Oglethorpe County, he was a junior partner and given a store manager position (Sara Baldwin, 2015). At some point, Walter and Ambrose Pope Stevens were sent to Carlton to open that branch. It is believed that both men were bachelors and lived above the store. Both Walter and Ambrose Pope built homes in the Carlton area to be close to the store. In 1894, Walter married Luna May Stevens (Ambrose’s older sister) and Ambrose Pope married Sally Hartsfield. “Ambrose P. Stevens was the bookkeeper for the firm and of course there were no adding machines in those days so he had to total figures in his head (Stevens, 1973, p.61).”

Circa 1903

Circa 1903

The original building in Carlton (above) burned down (date unknown). The firm purchased the brick building below and used this until the company dissolved. This is the building we visited. The two buildings were inter-connected by a large door. The second building was previously a bank as there was a safe built within.  Cousin Sara stated that in Carlton’s prime there were 3 banks in town.  Cousin Charlie stated there was even a car dealership.  It is hard to imagine a sleepy little town like Carlton once was ever a bustling place.

Circa 1940

Circa 1940

Walter Joe decided to join the family business, sometime after WWI, and he became an integral part of its operation. He took over the book-keeping responsibilities. According to Cousin Sara, the family used the company like a bank. They would shop or spend money in Athens and elsewhere, but the bills would show up at the store for Joe to pay. Ultimately, Joe shut down the corporation part and paid off the shareholders.

Cousin Jim recalls there were a lot of cool things for an 8 year-old to mess with, but he was scared of getting locked in the vault!

Cousin Sara recalls that there was a pot belly stove in the store and her “Joe Daddy and Uncle Pope” would gather around it and tell stories.

Cousin Lynn recalls the Carlton store. She stated “it was so DIM inside …and it smelled like a library-that musty, vaguely sweet smell of old books and papers.”

Here is a rough timeline of the business as best I can determine. I owe a huge debt to my late 1st cousin 2x removed, Claude Gibson Stevens whose book The Stevens Family John Stevens Line is an invaluable resource.

Partners: C.A. Stevens (Columbus Augustus), R.W. Huff (Robert Washington), John C. G. Stevens (Cylvanus Gibson), A.P. Stevens (Ambrose Pope), J.E. Stevens, J.C. Martin and W.E. Whitehead (Walter Everett)

  • 1885-   Stevens and Company established. “Gus” Stevens and his brother J.R Stevens along with first cousin Robert Huff started the general store, cotton gin and grist mill in the Village of Sandy Cross. John C.G. Stevens already had a store, but took on partners and expanded. (p. 59).
  • Unknown Date:           Name was changed to Stevens, Huff and Company
  • 1887-   30 December, name change-Stevens, Martin and Company (p. 78)
  • 1892-   Ambrose Pope Stevens became a partner (p.61)
  • 1897-   Assets of Stevens, Huff and Company were merged with the new store Stevens, Martin and Company. (p. 61)
  • 1908-   JCG Stevens sold his interest in the store and land to Walter M. Martin (brother of J.C. Martin). (p. 78)
  • 1917-   Walter Joe “Joe Daddy” Whitehead joined the firm and remained until its closure.
  • 1963-   Voluntary dissolution of company and assets. (p.59)
June 2015

June 2015

5-IMG_1019

Inside Bank Vault

View from second level

View from second level

Inside Store

If you have any additional memories, please feel free to share them here.

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