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The Sears Building of Downtown Washington: A History

The Sears Building as we know it is where we bought tools, tires, batteries, and appliances when we were growing up, and I tried to get the complete history of it. I almost succeeded, but not quite.

A new 60’ x 110’ two-story brick building was built on the corner of South Street and East First Street in Washington, Indiana (I think around 1920) by the Hatfield & Palmer Company. It has a steep concrete ramp running from the sidewalk to the top floor, wide enough for a vehicle. (There is still a large steel ring embedded in the wall at the top of the ramp which allowed for ropes to be attached to a vehicle to allow it to be pulled up and down the ramp.) The construction utilized fire-proof materials and new steel bowstring trusses which allowed a span of 60 feet with no supporting columns. (Check out the bridge at East Side Park. They used the same type bowstring trusses that came from the building they tore down to build the jail.) The brick façade on the front of the building has a stone insert that says “H&P Co.” which stands for Hatfield & Palmer Company.

The 1921 Sanford Fire Insurance Map shows a wealth of information about its construction such as the 12” brick walls, steel trusses, type of roof, a firewall 18” above the roof, concrete floor on the first floor, steam heat, and electric lighting throughout the building. It also shows an auto sales room in the front of the building and a building capacity of 50 cars. There was also a 20’ x 40’ one-story brick addition on the south end and east side of the main building which housed the boiler, coal room, and storage area. The fire map also shows a one-story frame Farm Implement Warehouse that was 60’ wide x 120’ long located on the east side of the brick building and it surrounded the 20’ x 40’ brick boiler room addition. It had an earth floor and was torn down later for the new east side addition.

On April 25, 1922, Elisha L. & Ida E. Hatfield sold the buildings located on Lots 131 and 132 in the Liverpool Addition to Milford N. Palmer and Minnie B. Willey. The address was 101, 103, & 105 East South Street.

(Bob Brothers sent me an article that intrigued me from the 1922 Washington Democrat Automobile Edition that started me out on this journey. I have retyped a portion of the Democrat and it is attached.)

Washington Democrat 2.docx
Download PDF • 65KB

The building was advertised as a big, new, fireproof garage and M. N. Palmer opened a Studebaker dealership there. On February 16 - 18, 1922, M. N. Palmer hosted Daviess County’s first great automobile show. It was quite a big deal as all the local auto and tractor dealers had displays on both floors. An orchestra performed every afternoon and night. The exhibit was widely advertised, and attracted great crowds for miles around. Telephone calls and newspaper announcements from all the neighboring towns and cities indicated great interest shown in the affair.

The entire lower floor of the building was devoted to the auto and style show, while on the second floor, various models of trucks and tractors were exhibited. Six local dealers participated in the extravaganza.

(Note: The Nash Special had the various working parts of the car enclosed in glass, showing how the mechanisms of the car was constructed and how it operated.)

Three years later, the 1925 WHS yearbook had an ad from M. N. Palmer & Company selling Studebakers at a new location on 7 West Main Street. This is where a portion of Bill Dobson’s car lot is presently located.

On June 12, 1925 Charles S. Willey sold 2/9 ownership and Milford N. Palmer & his wife Katherine G. Palmer, and Mary Willey, unmarried, sold 7/9 ownership in the property to John F. McGuire.

In the 1925 Washingtonian yearbook, J.F. McGuire Sales advertised Fords at his dealership at 101-103 East South Street.

In the 1926, 1927, 1928, 1929, and 1930 yearbooks, J.F. McGuire advertised Lincoln, Ford, & Fordson tractors but showed no address. I assume that he was still in this building.

On a sidenote, I found an ad in the 1922 Washingtonian yearbook for a new Ford Roadster with starter for $389. The dealer was Moore-McGuire Sales Company located at 7 West Main Street. This is where M.D. Palmer Studebaker moved to in 1925.

This is where the mystery comes in. I don’t know what happened to J.F. McGuire. I assume that the Great Depression got him after 1930.

The 1936 Washington City Directory lists Williams Motor Company as selling cars at the building at 101-103 East South Street but I don’t know what brand they sold and I don’t know who owned the building at that time.

The next mention I could find of a Ford dealer was on July 6, 1932, when Ralph W. Morgan sold a parcel 260’ long x 120’ deep to the Ward Auto Company. This ¾ acre fronted Poplar Street (now West National Highway) and was right across the road from the land that O.D. Neff & Son built their new facility on in 1949.

The 1935 WHS yearbook has an ad for Ward Auto Company selling Ford cars but no address is listed.

The next deed I could find for the Sears Building was when the Peoples National Bank sold the property to Robert C. Graham on August 11, 1936. Did the building set empty for most of those years?

I have a picture from the “Washington and Daviess County in Words and Pictures” booklet that was mailed to Daviess County residents in 1937 that shows that the “Graham Store” now had possession of the building. The “Graham Stores” were the selling agents for Sears and Roebuck. This picture shows the original two-story 60’ x 110’ brick building and also the one-story concrete block building on the east side which was the same width, only shorter. I don’t know when the east building was built but J.F. McGuire listed 101 and 103 as addresses, so I feel it was there at that time. In this 1937 picture, the east building has the same design façade on the front as the original structure, although today, the façade is different. Over the years, additions have been added to the south end of the east building.

Inserts in the 1937 picture show appliances and everything else you could imagine, complete with Mail Order available in the original building, and the east building has lettering on the front indicating that Bradley implements, tools, batteries, oils, and other products were available there.

The 1938 WHS yearbook has an ad for the Graham Stores as Selling Agents for Sears-Roebuck & Company at 101 East South Street.

On Feb. 4, 1947, Robert C. Graham sold the building to Nellie J. Evans and she sold, gave, or willed it to her daughter, Ethel Evans on Dec. 11, 1953.

Manos and Jacqueline Evans got the property on April 24, 1973.

Sears decided to close the store here in Washington and left the building vacant. I don’t know what year this happened.

Manos Evans sold the building to John L. Mangin on April 12, 1993 and John ran the Decorating Corner there for several years. He sold paint, flooring, carpet, and many other things to decorate your home and ran a very successful business. Along the way, John built living quarters above the store and he and his family lived there. It was a beautiful apartment. John closed the business but continued to live there for a while and rented out the downstairs to several ventures. John finally decided to sell the building to Jaret Wright on March 13, 2020 dba ALNEW Properties.

On a 20th Century Chevy Garage Tour on April 22, 2021, Jaret had several of his vehicles upstairs on display along with an antique buggy, his Harley, automotive memorabilia, and old bicycles. He has turned the area into a recreational area and a workshop, complete with a vehicle lift.

Jaret now rents the downstairs to two different businesses and he and his wife have turned the upstairs apartment into a successful Airbnb. Jaret is now the caretaker for this historic building. It has lasted for over a hundred years and it should last for another hundred.

So, are the stories that we always heard about Model T Fords being assembled upstairs and driven down that steep ramp, or even that the parts came in by the B&O Railroad and unloaded at the Freight Station right behind the building, then transported upstairs and assembled? I guess we’ll never know, but it makes a good car story.

I do know that the building was first used as a Studebaker dealership in 1922 Studebakers were large, expensive, luxury cars back then.

Note: The building located at 101 East Main Street on the west end of the Temple Court Building has the name E.L. Hatfield near the top of the building. This was the Hatfield & Palmer store where my Grampa Frank McLin, bought the Winchester Model 12 shotgun that I presently have between the years 1920 and 1926 for $65. The Sherwin Williams paint store currently occupies the building. E.L. Hatfield is the guy that sold the original Sears property to M.N. Palmer in 1922.

Larry McLin, August 20, 2023

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