A destructive fire on the evening of December 14, 1949, completely gutted the old Franklin Hotel building on North Main Street in Louisburg. The conflagration disrupted the lives of residents and businesses, but the owner, Willie G. Lancaster, quickly rebuilt the structure. Constructed of yellow brick and featuring metal windows and clean lines, the new building complemented the Art Modern-style medical office of Dr. W. C. Perry across the street.
The fire began in the basement and quickly engulfed the entire building. Firemen from Franklinton, Henderson, and Nashville joined local men in fighting the blaze, which was controlled within four hours. Fourteen families who lived in the building’s apartments lost all of their possessions, including newly purchased Christmas gifts. The local chapter of the Red Cross quickly came to the aid of these citizens. The offices of two attorneys, Edward F. Griffin and John F. Matthews, also suffered damage, as did the Colonial Stores grocery, the Western Auto Associates store, and Pittman and Lancaster’s Funeral Home. The loss was estimated at between $200,000 and $250,000.
The building’s owner wasted little time in reconstructing it. The Franklin Times reported on December 30 that W. G. Lancaster had begun remodeling the former office of Edward F. Griffin for use by the funeral home. In January, Lancaster began clearing the debris from the damaged building, and the Louisburg Board of Town Commissioners approved his application for a building permit to begin construction, based on plans supplied by Dewey Brothers. By February 10, the structure was almost ready for steel workers and carpenters.
In late March, Mr. Lancaster reported on his plans to The Franklin Times. At that time he anticipated building a three-story structure, with the two upper floors devoted to apartments. The eight apartments on the second floor were to have five rooms each; those on the third floor would be smaller. The first floor would accommodate an updated space for the Colonial Stores grocery, an entrance to the upstairs apartments, the funeral home, and an additional commercial space. At some point thereafter, the owner decided not to build the third floor.
Work proceeded during the spring and summer, and the Colonial Stores held its grand opening on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, August 31-September 2. The new market, which represented an investment of $60,000, featured a pastel green and ivory color scheme and “slimline” lighting fixtures. Extensive signage assisted shoppers in locating the items they wished to purchase. The division manager of Colonial Stores, H. W. McCullough, touted the store’s well-equipped meat market and its “new type mirror back produce department.” Two checkout lanes were designed to assure quick service. Store personnel included Walter E. Dixon, the manager, and M. B. Moore, who served as market manager.
This construction project created a more contemporary look in the northern section of the central business district at a time when many Americans eagerly sought a change from old designs and business practices.
Published in The Franklin Times on February 23, 2017.
Maury York is director of the Tar River Center for History and Culture at Louisburg College and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.