- Associated Press - Sunday, March 5, 2017

BROWNWOOD, Texas (AP) - After 140 years, the oldest hardware store in Texas continues to have a bright future.

The Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/2kKhJKj ) reports the family-owned Weakley-Watson Hardware recently announced it would be closing its doors at the end of February.

“It’s been 140 years, it’s been five generations in the same family. That’s a pretty good run,” said Mike Blagg, co-owner and president of the company, which was founded by his great-great grandfather J.C. Weakley in 1876.

“You hear of businesses that go three generations, sometimes; four generations or five is pretty rare.”

Blagg owns the store with his brothers Bill and John Lee Blagg.

“We’re all right around retirement age and sadly, it’s just time to put an end to the business,” he said. “When we announced that we were going to close the store, we had so many people come in that were so unhappy.”

One of them was Tim Jacobs.

It’s since been announced that Jacobs, owner of Jacobs Family Pharmacy in Brownwood, had agreed to purchase the business.

“We were on a trip and heard the news via social media that the store was going to close,” Jacobs recently said by phone. “I thought, ‘Oh no, what am I going to do Saturday afternoon when I need something for my home or my business?’ You know, I always go to Weakley-Watson.”

He immediately began calling people back in Brownwood to find out the circumstances surrounding the store’s closing.

“I found out that it was possible that it could still continue on, so we got together with the owners to see what it would take to purchase the business,” Jacobs said.

Weakley-Watson True Value, as it’s formally known, has been at 1414 Austin Ave. since 2004. Its best-known location has been the building at 102 Fisk St., built shortly before 1910. On its website, the retailer refers to itself as the oldest hardware store in the state.

The Fisk Street building will stay with the Blagg family, it is their company headquarters and also is home to a small museum chronicling the store’s life for nearly a century and a half. The room provides a glimpse into the history of not only family members and their store, but of early Texas.

Blagg pointed out an adding machine - he recalled as a child walking by the ladies in the office as they used the devices and the clatter they made. When the company bought one of the women an electronic calculator, he noted how weird it felt to walk past her as she worked.

“At every other desk, it was so loud with that ‘clackety-clack’; you’d go by her desk and it was so quiet,” he said.

A 6-foot wooden slide rule was propped against the wall. Blagg said his grandfather made it for a class he had been teaching.

“We used them in high school, but of course they’re totally obsolete now,” he recalled.

“If you talk to anybody under the age of 40 now (and) say ‘slide rule,’ they think you’re talking about a new rule in baseball.”

Blagg showed several pictures of Weakley, one being a formal full-length portrait with a broom by his side.

“He was from Indianapolis, he started in the Union Army in the Civil War as a private,” he said. “After the war, he had a friend from Indianapolis named Lew Wallace, who was actually a general in the Northern Army.”

The men decided to head West and rode the train as far as it went at the time, to St. Joseph, Missouri.

“When the train ran out of track, they were waiting around for a stage coach or something to go further West,” Blagg said. “Well, Weakley got impatient and decided he wanted to go down to Texas, so they parted company.

“But Mr. Wallace gave him a pistol and said, ‘Here, you’re going to need this down in Texas.’”

Blagg chuckled.

“Some things never change.”

The two men remained friends. Wallace ended up in New Mexico as the territorial governor. He also went on to fame as the author of “Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ.” An original signed copy of the novel resides in the Brown County Museum of History.

Weakley rode a boat down the Mississippi to New Orleans,” Blagg continued. “He was a tin smith by trade and worked in a shop in Galveston.”

After that, he traveled to Waco and then to Comanche, where he was hired to install a tin roof in nearby Brownwood.

“He liked the town, so he stayed, opened a tin shop, and that quickly turned into a hardware store,” Blagg said. “Some years later, his son-in-law joined the business and it’s been in the family ever since. His name was Lee Watson, and he was my great-grandfather.”

During World War II, a need for building materials at nearby Camp Bowie allowed the store to expand into the wholesale supply business. That business continued until 1980, when it was sold off.

The family also had a sporting goods store until three years ago, when it too was sold it to a new owner, who kept the name but moved the operation to Early.

Customer needs have changed since 1876.

“They sold a lot of wagon and buggy parts, that was a big deal,” Blagg said.

But there are some things you’ll always need.

“Hammers, nails and whatnot; they also sold a lot of heaters, back then,” Blagg said. “We still sell heaters today.”

The oldest picture of the business, taken in 1878, declares, “Hardware, Guns & ‘Amunition’.” Misspellings didn’t keep the customers away, however.

“Even though we sold off the sporting goods store, to this day Weakley-Watson still sells hardware, guns and ammunition,” Blagg said.

Hardware stores are sort of like coffee shops or barbershops, it’s a social experience. When customers come in with a question or a problem, one of the sales associates usually has an answer.

“I enjoy being able to have what people want when they need it,” Blagg said. “They’ve been supporting us for 140 years. We appreciate that, this town’s been good to us.”

___

Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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