Martin Brothers Store serves county for 150+ years
- Published on Thursday, December 26 2013 22:44
- Written by John Wages
“It was a family business, with the community as the family,” said Tom Martin, descendant of the Martin family about the Martin Brothers Store outside Ware Shoals on Indian Mound Rd. “It was integral to the community, family and just shopping.”
Located on the old Augusta-Greenville wagon road, it served as a stage coach stop and remained a general store until it closed in 1997, after 150 plus years in operation.
The front door bears the marks of its over a century use as the community announcement board. Hundreds of nails and thousands of staples are embedded in the paint of the odd shaped door.
Inside, the walls, floors and about every surface is anything but straight and square. Stories and legends surround the place. Some relate to the structure, others to the people and events that inhabited it, and others to personal and family remembrances of trips there.
“After the opening of Lake Greenwood, stopping at the store became an event,” said Kay Marin Payne, daughter of final store owner Harold Martin and family historian. The store’s property backs up to the lake one mile back.
Martin’s Store is really part of several interconnected structures. The house next to it is actually older than the store. It was a stage coach station. They would stop there to resupply and rest before the next stage. Across the street is a Victorian house built by the family in 1908.
“The area was devastated,” said Tom. “No one thought it would ever close. There was no reason to think anything would ever change.” Mt. Gallagher and Mt. Olive saw it as a central meeting and gathering spot. “There was great grieving in the community, because it was so central to it.”
“It was just institutional to me, it has always been there,” said Tom. “I assumed it would always be there. It anchors my childhood, because of their antiquity. It was always the house, the oak, and the store.”
“It was continually open, since the day it first opened,” said Tom. Some date that to 1837. “Some earlier accounts say 1822.” Either way, it predates the American Civil War by decades. “It was already old when it was damaged by the Charleston Earthquake in 1886,” said Kay.
Originally opened as Daniel’s Store, or the “Beehive", James Martin bought out the other partners in 1879 and remained sole owner until his death the next year. His son J. C. Martin and his grandsons took over and ran it for the next 119 years. The last living one, Harold Martin, worked there until his children forced him to retire at 90 to go to a nursing home.
“In 1908, Papa built the Victorian house across the street,” said Tom. “When Dad married, they moved into the old station. That is where we grew up.” Tom and Kay both vividly remember both houses and the oak in front of the Victorian one. “It was home. We didn’t know any different,” said Kay. “It was a good life, with family in the surrounding houses.”
“What I miss most was the sense of place and belonging,” said Kay. “It was home, a secure environment, with family all around and involving the public. I never thought about the role the business played in the community.”
A true general merchandise store before stores like Wal-mart existed, it sold groceries, farm supplies and dried goods. The platform in the back held bulk goods kept in barrels. Some were scooped out, while others were tapped like a modern keg.
Starting with the invention of automobiles, they sold automotive supplies and kept a mechanic. Gasque Buick out of Clinton supplied vehicles to sit outside until they sold. Then they would send another. This became a regular sideline for the family. “We had previously sold buggies and wagons, so it was natural,” said Tom. “At one time we were also a Ford franchise.”
Under Texaco, Martin’s Store served gasoline right up until its closure. Moving from the “classic” visible, overhead tank pumps, they remained up-to-date through modern buried fuel tanks and electrical pumps. "After it closed, the family removed the tanks which weren’t even that old when dug-up,” said Kay.
“We originally started with gas supplied in barrels and drums on mule pulled wagon,” said Tom. “There is a plaque in the old store for 50 years with Texaco. Under it were two hangers for further five year increments. We were Texaco almost from the beginning through the modern era.” The gas was supplied by H. D. Payne in Clinton.
“I remember the day they removed the old round white sign with the red star and green T,” said Tom. “They put up the modern black one which looked so out of place on the old store.”
“We sold John Deere Plows and Implements before they even made tractors,” said Tom. “They were serviced by the Railway Express Agency, from the train stop in Laurens.” REA was similar to UPS but used trains as their primary means of transport of goods and trucks for local pick-up and deliveries. REA ceased to exist in 1975.
“We saw the times change,” said Kay. “We used to butcher our own meat, with a butcher on staff.”
“Many local companies provisioned the store,” said Tom. Much of the goods sold at the store came from Laurens County and the surrounding area. Allen Milling Co. in Greenwood supplied flour and mills, Spratt Grocery in Laurens, and Pierce, Young and Angel as well as Pet dairy supplied their goods.
Across the street, Martin’s Store sold fertilizer in a large building, where trucks unloaded and customers would load directly. It was all owned by the family. That building is long gone.
All that time, it was more than a store as well. Upstairs was used as a meeting room for the Brewerton Masons for over 50 years, plus the Grange, Woodmen of the World, and others. It was also once a doctor’s office. The building served as the regular polling place for over a century plus once served as a post office.
“The depression cost them,” said Tom. “Before, we owned much, much more. But we managed to keep the store.” People kept shopping there until Harold closed it. “They said it was because he and his father allowed people to buy on credit when down. That happened a lot in the depression.”
“We are thrilled that Jane Blackwell reopened it,” said Tom. “She asked our permission to keep the name. We were tickled it stayed on it.” The sign above the door is the same one, untouched, last painted by Harold.
Today Blackwell runs Martin’s Store as a restaurant. Originally she reopened as part store, part restaurant, but the restaurant part took over. It is open Wednesday and Friday 8am to 2pm, Saturday 7am to 2pm and Thursday all day from breakfast through the Live Music Thursday Nights. It also has its own Facebook page.