All the Wiser: Oldest of the Wisest

By Joy Burgess-Carrico | Published Saturday, March 2, 2019
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Lasting Legacy

LASTING LEGACY – The law partners Gettys and McMurray built the McMurray-Gettys building on the southwest corner of the square. Messenger Photo by Joy Burgess-Carrico

Chris Heasley, interim director of parks and recreation for the City of Bridgeport asked, “Which business is the oldest running business in Wise County?”

Wise County itself was created in 1856. Immigration was steady for a few years, but two major things brought the settlement of Wise County to a halt after a mere six years of settlement. The Civil War and what Cliff D. Cates called the “Indian depredation period” caused many settlers to leave Wise County for safer lands. The 1860 census numbers the population of Wise County at 3,160 (not counting slaves), and the 1870 census shows the population to be 1,450.

Joy Burgess-Carrico

Eventually, the war ended, and the natives were subdued. Wise could finally grow.

The question of the oldest running business in Wise County is a tricky one. Companies change hands, change names and change locations.

For my purposes, I tried to find businesses that were established or moved to Wise County and have operated here ever since in the same industry, with ownership remaining in Wise County.

The oldest running establishment in Wise County is probably either the Methodist or the Baptist Church. The good Christian ladies of the Messenger have informed me, however, that churches are not businesses, they are churches. But since both have been around continuously since 1862, I feel a shout-out to their longevity is in order. They are each 157 years old.

For a business that has run the longest, I would like to lay out the case for what is now Best Value Renshaw Drug. Dr. William Renshaw, an early settler of the county, had a drug store in downtown Decatur some time around 1870. The property was sold and resold, but remained a drug store at 109 W. Main Street until 1985, when Renshaw Drug store moved locations. In the ’30s, the grandson of Dr. William Renshaw, Kenny Renshaw, took over management of what was then called Renfro. Renshaw bought the business in 1952. However, between 1867 and 1952, the drug store changed names and owners several times.

My case is this: a drug store, founded by one Renshaw circa 1870 has operated continuously as a drug store and is still in existence, having been reaquired by the Renshaw family in 1952, and still carries the Renshaw name.

The counter-argument is that Renshaw is now Best Value Renshaw, and I do not know if there is any local ownership interest. It may just be a Best Value chain that kept the “Renshaw” for recognition.

I’ll leave it up to you to determine if Best Value Renshaw Drug qualifies as the oldest business. It’s either around 150 or it’s disqualified because it’s no longer a local business.

The Wise County Messenger is in the race for oldest running businesses. It began as the Paradise Messenger in 1880, proclaiming itself to be: “A local newspaper devoted to the advancement of the interests of Wise County in the main. Subject to the control of No Rings or Cliques. Outspoken in its denunciation of wrong, a friend to the laborer, and poictically a greenback organ.”

By 1883, it had been renamed the Wise County Messenger. If you look at your front page, you’ll see the volume number of the paper is 140. The Messenger is in its 140th year of denouncing wrong and befriending laborers.

Close behind the Mess is Wise County Title Company. It started out as Cates Abstract Company in 1885, was sold to Rattikin Title Company in 1974, changed hands a couple more times and became Wise County Title in 2003. It, like Renshaw, did not stay in one family, But it has been continuously in business for 134 years. To borrow their own play on words, Wise County Title, as it is known today, opened in 1885 and has been closing ever since.

Woodruff and Wren, LLP was begun in 1905 when Cicero T. Gettys partnered with T.J. McMurray to build a law practice in Wise County. Gettys was the grandfather of current partner Mason L. Woodruff. The firm has changed names and locations, but the same family has operated a law practice since 1905, 114 years.

Hawkins Funeral Home has been around since 1906. It has changed locations and expanded during that time, but ownership and running of the business has been handed down through five generations of the Hawkins family for 113 years.

Flusche Auto Repair Company came to Wise County in 1936, having formed in Muenster in 1930. At 89, it has been serving Wise County for 83 years, also being passed down through the Flusche family.

Wiley Hardware in Chico was established in 1939, making it 80. It, too, has stayed in the family. It changed names but has always been located where it is today, in downtown Chico.

Welcome to Town

WELCOME TO TOWN – From the Aug. 9, 1945 Messenger.

Holmes Auto began in 1944 in Bowie, but moved to Decatur in August 1945. For our purposes, its Decatur business age is around 74, although the business itself is 75.

These are the companies that crossed my radar, but this subject has not been the easiest to track down. Mostly, I’ve had to dig and ask around to find out what I have discovered. I’m certain I missed something, probably many somethings.

If you have information about a business in Wise County that has withstood the test of time, feel free to send the information my way. A follow-up column is always possible.

Joy Burgess-Carrico is the Messenger’s graphic artist and resident historian. Email your questions about Wise County to jcarrico@wcmessenger.com.

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