Antiques dealer shares Franklin finds with city

Published 11:32 am Saturday, July 11, 2009

FRANKLIN—The days of the Confederacy, horse-drawn buggies, bitters bottles and two- and three-digit phone numbers may be long gone, but people interested in the history of Franklin from those days should visit the Franklin Depot/Visitor Center.

Visitors will find several items available for viewing in a collection started by Stan Rich, owner of Southampton Antiques in downtown Franklin, and his late son, Casy Lynn Rich. The Rich family built the collection during 20 years of travel and acquiring antiques and donated it to the visitor center this year.

“As I was buying antiques out of different estates in this area over the years, every time I would hit something that was a Franklin item I hooked on to that and kept it,” Rich said Thursday. “And then my son started helping me by finding stuff on the Internet and buying it off of the Internet, too.”

Rich said the majority of the items in the collection were found within a 100-mile radius of Franklin.

“There are several different things in this collection that are real neat because it’s stuff that you’ll never see again,” he said. “There are a whole lot of things pertaining to old businesses, schools, churches and companies that were here in Franklin.”

Among the items, a golf trophy from the Franklin Golf Club dating back to the 1920s and 1930s; a souvenir book containing pictures of the 1940 flood; soft drink, milk and bitters bottles and canvas ice bags from Franklin; and a series of tokens used at various businesses in the city.

There’s also an original catalog from the Virginia Buggy Company, which was once in the Franklin Business Incubator building downtown.

“This shows all the different models of buggies that they made and sold, and it also has in the back accessories that you could buy,” Rich said. “It’s kind of a neat book.”

Another great find is a Camp Manufacturing Company ledger from 1887 to 1888.

“It has a lot of the local people and businesses on the inside of it,” Rich said.

One of the oldest items is a letter that dates back to the Civil War — literally.

Confederate Sgt. T.M. Whitaker’s letter is dated May 25, 1863, and is addressed to his mother in Camden, S.C. On the outside of the small, curvy envelope is a postage mark dated two days later from Franklin Depot, the city’s original name. Franklin was under Confederate control for most of the war.

“We have just returned from another trip,” Whitaker wrote. “The enemy’s gunboats were reported to be ascending the river and our regiment was ordered down to the ferry about 12 miles below here. They came as far as Murfreesboro, N.C., (and) destroyed a considerable amount of bacon and then retired. It seems as if it is impossible for us to remain quiet any length of time.”

Rich said his 27-year-old son Casy, who passed away in November, found the letter in Arizona using the Internet.

“I enjoyed collecting with my son, that was the main thing,” Rich said. “He saw how much I liked it and then it got to the point where instead of him telling me about stuff he was finding on the Internet, he was just going up there and buying it and saving it for me for a Christmas present or a birthday present.

“That’s how I got that Civil War letter. He found that on the Internet and gave that to me as a Christmas present.”

Rich points out a pocket watch that doubles as a clock when sitting in its ornamental base. Emblazoned on the face of the timepiece, in very small black letters, are the words “Powell Bros” and “Franklin, VA.”

“Believe me, that’s a rare little bird there,” Rich said of the watch, which dates to the early 1900s. “Powell Brothers used to sell jewelry and eyeglasses, and they used to be right down here on Main Street.”

By sheer coincidence, Rich said he found a display case at a country store in North Carolina that turned out to be from the old Powell Brothers shop. Rich uses the case at his business, Southampton Antiques, located across the street from the visitor center.

“That watch was in it, in that store,” Rich said.

Dan Howe, the downtown manager for the Downtown Franklin Authority, agreed that the watch was a treasure but also thought the base was a good find too.

“That’s the best thing in here,” Howe said, then shared a chuckle with Rich saying, “he’s lucky that stays here because it fits my great-great-grandfather’s watch very well too.”

Howe and Rich both said the long-term goal was to build several cases for the items to be displayed for visitors to see at the Franklin Depot/Visitor Center. The visitor center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.