Murals depict the past

Published 10:49 am Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Downtown Franklin Association has come up with ideas for future murals to be painted, like the scene pictured. This is looking at South Main Street, from in front of the post office in the early 1900s. -- SUBMITTED

The Downtown Franklin Association has come up with ideas for future murals to be painted, like the scene pictured. This is looking at South Main Street, from in front of the post office in the early 1900s. — SUBMITTED


People driving down Second Avenue in downtown Franklin here lately are seeing artwork on the side of the Coldwell Banker Building (the former W.T. Pace Hardware Store). A reflection of the past, the scene on the building is the artist’s rendering of how the intersection of Main Street and Second Avenue appeared in 1902.

The scene shows the Virginia Hotel, including R.A. Peters Barber Shop, on the left and the W. T. Pace Hardware store on the right. It also shows on the northside of the Pace building the Jones-Hayes Department Store building and the Virginian Drug Store. Hanging in the middle of the intersection is a streetlight.

Other scenes, symbolic of Franklin’s past, are included in the mural.

The artist is James Patrick “Happy” Kuhn, 75, of Page County, Virginia. A few years ago, he did murals at the new High Street Methodist Church on Camp Parkway.

In doing the downtown Franklin mural, Kuhn used an actual photographic scene that appeared on an actual postcard that was mailed from Franklin in 1902 to an out of town destination as the guide. Somehow, that postcard, through a collector, decades later, made it back to Franklin and is on display, along with dozens of others, in the Downtown Franklin Visitors Center.

Stanley Rich, a renowned antique dealer, some years ago, donated to Franklin a considerable collection of old Franklin memorabilia that included numerous old postcards, including the one mentioned above.

Hopefully, the Coldwell Banker mural will be just one of many for downtown Franklin.

Several other downtown Franklin business owners have expressed interest in having murals placed on their businesses.

And, other buildings are now being considered. Scenes will be from other early 1900s postcard photography and/or artwork. Some examples are scenes from Camp Manufacturing Co., a Camp Manufacturing Co. tugboat, a Camp Manufacturing Co. rail locomotive used on the former Franklin and Carolina Railroad, owned by Camp Manufacturing Co., a steamship, the Stonewall Hotel, and the Bogart House. The Bogart House, which stood at the very end of South Main Street next to the Blackwater River, is pictured on one of the postcards.

Obviously, funding for the murals is an important part of the overall project. Organizations, clubs, businesses and/or individuals interested in helping with financial support are asked to contact Dan Howe at the Downtown Franklin office located in the Depot building on South Main Street.

Another idea is to have a mural on another building that will be transitional: the past, the present and the projected future.

The mural project is a project of the Downtown Franklin Association through its Design Committee headed up by Co-Chairs Roberta Bowman and Jerry Grizzard. Others on the committee are Mary Christie Morris, Mary Lilley and Clyde Parker.

“There may be opportunities for other artists and/or art students to participate in the Mural Project. Anyone wishing to apply should contact someone with the Design Committee,” said Jerry Grizzard. “Anyone with ideas for mural subjects is encouraged to submit them to any member of the design committee.”

Downtown Franklin is an important element in the City of Franklin overall landscape. The very formation of Franklin comes from the crossing of the Blackwater River by the railroad coming in the mid 1800s. Franklin became an important transportation hub.

The Albemarle Steam Navigation Co., headquartered in downtown Franklin and owned by the Pretlow family, operated steamships up and down the Blackwater, Nottoway and Meherrin Rivers from the mid 1800s to around 1928.

Freight and passengers were offloaded from the railroad to steamships and visa versa.

The Virginia Buggy Co. and Knight Buggy Co., manufacturers of horse-drawn buggies, were companies with offices and production facilities in downtown Franklin. The Franklin-Southampton Business Center now occupies the building of the former Virginia Buggy Co. The Knight Buggy Co. occupied the space now occupied by Hardees and the old Belk building.

Those companies were in operation from the late 1890s into the 1920s when people were transitioning from horse-drawn buggies to gasoline-powered automobiles.

Pretlow Peanut Co. (succeeded by Birdsong Peanut Co.) and Beale Peanut Co., for decades, operated out of downtown Franklin.

In its heyday, downtown Franklin was also the retail business hub for a very broad market area, extending into Southampton, Isle of Wight, Nansemond and Sussex Counties and into North Carolina. Business houses of various descriptions (automobile dealerships, hardware stores, clothing stores, jewelry stores, drug stores, movie theaters, gasoline stations) were lined up and down Main Street and its intersecting avenues.

Although much has changed in downtown Franklin over the years, and many of the structures and scenes of the past no longer exist, those who are interested in Franklin’s past, through the Mural Project and the postcard collection, can get a glimpse of how we were.

CLYDE PARKER is a retired human resources manager for the former Franklin Equipment Co. and a member of the Southampton County Historical Society. His email address is