Building at 106 North Main Street

Published 6:28 pm Friday, October 28, 2022

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The building that now stands as a part of Serve Restaurant was a major part of Franklin’s downtown business district – decades ago. That section of Serve, the two-story structure that is third from the right, originally housed Josiah (“Joe”) Bynum Gay’s mercantile business. That business, founded on February 15, 1901, at 106 North Main St., was a partnership between Gay and his brother-in-law – Walter Greenhow Parker. However, in June of 1901, Walter Parker resigned in order to enter the Methodist ministry. Then, at that time, Gay was the sole owner and operator of the business. It was a very popular “dress goods” establishment – known as “the house that values built”. However, in 1938, Joe Bynum Gay changed business direction. He switched his business to selling radios and various other electrical appliances — and relocated to a building on Second Avenue. He continued in that particular business until his death — on December 26, 1946.

Josiah Bynum Gay was born in 1873 at “Rosedale” in Southampton County. He was the eldest son of Littleton A. Gay and Elizabeth Rosa Bryant Gay. In his younger days, he was employed in Franklin, at the store of his uncle Josiah Powell Gay.

In 1899, Gay was married to Annie Lee Gardner, daughter of Abraham Littleton Gardner and Bettie Lee Gardner. To this union was born, in 1904, a son – Josiah Bynum Gay, Jr. 

Mr. Gay Sr. was elected Mayor of Franklin in 1916. In 1938, he was elected Town Commissioner for a four-year term. He also served as Chairman of the Franklin District Democratic Executive Committee.

He joined the Franklin Baptist Church as a young man and served on its Board of Deacons for 24 years, much of which time as chairman of the board. He was a member of the Franklin Rotary Club. Joe Bynum Gay III (1929-2012) was his grandson. He was married to Anne Franklin Gay, a current resident of the Franklin area. Joe Bynum Gay Sr. died on December 26, 1946. 

In 1940, Herbert M. Lewis, Sr. and Jessie Hurd Lewis, along with son Herbert M. Lewis, Jr., moved to Franklin from Greensboro, North Carolina. Soon after their arrival, son Thomas Hurd Lewis was born. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis soon took possession of the former Gay building and operated a Western Auto Associates store there – specializing in automobile accessories, including tires and batteries. A good part of their business, though, included, hardware, lawnmowers, sporting goods, toys and bicycles. In the late 1970s, “Western Auto” relocated to the vacant former “Steinhardt Hardware” building, just up the street at 104 North Main St., and operated out of there until 1983 at which time the business was dissolved. For many years, Herbert, Jr. (“Herbie”), who was married to Rita O’Berry Lewis, operated the business. Recently, Herbert, Jr. passed away.  

For a period of time, Parker and Clark Attorneys occupied a portion of the building at 106 North Main St. And, it was vacant for a period of time. Later, Ray Smith purchased the building.  

The building that previously housed the Gay store and Western Auto is now a part of the “Serve” restaurant complex, along with the former Parker and Clark Law Office, Parker Drug Co., and Vaughan & Co. Bankers. All of those businesses operated on Franklin’s Main Street for decades – contributing greatly to Franklin’s early economic and, in many ways, its cultural development.

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