LOOKING BACK: Southampton County Buggy Manufacturers

Published 7:01 am Monday, May 6, 2024

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During the early part of the 20th Century, several Southampton County businesses produced horse-drawn buggies, which brought significant commerce to the county.

Although the automobile industry was developing, buggies were still a major form of individual and family transportation.

In 1903, several Franklin citizens organized the PARKER BUGGY CORP. with John R. Knight, president; W.T. Pace, secretary and treasurer; and B. E. Parker, vice president.

A three-story brick building, forty by one hundred feet, was erected in an area encompassed by East Second Avenue, Mechanic Street, and East First Avenue. That first year, the output was 640 vehicles.

At that time, Knight was also the owner of Knight Drug Co. In 1904, he sold part of his interest in the drug store to George H. Parker, his business partner. Soon, Knight sold his remaining interest in the drugstore to George Parker. Then, Knight and B. E. Parker bought a majority interest in the buggy factory.

In 1908, B. E. Parker retired from the business, and Knight bought Parker’s entire interest. Then, Knight owned 85 percent of the Parker Buggy Corp. stock. Soon after, the company’s name was changed to Knight Buggy Co.

From 1906 to 1911, increased business necessitated several expansions of the manufacturing facilities – ultimately, a complex three stories high with floor space covering nearly three acres in downtown Franklin. A rail siding was put in – which connected the plant from its middle section to the Seaboard Railroad. Three thousand vehicles were produced during the 1910-1911 period. Starting in 1912, production increased to over 6,000 square vehicles yearly- with distribution in Virginia, North Carolina. South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

Knight Buggy Co. continued operation until 1916, when the rapidly increasing use of automobiles led Mr. Knight to change over to a manufacturing plant for screen windows and doors. He renamed the company Knight Screen Co. In 1917, due to his declining health, Mr. Knight retired and sold the business to Continental Screen Co., a northern concern, which, in 1918, left town.

Later use of the buildings included occupancy by various elements of the W. T. Pace hardware business. Still later, the buildings were demolished as part of the Franklin Redevelopment and Housing Authority downtown redevelopment program. Hardee’s and the former Belk/Leggett building now occupy part of the property that the buggy factory once occupied.

In 1910, the VIRGINIA BUGGY CO. was established with the following officers: John D. Abbitt Sr., president and treasurer; L. Ross Jones, vice president; and Walter F. Story, secretary. The

The aforementioned officers and the following stockholders made up the company’s board of directors: W. M. Cobb, R. Henry Cobb, J. Peter Holland, and Frank E. Story.

The massive four-story manufacturing building was erected in the block bordered by Mechanic Street, Jackson Street, Middle Street, and Fifth Avenue. A rail siding connected the factory to the nearby Southern Railroad to facilitate distribution.

John Abbitt was not deterred from establishing another buggy factory. Although he offered a wider variety of vehicles than the Knight company, his production capacity was much less. Still, he had a decent share of the buggy market.

As with the Knight Buggy Co., the Virginia Buggy Co. experienced a significant downturn in business starting in the mid-teens of the Twentieth Century due to rapidly developing automobile markets. Eventually, around 1917, the buggy factory closed. For a period, the Virginia Buggy Co. factory building was used to manufacture screen doors and windows, but soon, the successor company relocated to Suffolk.

The building that housed the Virginia Buggy Co. is still standing. After its closure, the building lay dormant for a period. Sometime later, Pretlow Peanut Co. bought the building and used it as a peanut warehouse. In 1985, the City of Franklin acquired the building and, for an extended period, used it as a storage facility. In 2005, the building was converted for use as the Franklin Business Incubator and headquarters for Franklin-Southampton Economic Development, Inc. 1916, the facility’s name was changed to the Franklin Business Center.

A significant impact on Boykins’ early-day economy was the existence of the Boykins Buggy Co., which was the successor to the Hines Buggy Co., located in Murfreesboro, N. C. In the early 1900s, 0. W. Gray and the brother of Boykins were carrying in their retail business the whole line of buggies manufactured in Franklin by the Parker Buggy Co.. Still, Gray was constantly fussing about delivery schedules and freight rates from Franklin. He lobbied openly for a buggy and wagon works factory for Boykins itself. So, a mayor’s committee composed of Gray and a few others raised $15,000 in seed money and provided Hines with a free lot adjacent to the Seaboard Railroad. A four-story brick building, sixty by one hundred feet in size, was started in early 1911. Before long, Hines was turning out buggies at a rate of 150 per month.

Eventually, Boykins Buggy Co. absorbed Hines with the following officers: W.W. White, president; R.H. Powell, vice president; C. T. Beaton, secretary and treasurer; and J. R. Hines, general manager.

However, as with the two Franklin companies, the rapid development and use of the automobile eventually put Boykins Buggy Co. out of business.

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 magnolia101@charter.net.