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Downtown Murfreesboro

Entrepreneurship is the life-blood of any city. And the city of Murfreesboro has a long history of entrepreneurship with the Public Square being its heart.

Almost immediately after the courthouse was build in 1812, houses and businesses were built around it. Initially buildings were wood, but as the town neared the turn of the century, buildings of stone and brick began springing up around the square, and the area grew into the commercial and financial center of the town in the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

A large number of these early businesses that started in downtown Murfreesboro still exist today, having continued under the stewardship of the next generation.

Begun as the Murfreesboro News in 1849 by A. Waltkins, it merged in 1898 with the Independent Banner to become the News-Banner.

In 1890, Chip Henderson, grandson of the publisher of the Murfreesboro News, started The Home Journal. Both papers went through a number of changes and owners until 1931, when Jesse Beasley consolidated the papers into The Daily News Banner. It was eventually sold to Jack McFarland, who was the publisher during the 1950s and 1960s, when Murfreesboro
started the Industrial Board and the paper was instrumental in helping to bring State Farm to the community and contribute to economic development of the area. By that time it was printed under The Daily News Journal nameplate. Morris News Corporation bought it in 1968, and owned the paper until they sold it to Gannett in the early 2000s.

Always housed in and around the square, the DNJ offices are now located in the SunTrust Bank building, after having moved from the space that is now the location of the Judicial Building parking tower.

Bell Jewelers (139 years)

W.R. Bell began his jewelry business on the square in 1879 at 8 North Public Square. In 1929, he advertised having been on the square longer than any other business. It remained for almost 120 years.

Just as Bell Jewelers today, the original store carried an assortment of fine jewelry, watches, and gifts, but they also carried clocks, pianos and organs. W.R.’s son, Jim enhanced the focus on fine jewelry and gifts until the business sold after his death in 1949 to John Dixon and his wife, Cleon. They sold the store to Blake and Lee Tidwell in 1973.

Until moving to the new location on August 8, 1998, the Tidwells kept the store looking very much like it did in its heyday, with mahogany wall cabinets and leaded glass windows. When the elder Tidwells retired, the business was taken over by their son Greg and daughter, Lisa Halliburton.

Besides fine jewelry, china, and gifts, Bells Jewelry offers the option to create custom jewelry, designed in house by Bob Lanier. Each piece is one-of-a-kind, made to order.

“We are proud of our store’s rich history,” said Lisa Halliburton, “and that we are able to carry on the tradition of quality into a third century.”


Woodfin Memorial Chapel (125 years) 

Beginning in 1893 by L.R. Jacobs in Beech Grove, Woodfin’s Furniture Store and Mortuary
was moved to the north side of the square in 1900 by Jacob’s son-in-law, John T. Woodfin.
Woodfin and H.C. Moore purchased the business from Jacobs in 1910. When the business was destroyed by a tornado that hit the square in 1913, they bought what was the old Elks Club (now Milano’s II) and ran the mortuary out of that building until Woodfin’s death in 1949.

Always involved in the community, when Murfreesboro Little Theatre first began, they were
allowed to use the hearse portico behind what is now the Milano’s II building as their theatre on summer evenings, and the lawyer’s office next door was used as the dressing room area.
The business was moved to a building on Greenland, and then to its current location in
2001, after a 1999 fire destroyed the Greenland location.

Now, the fifth generation is helping families deal with the loss of loved ones, and they
continue to serve the community with an additional location in Smyrna.

City Cafe (118 years)

For much of its history, City Café was where you went to find out who was going to win just about any election before the poles closed. Their straw poles were correct
more than 90% of the time. Hoping to eventually bring back the straw pole tradition, current owners Teresa and Rollin Kellogg enjoy sharing bits of the restaurant’s history on their menu and as part of the décor (much of it provided by Nelson Smotherman, a long-time customer).

Stories vary, but most say that Henry and Dorsey Cantrell started City Café on February 10, 1900. It passed through many hands, and saw a number of different locations on the square,
including the current location of Bink’s Outdoor Outfitters.

In 1986, Gary and Pat Simpson bought the restaurant, moving it to the current location in 1992, although it feels like it has always been there. The current owners took it over in 2014. They have kept the feel, but have added a few healthier items to the menu to reach out to the more health-conscious.

Long a hangout for local business owners and politicians, even today you will see community leaders pop in for breakfast or lunch.


The Pastime Barber Shop & Pool Room (114 years)

This quaint barbershop on the square has also stayed the distance. It has been in the same location since 1904, albeit at one time in a larger space. It has a shady past, too, boasting Al Capone as a frequent visitor to the pool hall and bar that the barber shop fronted during the Great Depression.

“We still give an old style shave with hot towels and a neck massage,” said Charlotte Chrochette, one of four lady barbers. “I like to say we offer a hundred dollars of therapy for twelve dollars, and a free shave.”

Once upon a time there was a second floor of pool tables, which burned many years ago. But now there are two pool tables and two snooker tables in the back room. Each of these tables is over 100 years old.


Haynes Hardware (96 years)

Haynes Hardware was opened in 1921 by C.N. Haynes, his son, Tillman Haynes, and Jim Reed, who ended up leaving the business in the early years. Tillman Haynes, Jr. joined the business after returning from the Second World War.

The original location was on the west side of the Public Square.

In 1951, Martha Anne Haynes, and her new husband, Donald Knight, became partners in the
business. The Knight family took full ownership of the business in the early 1980s. Richard Schmidt, the husband of Cheryl Knight, Martha Anne and Donald’s daughter, joined the team as part of the fourth generation who inherited the store following the death of the elder Knights.

Cheryl Knight Schmidt and Donald Knight Jr. now own the store with Richard Schmidt serving as the general manager. John Schmidt, son of Richard and Cheryl, is involved in the business development of the store. Part of the True Value network, the business carries a full compliment of gardening and home repair and maintenance items, with the service and caring of family.


Palace Barber Shop (90 years)

With such a royal name, the Palace Barber Shop had humble beginnings, starting in the basement of the old Commerce Union Bank building, which was located where the empty lot is next to Shacklett’s Photography.

The Palace Barber Shop was started by P.W. Carter. Carter hired an eight-year-old boy by the name of Jim Taylor to shine shoes. He worked at the shop after Carter sold it to the current owners, Randall Hall and Irene Walker, until his death.

Best known for its Christmas decorations, the shop has put up a display of trains in
their window every year for 22 years.


Rions Flowers (81 years)

From 1937 until the mid-1980s, Mattie Rion owned and operated the flower shop she began. She was still dipping her finger into the business into her nineties. After herretirement, the business was run by her daughter and son-in-law, John Moffett.

“What has made the business special all these years,” says Moffett, “is the people you worked with again and again. They come in to order flowers, but then you start to talk, and you become friends. I enjoy that most of all.”

Another thing Moffett remembers is turning the hall from the lobby to the pool at the old Holiday Inn (now the Clarion) into an arbor of greens and flowers for a wedding. “You couldn’t even see the walls,” said Moffett.

The business was recently sold to Jenny and Chuck Harrison, but Moffett is staying on to help with the transition, and their wonderful designers are staying on.


Shacklett's Photography (81 years)

Dick Shacklett froze the images of a generation on film, capturing the rich history of Rutherford county from 1937 until his death in 1994. He left behind an archive of history through World War II, the 1950’s, and the turbulent 1960s. He had also made “copy negatives” of many photographs clients had asked him to duplicate over the years, images going back further in time.

Initially working out of the James K. Polk Hotel, after the war he started his business in a storefront, which is now owned by his son, Bill, and daughter, Gloria Christie. They donated over 30,000 of their father’s photos to the county archive for posterity.

Continuing in their father’s tradition of service to the community, they have long been
the coordinators of Uncle Dave Macon Days.

They have also continued the business of capturing the lives of the current generation in pictures and video. Gloria’s husband came on board in 1999 to add video production to the business, and their sons Ben and Will are the third generation joining the business.

Gloria and Bill moved the business to its current location on Church Street.


Mullins Jewelry Store (80 years)

Herschel Mullins, the founder of Mullins Jewelry, store passed away at the age of 96 in 2012, having worked during his final years along side three generations in the store he started on the square on March 1, 1938. Until his death, he had the distinction of operating a store on the square longer than anyone else.

When he began the store, the town square was the place to come on Saturday, by locals and by those from smaller communities from adjoining counties. Mullins was where everyone came for watches and clocks.

Since his death, the store has moved to West Northfield, where his grand children and great grandchildren continue to carry on the tradition of clock and watch repair, as well as fine jewelry.


Roscoe Brown Heating & Air Conditioning (78 years)

“My grandfather had to quit school in 7th grade to help support the family,” said Norman Brown, current owner of Roscoe Brown Heating and Air Conditioning. “It wasn’t easy when he started the business in 1940. The first years were hard.”

Initially located next to City Tile on Vine Street, Roscoe Brown started as a tin shop. But even with only a 7th grade education, Brown says his grandfather had great business sense. He began fashioning things out of tin, but he kept up with the newest ideas, and put in the first air conditioning unit in the late 1950s.

Roscoe Brown has since added plumbing and insulation to their heating and air conditioning business. They moved to their present location in 2003, and have added additional locations in Tullahoma, Nashville, and McMinnville.

WGNS (71 years)

Dreamer and entrepreneur Cecil Elrod, Jr. started WGNS radio with a tower in a field in 1946. It went on the air January 1, 1947. From day one, the radio station was a part of the community, beginning with an office over The French Shoppe (what is now the Guidance Center). Famous performers came to Murfreesboro to get their music on the air during the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

The station has also been a training ground for many in the music business, including Glen
Snoddy, Carl P. Mayfield, and John Young. At one time former State Representative John Hood worked at the station, and current owner, Bart Walker enhanced his love of radio there while in college, eventually buying the station. Walker is passing the baton to his son, Scott.
WGNS is short for “Good Neighbor Station,” and the Walkers have continued the community
involvement begun by Elrod, coordinating, among other things, the annual Murfreesboro
Christmas Parade.

They have been in their current location on Church Street since Elrod moved the station there
a few years after it began broadcasting.


Holden Hardware (70 years)

Rollie Holden, Sr. opened Holden Hardware in 1948. He had been a salesman for Wilson Sporting Goods, and Rollie, Jr. believes that it was during this time that his father developed an interest in opening a hardware store, as during that time all sporting goods were sold in hardware stores.

During his tenure at Holden Hardware, the senior Holden brought many firsts to Rutherford County, including Glidden latex paint. They were the first company to develop latex paint, and Holden took a chance on the product. A long friendship grew between Holden and the company, which is why the Glidden sign hangs outside the store today.

“Holden Hardware is just part of a long-standing tradition in our family,” said Rollie Holden, Jr., the current owner. “The building belonged to my maternal grandmother. And for over 100 years the Holden’s have worked at and/or owned businesses on the square.”


City Title (61 years)

Andrew M. Young began City Tile in 1957, the family business that passed on to his namesake
grandson with the passing of his son, Doug, last year.

City Tile and Roscoe Brown used to sit next to each other on Vine Street, but now City Tile flows into the space occupied by their once upon a time neighbor.

For three generations City Tile has offered the community the latest in flooring materials, while being deeply community minded. They have long donated excess materials to the Habitat ReStore, and other materials to Habitat builds.


Entrepreneurship Continues on Public Square

The Murfreesboro Public Square continues to nurture blossoming entrepreneurs, as the descendants of many of the original business men and women bring their stores, begun in the 19th and 20th centuries, into the new millennium.

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