Foster Hardware, Huntington Dry Goods, and Huntington Store (1871-1982)
Backstory and Context
Bradley Waters Foster was one of Huntington’s earliest businessmen. Born in Maine in 1834, Foster married Mary Lenora Huntington, Collis P. Huntington’s niece, in 1868. Three years later, the couple moved to Huntington, likely after Huntington invited them to settle in his new town. Soon after their arrival, Foster purchased a lot on the southwest corner of 3rd Avenue and 9th Street from the Central Land Company. There, he erected a small, two-story frame building that would become one of the city's first hardware stores. In 1894, Foster incorporated the shop as B.W. Foster Hardware Company. That same year, he replaced the original, modest structure with a four-story brick and stone building, which still stands today. It was built in the Romanesque style, with arches and stone banding.
As Huntington grew, Foster’s business boomed and eventually transformed from a hardware retailer to a wholesale firm. Foster himself emerged as an active member of the young community as well. He was president of the Huntington Land Company, one of the founders of the First Huntington National Bank, a member of Huntington City Council, and an organizer of the Chamber of Commerce, which was originally housed in his store. Shortly before his death in 1922, Foster decided to move his business to a new location at 2nd Avenue and 12th Street. The new site had good rail access, meaning that the store would be able to buy merchandise in carload quantities. Upon his death, having been preceded in death by his wife and having no children, Foster established in his will the Foster Foundation and paid for the construction of the Foster Memorial Home for Aged Women, which operated from 1924 until the 1980s.
In 1923, Walter Lewis Sr. purchased the former hardware shop at 3rd Avenue and 9th Street. He renovated the property and combined it with the adjacent building, the former Third Avenue Hotel. Lewis then leased the building to Meyer Mittenthal and M.J. Federman, who opened the Huntington Dry Goods Store. The store sold ready-to-wear and domestic clothing and textiles and later added furniture. During the 1950s, Lewis added a basement to the building and covered the original exterior with a more contemporary facade of brown marble panels. At this time, he leased the structure to the Interstate Department Stores, which operated the Huntington Store out of the building. The Huntington Store remained in business until 1982, when it could no longer compete with the newly opened Huntington Mall. In 1996, the building’s ground floor was converted to a restaurant space and the exterior was restored to its original brick and stone appearance. The building currently houses the Marshall Hall of Fame Café.
Although the 3rd Avenue building entered new ownership in 1922, Foster Hardware continued to operate out of its 2nd Avenue location for many years. After B.W. Foster’s death, E. H. Thornburg became the company's new president and changed its name to Foster-Thornburg Hardware Company. Under Thornburg and his successors, the combination office-warehouse building at 2nd Avenue expanded to occupy two city blocks. During the 1940s and 1950s, Foster-Thornburg's traveling salesmen expanded their range, frequenting twelve counties in West Virginia, nineteen in Kentucky, six in Ohio and three in Virginia. They took orders for a wide variety of merchandise, including hardware, furniture, plumbing and electrical supplies, and mining equipment.
In 1960, the Shelby Supply Company of Shelby, North Carolina purchased Foster-Thornburg Hardware Company. Five years later, Shelby Supply closed the long-time Huntington business, claiming it was not “economically sound” to maintain its operation. By that time, the company’s staff, which once counted as many as 70 workers, had fallen to eight. In 1974, the building at 2nd Avenue and 12th Street was torn down as part of Huntington's downtown urban renewal program, which eventually demolished four city blocks between 3rd Avenue and what is now Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
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Casto, James E.. Lost Huntington: Huntington Dry Goods, Huntington Herald-Dispatch. January 12th 2015. Accessed December 4th 2019. https://www.herald-dispatch.com/special/lost_huntington/lost-huntington-huntington-dry-goods/article_875882f5-2b59-52af-9d31-05c1730fb9ad.html.
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