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JIM: Emery Bennett & Mollie Jeffries & auto business in Columbia

Emery Bennett prospered as a miller when he went west in 1890, with sojourns in Bates County, MO, and points west including Grangeville, ID. He returned from time to time to Adair County, KY, and, on one of those trips met and fell in love with Miss Mollie Jeffries, to whom he was married on June 3, 1925, in Russell County, KY. Mr. Bennett made big news in 1927, when organized, with partners J.A. Schuler, and C.T. Stults, the Bennett Motor Company. This account recalls successes of early business family names, including Hutchisons, Flowerses (with Mr. Ray Flowers' narrow escape in a cistern explosion, Smiths of Durant dealership fame, and many more
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By JIM

Adair Countian Emery J. Bennett, born during the Civil War, as a young man heard the siren call of Horace Greeley and headed west. Where he may have first stopped remains a mystery but by late 1890, he had resided in Bates County, Missouri (just short of the Kansas border), long enough to woo and wed young Miss Myrtle Staley. In 1900, they and their three kids still resided in Missouri, and in early 1920, by then joined by another daughter, they lived in southwest Montana, not too many miles removed either from the Washington or Oregon state line. His occupation was noted as "miller."


Mr. Emory Bennett and Myrtle Staley Bennett go separate ways

It apparently was not long afterward that Myrtle and Emery went their separate ways, he to Idaho to operate a flouring mill; her destination unknown. In early January 1923, a note in the "Personal" column of the News noted he was in Adair County visiting kinfolk. Toward the end of January the News also reported his departure, adding,

"He left here thirty-five years ago and has been very prosperous in the far West. He owns and operates a flouring mill with capacity of seventy-five barrels per day. His business has cleared him forty dollars per day for quite a number of years. He has enjoyed his visit to the home of his nativity, and would remain longer, but his business calls him home."

These were the first two mentions found of Mr. Bennett in the News but certainly not the last. He made a return trip to Adair County in the spring of 1924 and another late in the year. The News would later say of Mr. Bennett,

"He left Columbia when a youth and lived in various western states, successfully engaging in a number of businesses until he returned here in 1924 from Grangeville, Idaho, where he had successfully operated a flour mill."

Mr. Emory Bennett meets and falls in love with Miss Molly Jeffries

It seems that on one of his expeditions to Kentucky, he met and fell in love with Miss Mollie Jeffries. In early June 1925, they obtained a marriage license in Russell County and

"Last Wednesday [June 3rd] Mr. E.J. Bennett and Miss Mollie Jeffries accompanied by Mr. L.M. Young and wife motored to Hustonville where the two were married by Eld. Arthur Baugh. Soon after the ceremony the newlyweds left for Louisville and other points, and their escorts returned to Columbia. When Mr. and Mrs. Bennett return they will be at home in Mrs. Caroline Jeffries' residence, on Burkesville street."

The article said of the new Mrs. Jeffries,

"The bride is a most excellent young woman, born and reared in Adair county, and since her early girlhood has resided in Columbia where she is known for her many noble traits of character. Her father was W.F. Jeffries, who conducted a hardware store here for many years."

For several years, Mollie had cared for her invalid mother, a care she continued until Caroline's passing in the early 1930s.

An important Columbia auto dealership is formed in 1927

Over the next two years, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett drew occasional passing mention in the News, but an item in the fall of 1927 likely drew a fair amount of attention -- the announcement that Mr. Bennett, Columbia businessman J.A. Schuler, and C.T. Stults, and Adair native then residing in Louisville, a man with considerable knowledge of dealing in cars, were "the proprietors of a new automobile sales company under the name of the Bennett Motor Company in the old Bank of Columbia building."

The article went on to say that Mr. Edwin Hutchison was the salesman for "the beautiful new Improved Star Four and Six," models of which already graced the showroom floor. The Star line, manufactured by the Durant Motor Company (founded 1921), were designed and priced to compete with Chevrolet.

This was Adair County's third attempt at a Durant and/or Star automobile agency. In the fall of 1923, a brief series of ads for the cars from L.M. Smith of Cane Valley appeared and quietly vanished from the pages of the News. From late spring through early autumn 1925, notices appeared weekly (or nearly so) from Reece Motor Co., "Columbia and Montpelier," touting the advantages of owning one of these automobiles.

Several Columbia businesses find new locations in mid-to-late 1920's

The Bennett Motor Company's stay in the Bank of Columbia building was of short duration. In mid-February, it moved to the Page Garage. Schuler and Murray Insurance, which also occupied the bank building, moved to the space above Lula Jones' store, and the yhirf occupant, Carnahan Oil & Refining Co., also went to the Page Garage.

These business moved of a necessity. The "old bank building," on the corner of Burkesville Street and the Square, was the one put up as temporary quarters for the Bank of Columbia soon after the bank's original building burned in the Great Conflagration of September 1921. Mr. John Lee Walker bought the property in early 1928 and soon thereafter, began razing the building to erect the new Russell & Co. building.

In late May 1928, a publicity promotion, got up in part by Count (C.T.) Stults, then the sales director of Pickrell Motor Co., Louisville, and involving strong man Al-Vini and a Durant 65 touring sedan. (The Durant 65 and 75 were newly developed lines of the automobile, each featuring an improved six-cylinder engine. Said one source, "The Durant 65 was far ahead of its rivals. The six-cylinder engine, rubber bearings and quiet sound landed it in a class of its own.")

Endurance driving champion Al-Vini makes spectacular stop in Columbia

Al-Vini, an endurance driving champion, was to take car on a one hundred-twenty hour trip, during which he would not sleep and the engine of the car would not be shut off. One of his stops came June 2nd in Columbia, the fourth day of the journey. He rolled into town that Saturday morning shortly before the appointed hour and precisely at eleven, addressed the "immense crowd," telling those assembled about the virtues of the Durant 65, sold locally by Bennett Motor Company. Afterwards, he performed several feats of strength, after which "his entire party was treated to drinks, ice cream, and sandwiches by the Young-Moore Co," then departed for his next stops in Campbellsville and Lebanon.

It was about this time (early June) that Mr. Ray Flowers, a partner in Russell & Co., sold his interest to the other three partners. By November, he was in business with Mr. Bennett. In early July, Count Stults, who previously had been president of Louisville Auto Sales and more immediately, sales director of Pickrell Motor Co., also of Louisville, took "the agency for Moon Motor Cars under the name Stults Motor Co.," 3rd St., Louisville.

In 1928, Bennett Motor Co. occupies what later would be Dr. Pepper plant

In early November 1928, Bennett Motor Co. moved yet again, this time to the just-completed Albin Murray garage. About a decade later, this location would become the home of the Dr. Pepper bottling plant and distribution center.

A brief ad noted the move and stated the establishment would "operate a first class service station." A few later Bennett Motor Co. announced they "now have with us a first-class mechanic, qualified to work on any kind of car." This may have been Osmond Grider, as he was mentioned as an employee of the business in February 1929. Come early April, Trenton Gist, "an experienced mechanic, of Gradyville," was wielding the wrenches, but his tenure was short lived, as Sparksvillian George Akin, "an experienced mechanic" was on the job by mid-May. He stayed until late 1931 when "Mr. Curry in White City" hired him.

Meanwhile, back in February 1929, the economy boomed, and this made the from page of the News:

"Mr. J.W. Walker has let a contract to Messrs. Henry Ingram, Gid Alley and Mont Willis to erect a concrete block building with brick front, on his lot just below Adair Sales Co.

"The lot is 93 feet wide There will be a garage 50x100 feet and two store rooms, each 20x50 feet, under the same roof.

Bennett Motor Company relocates to Campbellsville Street
(To what is now Steve McKinney's Adair Auto Parts/NAPA building?)

"Bennett Motor Co., has leased the garage for five years and Joe Nance has leased one store room for the same length of time and will open a restaurant there.

"The buildings will add greatly to the looks of Campbellsville St. . ."

Contractors Ingram, Alley, & Willis wasted no time. By early June, Bennett Motor Co. had moved to its new location on Campbellsville Street in Mr. Walker's "modern garage building." The same article noted Bennett's was the "local the dealers for the Durant line of cars also the Hudson and Essex [and the Rugby line of trucks]. An ad in the September 9, 1930 edition informed readers that the J.M. Barnes Bakery was open for business at its new location, next door to Bennett Motor Company.

As soon as Bennett's vacated the Murray building, Rosenblatt Produce Co. moved there from the Sam Lewis property.

In March 1931, the News humorously reported about a very busy recent day in the life of Mr. Ray Flowers:

"Busy Day for Auto Salesman

Mr. Ray Flowers, of the Bennett Motor Co., motored to Burkesville Thursday and delivered a new Essex Coach to Mr. W.C. Curtis.

"Mr. Flowers did a thriving business while in the neighboring city. He took in a used Essex on the trade with Mr. Curtis, sold the car to another man, getting a Ford in the trade, and before leaving Cumberland county sold the Ford. He had to telephone his partner, Mr. E.J. Bennett, to send a car for him to return home in."

Mr. Ray Flowers escape from serious injury or death

About a year later, a much more serious event again precipitated the appearance of Mr. Flowers' name in the paper. He narrowly escaped serious injury or death when a "strange explosion" occurred in the building occupied by Bennett Motor Co. Of a sudden, "A seventy-five pound concrete block covering the opening to a cistern was blown through the floor, striking the ceiling and tearing a ragged hole through it. Mr. Flowers was standing about five feet from the spot..."

Source of explosion attributed to gas leaking from nearby parked bus

The explosion was attributed to gas leaking from a parked bus leaking into the cistern, as it occurred when Mr. Flowers "flipped the switch" to start an electric pump situated under the floor above the cistern. The floor caught fire but the blaze was extinguished by the time the fire department arrived.

In the late summer of 1931, Bennett Motor acquired the Plymoth dealership, and Miss Sarah Cain, of near Columbia soon thereafter bought from them a "beautiful Plymoth Sedan." (Durant, both unable to manufacture enough cars to meet demand and hit hard by the depression, had ceased production in August 1931.)

Other purchases of note included Dr. T.P Stephenson buying "a beautiful new Essex Coupe" in early 1932 and Mr. Horace Cundiff's "beautiful new Chrysler sedan" in April 1934.

Come the spring of 1933, a fire in the building caused considerable damage. "Several of the large windows in the display were cracked and broken and the interior of the garage was badly scorched and blackened by the smoke. The top was burned off a new Durant Sedan which was on display." Neither Mr. Walker nor Mr. Bennett carried any insurance.

Less than two months after Mr. Cundiff drove away in his new vehicle in the spring of 1934, Bennett Motor Co. ceased to exist. In early June, reported the News, "J.W. Walker has bought out the Bennett Motor Co. located on Campbellsville Street and will operate under the name Walker Motor Company." The new company would sell Plymoth and DeSoto vehicles (both made by Chrysler) and International trucks. Mr. J. Wilson Monroe was sales manager and J. Frank Walker was salesman.

Mr. Ray Flowers appointed Columbia postmaster; and passing of Emery Bennett

Just under a year later, Mr. Ray Flowers was appointed postmaster of Columbia. Emery J. Bennett, 70 or a bit past when the dealership changed hands, retired from public life and quietly spent his remaining years in Columbia. When he passed in 1943, the News said of him, "Mr. Bennett was one of the most popular citizens of this community, having the respect, love ad admiration of a wide circle of friends by whom he will be greatly missed." He was survived by his wife, Mollie, and three of his children by Myrtle, one son having passed in 1920.

In 1939, David Heskamp took dealer agency for Oldsmobile cars

In the fall of 1939, David Heskamp took the dealer agency for "the popular line of Oldsmobile cars formerly sold by Ingram Motor Co." The firm, known as the Heskamp Motor Co., was first located, temporarily, in the Walker Motor Co. building, Mr. Virgil Collins, salesman.



This story was posted on 2017-06-11 11:33:38
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A 1928 ad for Bennett Motor Co., Columbia, KY



2017-06-11 - Columbia, KY - Photo from the collection of JIM facsimile from Adair County News, Columbia, KY.
BENNETT MOTOR COMPANY -This was Adair County's third attempt at a Durant and/or Star automobile agency. In the fall of 1923, a brief series of ads for the cars from L.M. Smith of Cane Valley appeared and quietly vanished from the pages of the News. From late spring through early autumn 1925, notices appeared weekly (or nearly so) from Reece Motor Co., "Columbia and Montpelier," touting the advantages of owning one of these automobiles. - JIM

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Bennett Motor Co. also sold the Star line of automobiles



2017-06-11 - Columbia, KY - Photo from the collection of JIM facsimile from Adair County News, Columbia, KY.
This is an ad for an earlier Star Cars dealer. An item in the Adair County News, in the fall of 1927 likely drew a fair amount of attention -- the announcement that Mr. Emery Bennett, Columbia businessman J.A. Schuler, and C.T. Stults, and Adair native then residing in Louisville, a man with considerable knowledge of dealing in cars, were "the proprietors of a new automobile sales company under the name of the Bennett Motor Company in the old Bank of Columbia building." - JIM

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