Top: View of Watlington’s Store viewed from the grassy Court Square in Yanceyville.
Middle: Close-up of Watlington’s Store, showing details of a 1970’s remodel of the first floor, using blue-green Formica panels, frosted aluminum strips and frosted aluminum doors; and a 1980’s remodel of the second story, utilizing vertical strips of aluminum siding.
Bottom: View of front advertising window, where general merchandise stores in the early 1900’s could display goods you would find inside the store, to entice you into entering. Past the windows, across Main Street is, left to right, the Caswell Theatre, the Watlington Accountant office (most likely originally a brick front, at some point overdone in a 1950’s black and white motif) and a barber shop.
Watlington’s Store was a small-town department or clothing store, now closed (it must have closed in late Fall 2008 or later, as I remember visiting in Fall 2008 and seeing an Autumn display in the window, utilizing red, yellow and brown leaves, and clothing). The building, though selling different goods (farm supplies, general merchandise, clothing), has been the Watlington’s Store for many years. There are many people with the surname “Watlington” in Caswell County, dating back generations. The name is found on many storefronts and businesses in Yanceyville.
The building started life around 1900 as a brick built rectangle, two-story commercial building of a simple style found in every town in North Carolina. The front, in the usual style, was comprised of a front door and two large windows, one on each side of the first-floor, where the store owner could advertise wares and entice citizens to enter. The second story was fronted by 3 simple wood frame windows, and finished off with a sawtooth pattern of bricks, for a bit of decoration and expertise shown by the brick mason.
I found a picture of the storefront from the late 1970’s, which shows the blue-green formica panels already in place as a way to modernize the look of the store. This modernizing look became popular in the 1960’s, but fashion is slow to come to the littlest places, and so this remodel might have been done as late as the 1970’s. The picture also shows the second story brick still in place, though a coat of thick white paint has been splashed over the brick.
After the time period of the photograph I found, sometime in the 1980’s, the vertical strips of aluminum siding were applied to the second story for another makeover. I remember the tan color of the siding to be very popular at the time; the color of all my grandfather’s slacks, and the predominant color of new Ford Fairmonts rolling off of the assembly line.
The “modernization” of historic structures used to frustrate me, but now I find the life cycle amusing. The general merchandise store, selling all types of goods, farm supplies, groceries, clothing etc. persisted and thrived in the first 50 years of the 20th Century, even though there were similar stores in town, even on the Court Square (A.H. Motz store, not one block away). At some point, the storefront turned into a more modern Department Store, with clothing as its main seller.
The store probably started to face pressure from the bigger city, and bigger department stores of Danville Virginia, 14 miles, and now, in the 1960’s and 1970’s, a quick and enjoyable car ride away. The blue-green Formica panels mimicked the look of the Belk’s or Thalheimer’s or even Roses department stores nearby.
In the 1980’s, the owner, faced with having to paint that damn second story another coat of white again, probably felt the aluminum siding was a permanent fix, as promised by the siding salesman that most likely stopped by every month or so to remind the owner of the “wonders of aluminum siding today.”
Today the building looks, well…comical.
The future? In some cities and towns, someone with a bit of money and spirit, full of vision, would buy a building in this condition, meticulously strip away all the modernization, and then sink half a life’s savings and the better part of two years restoring the building back to an earlier time. Say 1920’s aura with hidden 2009 plumbing and electricity. Then, they would open a coffee shop with wi-fi, or a boutique with locally made handbags and dried flowers and re-purposed furniture. We’ll see if that happens in Yanceyville North Carolina.