Anyone who has ever set foot in Hill Hardware immediately gets the sensation that this is a building full of history. The butter churns and horse collars that can be seen on the main floor, a large wooden ship placed on the catwalk above, and the wood floor that creaks beneath your feet are all signs that this is no ordinary hardware store. Although over the years Hill Hardware has made necessary changes to adapt to the times, it has retained the look and feel of an old fashioned store.
In December of 1901, Hill Hardware was born. The original location was in the building where Trustmark Bank currently sits. Incorporated by Mr. W.A. Hill, the store opened for business with a simple philosophy. His idea was to have as much as you could possibly sell under one roof. This philosophy has continued to be a major part of the store to this day. Originally the store functioned as what most people would consider a general store. Items ranging from tools to groceries and everything in between could be found in Hill Hardware. Services such as wagon repairs and the buying and selling of cotton and other various goods were a big part of the early days of the company.
The business continued to add product and increase its customer base until a fire in 1916 destroyed the original building. The same year, Hill Hardware moved into its permanent location the Barnes and Ruffin Company, a building that was constructed in 1903. It was in 1919 that St. Albans Masonic lodge #60 bought the building. Today, they continue to operate here on the third floor.
As society was changing, Hill Hardware changed with it. Adapting to this change is a major reason why the store has been able to stay in business for more than a century. A great example of this is the automobile. The car revolutionized how society worked and Hill Hardware knew this. In 1917 the share holders of the store formed the Universal Motor Company. Wagons and plows were beginning replaced with trucks and tractors. It was Hill Hardware that sold the first Ford car in Marion County along with the first gallon of gasoline. The county’s first gas pump was located in the front of the building on Main St. It was in 1918 when a Ford truck replaced the traditionally horse drawn carriage as the stores delivery system.
Mr. Curtis Morgan was hired by the company in 1902. In 1919, Morgan bought out the other stockholders making him the new owner of the company. The business went through some bad years during the Great Depression and the early stages of World War II but somehow managed to survive. It was in this era that the store would change and adapt in order the meet the needs of the community. Morgan’s son, Van Morgan began working at the store in 1932 and eventually became the owner when his father passed away in 1959. Throughout his time as owner, the business continued to thrive as a vital part of the community.
In July of 1974, Van Morgan sold Hill Hardware to Leon and Patty Bohuslav. It was Leon who coined the phrase “if we ain’t got it, you probably don’t need it.” Leon was hesitant to change the store but was forced to make some concessions based out of necessity. For example, when suppliers stopped taking call in orders, the store needed a fax machine. A computer was eventually bought in order to process claims. It was only a few years ago when the store stopped using an old rotary dial phone. Leon and Patty became major parts of the community and the store thrived during the 37 years as owners. Leon was known as the “Mayor of Main St.” However, in 2010 Patty passed away and Leon followed her one year later. In 2011 Hill Hardware was purchased by its current owners David and Tanya Knight.
David and Tanya hope to keep Hill Hardware an “old store” while making the necessary changes that the modern era demands. Although Hill Hardware has seen many changes throughout the years, the overall essence of the store remains. Things like quality customer service, small town charm, and over a century of tradition remain in the walls and in the heart of this regional landmark.
In a photograph taken when cotton was king, almost forty bales of cotton and six men attempt to ride up Main Street on a wagon. Apparently the going is slow as some of the oxen have decided to take a rest in the dirt of the street. The handsome Barnes & Ruffin Building can be seen in the background which is today occupied by Hill Hardware Company. (Courtesy of Marion County Historical Society.)
Main Street likely originated as a segment of the River Road, constructed during the early settlement period. This historic road once ran from the Choctaw Territory south through Monticello, Columbia, Fordsville and beyond, paralleling the east bank of the Pearl River. In this famous circa 1907 scene, boardwalks and ramps provide access to the storefronts along Main Street. Note the chickens scratching their way about the street. Photograph by Benjamin Franklin Mobley. (Courtesy of Marion County Historical Society.)