By John Balch
Phil TerPhNews-Leader staff
In 1910 – four years after the first diamond was discovered in Murfreesboro – a Prescott businessman expanded his hardware business to include a Murfreesboro location. Today, diamonds are still found and that same hardware store is still open.
On Jan. 26-28, Murfreesboro Hardware, which was purchased in January, 1917 by brothers Frank and A.P. Terrell, will celebrate its 100th anniversary in the Terrell family with sales, giveaways, food and plenty of memories. The Murfreesboro Chamber of Commerce will join in the celebration and has named the hardware as January’s Business of the Month.
On Friday, Jan. 27, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., the public is invited to stop by for a free hamburger or hot dog. Many history pieces are expected to be on display and the first three customers who bring in the oldest items purchased at the store (along with receipt for proof) will win gift cards.
The store initially opened under the name Prescott Hardware of Murfreesboro, but was renamed Murfreesboro Hardware in 1917 when the Terrell brothers took over. The brothers owned the store until 1949 when they sold out to A.P.’s son, Robert, and his wife, Louella, upon Robert’s return from World War II. The hardware was located in a building built and leased by an early businessman, H.M. Ross, until 1965 when it moved next door to its current location just off the Pike County Courthouse square on South Washington. The “Ross” building still stands today, one portion still owned by the Ross family and the other owned by the Terrells.
Vintage photographs of the hardware’s beginnings show just how things have changed over the 100-plus years. One photo shows the storefront porch crowded with, among other things, people, plows, kegs of nails, a barrel of kerosene and a dripping sorghum mill. On the dirt road out front, which leads to what is now the Crater of Diamonds State Park, is a horse-drawn hearse carrying a coffin, which local historian, the late Bobbie Hendrix, said were common hardware merchandise at the time.
“We don’t sell coffins anymore, thank goodness,” laughed Phil Terrell, who started working in the store around 1975 and is the only one of Robert and Louella’s five children that still works at the hardware. The other Terrell children include Ray, Jean Shahan, Sarita Floyd and Lance. All three boys worked at the store at one time or another.
Louella started working at the store in 1971 and carried on after Robert died in 1996. “My children were in school and I wanted to see people,” she said.
Now at age 93, Louella still works most every day at the store, sitting sternly at the desk near the huge steel safe purchased in 1910. Though she has cut back her hours and doesn’t wait on customers anymore, Louella still keeps everyone on their toes while she keeps the company books, pays invoices and works up payroll.
“Oh, her mind is still very sharp,” Phil said. “She’ll still catch a mistake and say, ‘Phil, I’m going to fire you.’”
Louella learned all the ins-and-outs of the store from her late husband. “Some of my fondest memories of the hardware are my husband teaching me about everything, he was a very patient man,” she said. “I’m still learning every day.”
Though Phil and Louella recall different memories from so many years in business – Phil playing on the mattresses as a child in the old Ross building and Louella with her “your word was your bond” credit policy – both said the employees who have come and gone played a big role in the store’s longevity.
“I’ve hired a lot of people over the years, gotten to know them and they are my good friends now,” Louella said. “Thanks to all the ones who are gone and the hands that I have now, you have helped me and I appreciate it.”
Phil started as summer help when he was about 16. Some employee names he recalled are Ronnie McKinnon, Terry Thomas, Homer Davis, Curtis Turner Jr., Dwight Turner and Freeman Henderson. (Henderson recalled in a 2005 Nashville Leader article that he was working at the hardware in 1956 when he was more or less tricked by Rattler Coach Woody Robertson into becoming the public address “Voice of the Rattlers” – a title he kept for 50 years.)
“Seems like at one point everyone worked here,” Phil remembered, “and there was always something going on, something to do.”
The store has endured more than a century of change, but the Terrells said loyal customers keep the doors open. “I want to thank all the people of Murfreesboro and surrounding towns for trading at the hardware,” Louella said. “I am proud of the fact that Phil and I have kept the hardware operating all these years.”