The Big Store

The corner of Baldwin Avenue and 8th street has always been the center for commerce in DeFuniak Springs. From the earliest years directly after the founding of the town with the railroad, this spot began to grow because of the proximity to the train depot and access to the Chautauqua campus without actually being inside the gated lake yard. The Big Store location originally held the Opera House Store and several other buildings held and operated by the Cawthon family. By 1898, Baldwin Avenue was a bustling commerce district full of hotel and boarding houses, general stores and shipping houses.  

Then tragedy struck. It is believed that on September 19, 1898, a fire broke out in the back room of the Cawthon Building. In notes compiled from writing of Harold Gillis we find, “The intense heat from the Cawthon building soon fired the meat market of D. L. McLeod on the corner and rapidly did it move eastward” burning the freight depot, post office, Chautauqua Hotel, and every building between. When the fire was finally extinguished, 28 building had been destroyed including several homes, the Cawthon building, Lake View Hotel, Landrum Drug Store, and the New York House.  

Then tragedy struck. It is believed that on September 19, 1898, a fire broke out in the back room of the Cawthon Building. In notes compiled from writing of Harold Gillis we find, “The intense heat from the Cawthon building soon fired the meat market of D. L. McLeod on the corner and rapidly did it move eastward” burning the freight depot, post office, Chautauqua Hotel, and every building between. When the fire was finally extinguished, 28 building had been destroyed including several homes, the Cawthon building, Lake View Hotel, Landrum Drug Store, and the New York House.  

Though much was lost, much was to be gained on Baldwin Avenue. The business community set to rebuilding bigger and better than before. The wooden frame buildings were replaced with brick and mortar. Charles Murray Sr., a wealthy businessman of the day, purchased much of Baldwin between 8th and 9th street. Mr. Murray owned so much of the area that other businesses located between 8th and 9th advertised their location as “on the Murray Block” in ink blotter ads. Murray was a great entrepreneur; operating a merry-go-round, skating rink, and shooting gallery on the Murray Block for visitors to enjoy.  

Though much was lost, much was to be gained on Baldwin Avenue. The business community set to rebuilding bigger and better than before. The wooden frame buildings were replaced with brick and mortar. Charles Murray Sr., a wealthy businessman of the day, purchased much of Baldwin between 8th and 9th street. Mr. Murray owned so much of the area that other businesses located between 8th and 9th advertised their location as “on the Murray Block” in ink blotter ads. Murray was a great entrepreneur; operating a merry-go-round, skating rink, and shooting gallery on the Murray Block for visitors to enjoy.  

William and Burruss Cawthon replaced the Opera House Store with an imposing oversized building they aptly named The Big Store. Large advertisements were painted on the front and 8th street side of the building announcing the store held Dry Goods, Notions, Clothing, Shoes, Staple and Fancy Groceries, Furniture, Hardware, Stoves, Hay, Grain, Farm Supplies, Wagons, ECT. If a person was in need of something and the Big Store did not have it, chances are it did not exist in 1900.  

William and Burruss Cawthon replaced the Opera House Store with an imposing oversized building they aptly named The Big Store. Large advertisements were painted on the front and 8th street side of the building announcing the store held Dry Goods, Notions, Clothing, Shoes, Staple and Fancy Groceries, Furniture, Hardware, Stoves, Hay, Grain, Farm Supplies, Wagons, ECT. If a person was in need of something and the Big Store did not have it, chances are it did not exist in 1900.  

Baldwin Avenue continued to grow, prosper and expand. Along with the Cawthon State Bank Building directly across from The Big Store, The First Nation Bank opened its doors. Located on the corner of Baldwin and 7th street, the bank purchased an O. B. McClinton cast iron, four faced clock for the town in 1924. The clock is a beautiful piece of history that has been restored to working order and continues to serve shoppers and businesses in downtown DeFuniak. Between the two banks and further on both east and west, Baldwin Avenue filled itself with drug stores, restaurants, jewelry stores, a theater, markets of several sorts and by the 1930’s an automobile dealership.  

At its height, Baldwin Avenue was the central place for commerce of retail and wholesale and the heart of DeFuniak Springs. But as with most communities, the advent of the shopping mall and discount markets moved much of the business away from downtown. For many years, the downtown was neglected, and the buildings have fallen into disrepair. But just like those men who rebuilt after the fire of 1898, a great investment is being made in our downtown. Buildings are being refurbished, businesses are being recruited, and an air of excitement and enjoyment is returning to our community centered around our downtown.

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