A Pillar, Beam And Plank Of The Community Closes

July 14, 1991|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff writer

The Talbott Lumber Co., said to be Ellicott City's oldest business, is selling its stock and closing after surviving floods, depressions and 146 years in business.

"They've been a stable part of the community for so long, it will be truly strange without them," said historian Joetta Cramm, who included the hardware and lumber company's granite building on Main Street in her walking tour of Ellicott City.

The company's owner, Milton Mazer, 68, said in a statement that the closing was "one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make," but that he wanted to spend more time with his family. The statement said the February death of his partner and brother-in-law, BenRosen, contributed to the decision.

"He's been working six days aweek for a long time, opening the store at 7:30 in the morning. And he wanted to spend some time with his grandchildren and relax a little bit," said his son, Baltimore attorney Robert Mazer.

The stone main building, built in 1905, and its accompanying two wooden buildings might be sold, but the elder Mazer could lease them to another business, his son said.

Store manager Charles Moxley said the company will probably sell out its stock and close by the first or second week in August.

Its loyal customers are sure to miss Talbott's special character.

"You could find things there that are not in the moremodern stores, such as decorative moldings to match what the builderused 30 years ago," Cramm said.

The store also had tongue-and-groove porch decking used in the construction of homes in the historic town of Oella, across the Patapsco from Ellicott City.

"I've used (the store) since we started rehabbing the village here. . . . They could find items that were difficult for us to get elsewhere," said Charles Wagandt, owner of the Oella Co., which is restoring the mill village.

Wagandt said his family, which owned the woolen cloth mill in Oella under the name W. J. Dickey and Sons Inc., had probably done business with the Talbott Lumber Co. since buying the mill in 1887.

"We're very sorry to see them close down. They were great people towork with."

To get to the second floor of Talbott's involves climbing a narrow wooden staircase. Stopping in the middle of the second floor last week, Moxley grabbed a rope hanging next to a huge pulley.

"I guarantee you're not going to see this in a new-time hardware store," he said, pointing down a large rectangular hole in the floor housing a hand-operated elevator. The elevator uses pulleys and a counter-weight to lift merchandise to the second floor.

Jack Reed, 54, has worked for Talbott's for about a year and has 20 years in the hardware business.

"We bought small quantities, not boxcars," like the large hardware and lumber companies do now, Reed said. "You just can't compete with the big operators anymore."

But Robert Mazer said retirement, not economics, closed the store.

"It hasn't been a very trendy business, and in that respect it's been different from a lot of the other businesses in Ellicott City," he said.

"It's a good old-fashioned lumber store."

Robert Mazer said it is unlikely the company could continue under a different manager or owner.

"It's hard to operate a business and sell it at the same time," he said, adding, "It could also take six months or more to sell a business, and he (his father) was anxious to retire."

If the business were bought, it would be more likely to sell hardware and not lumber, Mazer added.

Company owners Mazer and Rosen, who married daughters of thecompany's previous owner, Nathan Holzweig, had run the company sincethe early 1970s, more than a century after it grew out of a blacksmith's shop by the Patapsco River.

The location chosen by Edward A. Talbott in 1846 proved disastrous, however, with floods in 1866 and 1868 nearly wiping the business out.

With generous loans from friends and business associates, Talbott reopened at a new location on lower Main Street.

His son, E. Alexander Talbott, tried to run away to join the Southern forces in the Civil War, but the elder Talbott locked the restless 14-year-old in an attic to keep him safe to inheritthe business.

Before moving into its current quarters, Talbott's was for a time operated out of a yard across the street.

In 1945, the business was sold out of the Talbott family by Alexander's sons, Richard and Thomas, to Nathan Holzweig of Ellicott City and Nathan Kaplan of Baltimore.

The wall of the hardware store displays a reproduction of the front page of the Ellicott City Times of Aug. 16, 1945, proclaiming, "Japs Surrender -- World War II Ends." Next to that story is a detailed account of the Talbott sale.

The article said the lumber company was remembered by many city residents for its well-kept teams of horses that pulled delivery wagons up Main Street.

"The owners took great pride in the appearance of their horses, and it was with reluctance that they accepted the automobile truck as a necessity," it said.

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