D.B. Cox Department Store building turns 100

Posted on Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 10:13 am

Another year, another centennial celebration along Railroad Avenue.

This time the west side of the tracks received a historical marker, at the building currently housing the Iron Horse Restaurant and McKinney & Co.

But from 1913 to about 1960, it was home to “the Miller & Rhoads of Ashland,” D.B. Cox Department Store.

Ashlanders gathered May 4 for a plaque unveiling at the D.B. Cox Department Store building on Railroad Avenue, now the Iron Horse Restaurant.

The Ashland Main Street Association and Ashland Museum honored the institution by dedicating a historical marker on the building Saturday morning in an event that seemed to double as a Cox family reunion.

Art McKinney, the current owner, supported the marker effort and took the Cox family on a tour of the building prior to the ceremony.

Mayor Faye Prichard welcomed the crowd gathered outside the Iron Horse.

“We’re one of the few downtowns of our age in Central Virginia, period, and one of the very few that have managed to retain their character, to really take care of their sense of place, (and) take care of their buildings,” Prichard said.

She described what it means for a building to reach its 100th year.

“We took care of each other and we took care of our town for over 100 years, and for that, we have many, many people to thank,” Prichard said. “The Cox family, … what you’ve given this town in terms of your stewardship and your love is immeasurable.”

McKinney presented his definition of stewardship.

“At the end of the day, you don’t own anything. You’re not getting out of this with anything but memories, so it’s important to take care of what you’ve got.”

He continued, “I think the highest praise I could offer anybody is you left things a little bit better than you found them, and I think that’s an important thing to carry through life.”

McKinney added, “I do a lot of work in Europe, and old has a different definition in Europe. One-hundred years is a pretty good start.”

Charles Cannon, Iron Horse manager, commented, “It’s hard to believe this building was erected back in 1913. In that day, folks were talking about Woodrow Wilson becoming president, Henry Ford developing the first moving assembly line, and the 16th amendment, which created the federal income tax system, which we all enjoy today.

“Since then much has changed, but the presence of the Cox family endures, and I’m grateful to call them my friends.”

Three Cox relatives spoke during the ceremony, beginning with Billy Cox, great-grandson of Duncan Balfour Cox.

Billy Cox provided some of the history of the building and the Cox store.

He said D.B. Cox and his wife, Sally, moved to Ashland in 1867, where they would raise seven children and D.B. would start his business that year.

The store began as an addition to his family residence on the site currently occupied by the Ashland Library, and he later opened a second store across the tracks. However, a large fire destroyed that store in 1893.

They rebuilt, first on the site now occupied by the Caboose Wine & Cheese Shop, where they sold groceries, hardware, feed, and fertilizer.

“They began to become one of the leading merchants in Ashland. He and his partner, [his nephew] Jim Cox, began to be a mainstay on Railroad Avenue,” Billy Cox said.

“After purchasing two lots here on the corner of Thompson Street and Railroad Avenue, they built this grand affair, which contained D.B. Cox store. People around called it the Miller & Rhoads of Ashland,” he continued.

Representing the other side of the family was Jack Stevenson, Jim Cox’s grandson, though a passing train pre-empted his remarks.

“One thing in Ashland has not changed,” he quipped.

Stevenson said that his grandfather, born and raised on Hanover Avenue, “was a wonderful, generous man with a good sense of humor.”

He added, “He was a great merchant and also a civic leader in Ashland. He worked at, co-owned, then owned D.B. Cox and Co. for roughly 60 years and worked until the day he died.”

Stevenson said, “My grandfather, partnering with his uncle, D.B. Cox, had the foresight to build this quality building back in 1913 … to expand and provide the people of Ashland and Hanover and surrounding areas a first-class department store.”

Stevenson worked at the store as a teenager.

“It was a fine institution staffed with fine local people. I learned what true customer service is,” he said.

The final speaker was Fan Etienne, granddaughter of D.B. Cox.

She described her grandfather as an entrepreneur with several interests.

“He even patented a design for barrel tops, and he had a dairy. … He was a very interesting person, and very much a part of the community, as all of the Coxes have happened to be since then.”

Etienne said, “We of course are thankful and grateful for the recognition, our family is. … You know, Cox’s was open until about 9 o’clock on Saturday nights so the country people could come to town and do their shopping. That’s service.”

The event marked two years in a row of centennial celebrations in downtown Ashland. Last year, across-the-tracks neighbor Cross Brothers Grocery celebrated its 100th anniversary.

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