Martin’s Vowell and Sons has long, rich history
Posted: Thursday, May 31, 2012 11:00 am
In 1922, John A. Vowell formed a partnership with his two sons, Morris Vowell, the present owners’ grandfather, and Graham Vowell, that they named Vowell and Sons and brought their lumber business into Martin, operating at more than one location including the current site of Puckett Lumber Company on Cleveland Street.
Seeing the need to expand their business, they purchased the land and building at the present site of Vowell and Sons on the corner of Broadway and Rebecca streets.
John A. Vowell died six months before the new land was purchased in 1942, and five years later in 1947, the mother and her two sons formed a corporation named Vowell and Sons, Inc. Graham Vowell retired to Florida in 1954, and Morris Vowell bought their mother’s portion of the business. His two sons, Morris Vowell Junior and John Mac Vowell, the present owners’ fathers, bought Graham’s portions. Morris Sr. and Morris Jr. worked at the company while John Mac was away serving in the military as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. During the 1950s, Vowell and Sons ventured into the ready-mix concrete business, forming a corporation named Martin Ready-mix. The company poured concrete all over West Tennessee from then until 2022, when the owners quit that business in order to expand and modernize their lumberyard.
In 1960, Vowell and Sons suffered the first of three major fires in an 11-year period. The three-story brick office building that was on the property when it was purchased burned to the ground. Two lumber sheds, four trucks and three concrete mixers were also destroyed in the fire. The destroyed office building was replaced by a modern one-story brick structure. It was on this office building that the Vowell family first strung Christmas lights up to the top of their two-way antenna, creating Martin’s largest Christmas tree. The top of the radio antenna was adorned with a lighted “star,” and green bulbs were strung along guide wires that anchored the antenna starting at the top of the building and going up to the star, creating the 150-foot tall silhouette of a tree that could be seen for miles around.
To this day, Vowell and Sons still maintains that “tree,” and many folks have stopped the Vowells on the streets to thank them for creating a holiday icon that they and their children have grown up with.
With 1964 came the second major fire that the company endured. The fire again destroyed the new office building that the family was so proud of. The local fire department was able to save the lumber sheds and other buildings on the property during the fire, but the owners had to re-build an office building. This time, a two-story office building was erected, still bearing the Christmas “tree” each year.
Morris Vowell Sr. passed away in 1966, and Morris Vowell Jr. ran the business from that time until John Mac Vowell retired from the Air Force in 1971 and joined his brother in running the business.
Vowell and Sons began selling face brick in the mid-1960s, a niche market for the business that is still engaged in today.
The third major fire to strike the business occurred in 1970, this time wiping out two of the larger lumber sheds on the property, promoting Morris to build a modern warehouse structure, which is still used today after modifications and additions.
Morris Jr.’s two sons, David and Richard, and John Mac’s son, Steve, each become involved in the family business between 1985 and 1990 making them the fifth-generation of the Vowell family to work for the business. They were slowly brought into the business and trained and groomed by John and Morris Jr. to be able to assume the reigns of the business in the future.
John Mac Vowell died suddenly in August 1992, and Morris Jr. helped David, Steve and Richard assume larger roles. Morris and his three junior partners continued to run Vowell and Sons, with Morris sharing the benefits of his 50-plus years in the lumber business with his younger partners. Morris Jr. died after a short illness in 2002, and David, Steve and Richard Vowell assumed the lead roles in Vowell and Sons, Inc. The concrete plant was closed that year and in 2033, the lumber yard was completely re-structured.
Three older, smaller lumber sheds were town down; the concrete plant was leveled; and in their place the trio built a modern, three-aisle drive-through lumber shed that would allow for business expansion to fulfill foreseeable future needs. The lumberyard was also covered in concrete.
In 2005, the company purchased land in Paducah, Ky., and opened a second location, which has grown in sales since it began. The brothers joked they enjoy the thought of being a “chain.” The Vowell family now has a sixth generation of potential owners coming along. Email the team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at 587-3828 for additional information. Business hours are 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Visit Vowell and Sons at its website at www.vowellandsons or check out the local business on Facebook.
Vowell and Sons is a member of the Martin Business Association and earned the designation of the MBA’s June spotlight on business. Visit MBA’s website at www.martinbusinessassocation.com to learn more about the MBA.