Remembering the Thomas Fritts and Cash-Melton Hardware Companies

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 - by Harmon Jolley
Cash-Melton Hardware was a successor to Thomas Fritts & Company.
Cash-Melton Hardware was a successor to Thomas Fritts & Company.

The Warehouse Row mixed-use complex at 1110 Market Street preserves historic buildings connected to Chattanooga’s railroad past.  When I was growing up, we shopped at the P&S Paper and School Supply which was one of the tenants.   As a downtown worker, I frequently ate lunch in the food court.  Anyone remember Larry’s Gourmet Burgers, and the employee who called out, “Burger, burger, burger”?

There was once a similar large building diagonally located across Market Street from Warehouse Row.

  The building housed a large hardware retail store that had different owners over time.

Thomas W. Fritts founded his eponymous hardware store in the late 1800’s.  Mr. Fritts had previously worked with his brothers, Benjamin and Jacob, in the steamboat business.  Jacob was killed in a steamboat explosion (a common occurrence) at Washington Landing in 1875.  Benjamin left his river-based career for a partnership in the Fritts and Wiehl wholesale drug company. 

Thomas W. Fritts and Company was located at 1017-1107 Market Street.  The firm sold farm implements, harnesses, buggies, wagons.  If it was a need for something that neighed, they sold it.   Mr. Fritts resided several blocks away up the hill at 550 Vine Street.

In 1913, James A. Cash, Charles L. Hall, and Thomas N. Melton became officers of the Cash-Melton Hardware Company, a successor to the company of Thomas W. Fritts.  According to the 1914 Chattanooga Commercial Review, the company was a wholesale and retail dealer in hardware, guns, cutlery, tools, queensware, and sporting goods.  They also continued the products that Tom Fritts had offered for the horse, of course.

James Albion Cash, president and treasurer of the store, was born in 1866 at Smith’s Crossroads (present Dayton, TN).  He moved to Chattanooga at age 18.  He served as Chattanooga alderman and commissioner, spanning a change in the form of the city’s government.   Mr. Cash led the development of Lovell Field and the Brainerd Fire Hall, and also advocated a river bridge at Main Street (which was never built, but might have changed our transportation history).

Thomas Norton Melton, secretary of the merchant, was born in 1869 at Collierville, TN, east of Memphis.  He came to Chattanooga at age 19 due to the business boom of East Chattanooga and Highland Park.   Mr. Melton worked for Carter-Magill Hardware before helping to found Cash-Melton Hardware. 

Cash-Melton Hardware failed in 1931 as a result of the Great Depression.  Thomas Melton continued working for Crisman Hardware until retirement in 1958.

I could not determine a date when the Fritts/Cash-Melton building was demolished.  The 1917 Sanborn Fire Insurance map clearly shows the building, with a large railroad yard with Y’s and switches in back of the building.   

In 1926, Chattanooga’s city leaders led a project to extend Broad Street south of Ninth, and connect on the other side to the existing Whiteside Street.   That involved removing rail lines and buildings, one of which could have been Cash-Melton.   According to the 1927 city directory, Cash-Melton had by then relocated to a smaller building at 135-137 Market Street, where they offered “everything in hardware.”  

If you have information on the Fritts/Cash-Melton hardware businesses, or know whatever happened to the folks connected with Larry’s Gourmet Burgers, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.  I’ll update this article with your feedback.

Photograph from 1920 showing that railroads kept Broad and Whiteside streets from being connected.
Photograph from 1920 showing that railroads kept Broad and Whiteside streets from being connected.

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