What Did That Building Used to Be? Edwards & LeBron Jewelry

  • Sunday, August 27, 2006
  • Harmon Jolley

Chattanooga was a hubbub of activity during the week of September 15, 1913. The Chattanooga News reported that electric power would be produced at the new Hale’s Bar Dam within a few weeks. Nyberg announced that its Anderson, Indiana automobile plant might be closed in order to consolidate manufacturing in Chattanooga. Trains had transported tens of thousands of veterans for the Grand Army of the Republic reunion. At 805 Market Street, Fred W. Edwards and Otto K. LeBron were hosting the grand opening of their new jewelry store building.

Edwards and LeBron had each begun their jewelry careers by serving as apprentices. Edwards, a native of Canada, had arrived in Chattanooga in 1885 after stops in Stanton, Michigan and Augusta, Georgia. His area of interest was in diamond-cutting. LeBron came to the city in 1889 after learning watch-making in his father’s business in Galena, Illinois.

Fred Edwards joined the Chattanooga jewelry firm of E.P. Durando, who had been in business since 1872. Meanwhile, Otto LeBron was establishing his career at the store of W.F. Fischer. The passing of Mr. Durando in 1902 brought Edwards and LeBron together in the same business. Edwards already owned part-interest in the Durando store, and LeBron bought the interest owned by Mr. Durando. The two men established Edwards & LeBron as a premier jewelry business in the south, and manufactured jewelry in addition to selling it.

Edwards & LeBron decided to move their business a few doors to the north from 813 to 805 Market Street. The Chattanooga News described the new jewelry store as being constructed of “buff brick, surmounting a base of antique verde marble; the rose window of art glass set like a jewel in the center of the second story.” Mr. LeBron himself had been the designer of the building, using the same artistic skills he had used to design the jeweled crowns worn by Chattanooga’s Spring Festival queens for many years.

The neighboring businesses of Edwards & LeBron included some names that were long a part of the Chattanooga retail scene. At 801 Market was W.F. Fischer Brothers. The Economy Shoe Store was at the 807 address. Hardie and Caudle sold clothing for many years at 809 Market Street. One could be ready to leave town quickly by purchasing a Southern Railway ticket at their office at 817 Market, and then slyly say, “I’ve never played this game before” at Mike Quinn’s pool hall at 827 Market.

Edwards & LeBron’s store reflected the affluence that a part of Chattanooga was able to enjoy after the area had become a major manufacturing and transportation center. The first floor contained the retail operation. Fixtures were of mahogany, and manufactured by Georgia Show Case of Columbus. The store boasted a six-foot lobby with grand mirrors. On the second story was the manufacturing department.

Among the items in the display cases were Hawkes Cut Glass, which was elegant enough to be used at the White House. There was sterling silver from LaPierre Manufacturing of New York City, Waltham watches, Seth Thomas clocks, colorfully glazed Rookwood Pottery, and Royal Doulton china. During the Christmas season of 1925, Edwards & LeBron encouraged patrons to buy “Gifts That Last” at their store.

Sadly, the 1925 Christmas season was Fred Edwards’ last, for he passed away a few days after closing out the season at the store. LeBron continued the business, forming a corporation in 1927 with Reuben L. Hudson joining as vice-president. In 1936, the corporation was eliminated in favor of a limited partnership of LeBron, Hudson, and the heirs of Mr. Edwards.

In addition to running his jewelry business, Otto LeBron was active in civic affairs in Chattanooga. He was a charter member of the Rotary Club, and active in the Moccasin club which later became the Mountain City club. LeBron was also president of the First Federal Savings & Loan. He died in 1942 at his home at 115 Morningside Drive in Ferger Place.

The Chattanooga Times covered the seventy-ninth birthday celebration of Edwards & LeBron on October 23, 1949. Lavish displays of rings, watches, and sterling silver were on display, with some of the items being loaned to Edwards & LeBron for the event. The celebration may have been a last hurrah for the store, however, as the 1950’s brought a succession of owners and some financial troubles.

In 1961, Edwards & LeBron vacated its store at 805 Market Street, and the company ceased operation. A going-out-of-business sale was held, and patrons were told in advertisements that “it will now pay you to buy all of your gifts at the sale for Christmas, Graduation, Anniversaries, Weddings, Birthdays, etc.” Wow, that’s quite a shopping list!

The store front was vacant for the next few years until Mill Discount Drug Store moved into the building in 1965. Mill, Scottie Stores, and Economy Five to a Dollar
were popular downstore stores where one could shop for bargains, such as Colgate toothpaste bought straight from a large cardboard box.

Other neighbors on the west side of the 800 block of Market Street in the early 1960’s:
813 – Krystal
821 – T.H. Payne stationery and office supplies
833 – Peoples Credit
835 – Hardy Shoes
839 – Stein’s

Hardie and Caudle was still there, as was Fischer Brothers.

Mill Discount Drugs remained open into the 1980’s. A Hallmark card shop replaced it by 1990, and remains in this historic building today. The next time that you visit this card shop, look at the top of the front of the building as you enter. You will get a glimpse of a very nice arched window, and the store front that welcomed owners Fred Edwards and Otto LeBron each day.

If you have memories of Edwards & Lebron, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.

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