By DONNA HUNT
Christina Moon sold the Traveler’s Hotel a while back then took a blind leap of fate by buying, sight-unseen, a building at 307 West Main. She began planning what she wanted to do with the early Denison building. After getting approval from the Historic Preservation Board in June, work began this past week and what she found has the downtown talking.
Underneath the aluminum slipcover on the front of the building that was occupied by an optometrist in recent years, a real treasure of Denison’s early days was exposed, a sign where Esler Paint and Paper Company once operated and windows and trim that were a real find.
First I knew of the excitement was when Mary Karam, a devout downtown business owner who lives in a loft above her gallery, put a message on social media directed to History Gals wanting to know about the Esler Paint and Paper Company sign that had just been uncovered at 307 West Main.
Being a History Gal with my friend Mavis Anne Bryant, I immediately started digging. However, I wasn’t the only one. First Paul Jennings answered Mary that Esler’s was where you went for your paint and wall paper rolls and other related products. "Very nice people," he commented.
Next Jim Sears, former Denisonian now living in Bloomington, IL, the best researcher I have ever seen, immediately began looking for information about the business and found that it wasn’t just any paint store, but TEXAS’ OLDEST PAINT STORE, according to an advertisement from The Denison Press on June 22, 1942.
Esler’s firm was said to have painted more houses in Denison and this territory than any other store. A one gallon can of Esler’s Tri-White House Paint sold for $3.50 and Esler’s had the most complete stock of wallpaper than any other store.
My answer to Mary was that Paul and Jim answered very well.
Jim found that Esler Paint and Paper first appeared at 307 West Main in the Denison City Directory in 1927. Prior to that time they were at 501 West Main and there are no listings in the directories for the number 307 between the years when Scott and Jennings moved out before 1911 and when Esler Paint and Paper moved in around 1927.
Jerry Hightower added a note that his dad, W.F. Hightower operated his Chief News Agency at 501 West Main at one time. The building at that time was owned by jeweler Elmo "Mo" Reddick.
Jim found that in the 1876-1877 Denison City Directory a grocery store at 307 West Main was operated by Edmund Dumont and Martin Chichet. In 1887 a watchmaker and jeweler named John W. Wilkinson was at 307 and in 1891 Fenton and Louisa M. Young operated a store there that sold toys, notions, china and glassware. In 1896-99 it was part of the White Elephant Saloon.
In those same years a Black barber named Joseph Thompson worked there. In 1903 it was George R. Howell’s saloon and in 1905-06 it was a pool room operated by C.W. Senti and another person named Carter. In 1907 there were three businesses listed at 307 – Dispatch publishing, a shoe store operated by L.B. Eastham and a dressmaker named Mrs. Mattie Sherburne.
A Dallas Morning News article dated March 21, 1948, told of a Denison man operating a unique establishment and how a Rosebud, TX man, J.A. Tarver, 79, took exception to him being the state’s oldest active merchant. The article said that W.M. Esler of Esler Paint and Paper Company began his business in 1887 and operated it for 61 plus years and was distinguished as the oldest retail paint and paper firm in the state.
Esler had 48 colors at that time although Mr. Esler said most wanted white. He came to Texas from Petrolia, KA when he was 16 because everyone else was. He settled in Denison because his aunt’s husband, Jim Leslie, was living here. After serving as a painter’s apprentice for three years and a paste boy, he opened his own store.
Esler came to Denison in 1879 and went into the field of painting and paperhanging, working with a partner, J. Clifford. Nine years later the two men established the Paint and Paper Store. Esler did his own mixing with a special paint mill. He soon bought out his partner and the store was known as Esler’s Paint Store. The business first was established at 609 West Main, later moved to 501 West Main and then to the 307 West Main address.
Jim even located two advertisements for the paint store, that were published in The Denison Press and The Denison Herald.
Mr. Esler, Texas first paint store establisher, died in April 1948. He was one of Denison’s earliest settlers and lived at 1020 West Morton, where he and his wife, the former Maude Taylor of Sherman married in 1889 and raised two children, Clifford M. Esler and Mrs. J.R. Whitmore, both of Denison. He was active for more than 50 years in Denison, contributing liberally to life in the civic, business and religious activities. He had lived here for 69 years.
He was born the son of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Esler on Aug. 15, 1863, at Tyronville, PA, west to school in Meadville, PA.
Mr. Esler often said that he never regretted establishing his home in Denison as a place to rear and educate his family.
Christina Moon has plans to bring the front of the building back to its original façade and it will become Main Street Gallery Shops. Two shops already occupy the building, a gallery owned by Brandon Gabbart and a boutique.
The loft of the building is in good condition, she said, adding that she hopes to establish two lofts upstairs. Repair work is presently going on to restore the windows.
Donna Hunt is formed editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.