Remembering Fillmore's Past:
Dewey's Garden Center
By Ellen Finley
Note: Dewey's Garden Center burned in May, 1989, less than a year after this story was written.
A city’s Centennial Year (1988) calls attention to the past. Even without the reminder of a Centennial Fillmore never seems far removed from its history because of the may old landmarks which are daily remembrances of the past. A perfect example is a truly remarkable building, Dewey’s Garden Center, located on Main near the foot of Fillmore Street.
Take a good look at this structure next time you go by. Behind the open air flower display and the main shopping area rises an old, weather-beaten, corrugated store-front topped by an ornamented cornice, each side of which ends in an ornate scroll. Now walk back along the left side of the building next, a Quonset hut; and then, from the high store-front on back, an old galvanized tin structure which may have been constructed in early 1888.
Franklin Dewey standing in front of the Garden Center
That old galvanized tin structure used to stand on the northeast corner of Main and Central where the Bank of A. Levy is today. It is thought to be the first floor of a two-story building erected by Caswell Carl Elkins early in 1888. The Elkins family lived for a time on the top floor; general merchandise sold below. During the next ten years, as Mr. Elkins became more and more involved with the citrus industry and other ventures, he leased his store and stock to a succession of men who, each in turn, also served as postmaster as Mr. Elkins had one: L. H. Amsbury with his partner George S Barnes; C. G. Willman; James Duncan; and James Duncan with his partner Richard Stephens. In addition to serving as the post office the store was Fillmore’s election headquarters, votes being cast in an improvised ballot box made by cutting a slit in the sliding cover of a ten-pound, rectangular wooden Kingsford starch box.
In 1989, when C. C. Elkins sold his stock and store to C. A Harmonson, the former occupants Duncan and Stephens, moved across to the northwest corner taking the post office with them. For a time, the Harmonsons lived up over their store. After they moved, the top floor was occupied by the Woodmen of the World, an early insurance company. In 1903, a raging fire destroyed much of that area of Main Street. The top floor of Harmonson’s store sustained heavy damage. It was renovated to a one-story building with a high corrugated front topped by an ornamented cornice, each side of which ended in an ornate scroll.
Shortly after the fire, Harmonson took as a partner his son-in-law, Bill Rood. In August 1909, Harmonson retired from the business, and, in 1910 Rood sold to Ross Buchman, V. E. Cunningham, and T. F. Fury. The store was then known as Buchman and Company. In 1916, when plans were being made for a new State Bank to be built on that corner, Buchman sold out to S. Benson. A month later, the Co-Op Cash Grocery took over the store, operating a “basket grocery”. Sometime before October 17, 1917, when the last building on that corner was removed to make way for the bank, the old store was moved to in its new location where it has remained since.
In its new location, the old store was first used as a warehouse by J. D. McClean who had the United Mercantile Company located on the west side of Central about the middle of the block. After some years, the warehouse was taken by John Inadomi whose grocery business was on Main Street between Clay and Mountain View. Next the old building was used as a feed store, owned by Lester Hooper and Roscoe Krieder. In March 1945, they sold to Clarence and Viola Everson who called their business the Santa Clara Valley Feed Store. In 1947, Franklin Dewey became a partner with Clarence Everson. At that point, for some reason, the word “store” was dropped from the name. Their partnership was dissolved in June 1949, and Franklin Dewey became the sole owner of Dewey’s Feed and Nursery.
Shortly after this needing more space, Mr. Dewey had a Quonset hut built by an Oxnard firm, moved here, and then assembled by Ed Rice, a local contractor. The Quonset hut was placed in front of the old building. In 1951, a prefab building from Dewey’s Santa Susannah store was moved here to be used a pet shop and gift shop. The feed store and nursery continued as before. In 1956, Dewey remodeled his structure, keeping the basic sections of the old store, the Quonset hut, and the prefab building. The present gift shop was opened at this time with Mr. Dewey’s wife, Mildred, in charge. The old store was made over to some extent into a kind of upstairs room for storage and office space. The Deweys insisted that the high old store-front be left in place. This decision was met by a storm of criticism from customer and friends. But the Deweys stood firm. The high store-front was part of Fillmore’s history and they refused to part with the old landmark. In 1970, Franklin and Mildred Dewey sold the Garden Center to their son Bill and his wife Ellen, though the elder couple stayed on until their retirement in 1972. Then, in October 1979, the business was purchased by the present owners Gavin and Kathy Downs.
There remains some question as to the origin of the old building which is so important a part of Dewey’s Garden Center of today. Is it the first floor of Judge Elkin’s store, built in 1999? Or was that structure torn down at the time of the fire and entirely new building constructed in 1903 or 1904? Mr. Dewey feels strongly that the old store is the one built in 1888. During the remodeling of the Garden Center in 1956 it was apparent that the redwood timbers were very old and heavy, still in the rough. The boards were not the usual two-by-fours; they were about three and one quarter by four and three quarters. Square nails were used; for years quantities of old square nails were found under the ground around the store. Long one and half inch rods and flanges attached the flooring to a section which must have served as a kind of mezzanine originally. Inside the old building, boards were often fitted together by the tongue-in-groove method. The sheeting was just nailed on with no inner layer or insulation. Mr. Dewey recalls that, in 1956, the bees which lived undisturbed for years in the old walls were removed by a bee man. Countless pounds of honey were then taken from the walls where it had been hidden for so long.
But whether the old store which is the core of Dewey’s Garden Center was built in 1888 or 1904, it is one of Fillmore’s oldest structure which stood for years on one of Fillmore’s most important corners. When the Centennial Year comes to an end, a daily reminder of Fillmore’s past will remain, right there on Main Street near the railroad tracks which helped Fillmore become a city. A Centennial cheer goes to Franklin and Mildred Dewey for insisting that this landmark by preserved, and to Gavin and Kathy Downs for continuing its preservation.