Past Treasure of the Month – November 2013

J.F. Smith & Bros. Company
Copper stencilCopper stencil

During the month of November, the Rosenberg Library exhibited items related to the early hardware business on Galveston Island J.F. Smith & Bros. Company. They included a yard stick donated by Julia Webster, a copper stencil donated by the estate of Mildred Robertson, and a pen and ink drawing of the store front done by Merlin McGivney.

Pen and ink drawingPen and ink drawing of J.F. Smith
& Brothers building at 2323 Strand
by Galveston artist Merlin McGiveny.

The drawing depicts the beautiful J.F. Smith Brothers building on Strand complete with signage and a classic work truck. The artist Dr. Merlin McGivney was a dentist on the island for many years. Many of his award winning works of art resides in the Rosenberg Library’s Museum collection. Dr. McGivney was also very active in the Galveston Art League. When he died, his estate established an endowment fund administered by the Rosenberg Library whereby every spring the Library purchases a work of art from the Art League for the Library’s permanent collection.

The copper stencil on display would have been used to quickly mark sashes or other large orders for practical and advertising purposes. It is in surprisingly good condition for an item that was used in such harsh working conditions. The yardstick which bares the name, address, and phone number of the firm, dates to the 1950s.

Jalonick Smith opened J.F. Smith & Brothers Hardware in 1870. After three years he sold the company to John Francis Smith before relocating to Dallas to enter the insurance business. Shortly thereafter Edward A. Smith joined his brother as partner. In 1889 the company moved to 2323 Strand in a two story iron-front building which still stands today (currently occupied by LaKings Confectionary).

1897 Receipt from J.F. Smith & Brothers (courtesy of Galveston and Texas History Center)1897 Receipt from J.F.
Smith & Brothers (courtesy of
Galveston and Texas History Center)

The housing boom that resulted in the beautiful Victorian homes in Galveston required many specialty items like glass, screens, paint, stains, molding, and sashes, so the growth of J.F. Smith & Brothers corresponded with that of the city in general. Within a decade the Smith brothers created one of the largest hardware stores west of the Mississippi. An early advertisement reveals that they sold everything from colored glass and paint to blinds, lumber, and hardware. Company records, which reside in the Galveston and Texas History Center at the Rosenberg Library, shows a firm that paid attention to even the most minute details. Invoices from the business show J.F. Smith was not afraid to call out vendors who overcharged him one percent or sent him incorrect orders. Their records provide evidence of a fascinating supply chain that utilized companies from all over the country.

Smith’s firm shipped building supplies and hardware all over the Gulf Coast and the family became quite prosperous. In 1884, Smith started construction of an elegant residence of his own at 2217 Broadway. He used specially imported wood and other fine materials for his Italianate home designed by Galveston architect Nathaniel Tobey, Jr. The house remained in the Smith family until the 1970s. It was later converted into a bed-and-breakfast, and had been featured in Galveston Historical Foundation’s annual homes tour. It is currently a private residence.

J.F. Smith had four sons: Wilbur, Robert, Irving, and Arthur. In 1960 — nearly 100 years after its founding — the business was still in operation under the last surviving son, Wilbur Smith. The firm continued to import fine wood, glass, marble, and iron for use in construction or renovation until it closed in 1973.