History of the VW Bush Warehouse

Published 10:29 am Friday, January 5, 2018

This is the third installment in a series of articles on the history of the V. W. Bush Warehouse, known locally as the “Sphar Building.”

V. W. Bush leads the way


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. W. Bush (1831-1899) had the foresight and good luck to build his warehouse beside the railroad, ushering in a new era in Winchester — integration of the agriculture and transportation industries. The warehouse was erected initially to store his purchases of hemp, wheat, and other grains. It had the capacity to store 80,000 bushels.

According to the Clark County Democrat, Bush commenced the building in August 1880: “Mr. V. W. Bush has made arrangements with the town authorities by which Main Street just beyond the railroad will be still further widened twenty feet. Mr. Bush is going to build an elegant and commodious commission house adjoining the railroad on the north, and work will begin in a few days.”

A week later, Bush placed the following notice in the paper: “Wheat Wanted! 50,000 Bushels for which I will pay the highest market price. Call and see me before selling.”

This was followed by another ad in November: “V. W. Bush, dealer in Hemp, Tobacco, Grain, and County Produce generally. Warehouse on Main Street, at railroad crossing, convenient to depot.” The latter ad ran unchanged the rest of the year and into the next.

The mention of tobacco raises an issue resolved by another newspaper notice that year: “V. W. Bush will at once engage in the tobacco trade when his splendid new warehouse is completed and our farmers will find a profitable market for their crops of the weed at home.”

Based on local tradition, Bush’s hemp and grain warehouse was the first one ever built in Winchester, and I was hopeful of finding proof. The best sources to track warehouse construction are newspapers and Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps.

In order to determine if there were other warehouses in Winchester in 1880, all issues of the Clark County Democrat for that year were reviewed. No other warehouse besides Bush’s was mentioned. Warehouse operators regularly advertised the products they wished to purchase. No ads appeared that year for the purchase of hemp, grain or tobacco except the ones placed by Bush.

There was a notice that S. P. Kerr had purchased 5,000 bushels of wheat. Kerr was the owner-operator of the Eclipse Mills and, later, the Winchester Roller Mills that produced “White Pearl” and other brands of flour. This sizeable quantity of wheat had to be stored, but his building was simply a “storage warehouse” and had a limited function. Bush’s Warehouse purchased goods, stored, processed and then shipped these goods by rail to distant manufacturers. The term “railway warehouse” was coined to describe the latter concern.

The second line of evidence that Bush was the first comes from Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps that show all the significant commercial buildings in the city. The first Sanborn maps for Winchester were made in 1886. Examination of the maps revealed only two railway warehouses: the “V. W. Bush Grain Warehouse” and the “Jones Brothers Grain Warehouse.” Both were brick buildings located on North Main Street adjacent to the railroad. The substantial warehouse of the Jones Brothers—Thomas B. and Henry M.—was constructed sometime after August 1884, when they purchased their building lot from V. W. Bush. Their warehouse across Main Street from Bush’s. (A second deed from Bush in May 1887 refers to the adjoining lot “on which the warehouse of the Jones Brothers recently burned.”)

Thus, the evidence appears to verify that V. W. Bush had Winchester’s first railway warehouse, and it seems appropriate to recognize Bush as the pioneer of the warehousing industry in Winchester. By 1890 he also had constructed a tobacco warehouse on Winn Avenue adjacent to the railroad.

The Joneses together with their new partner, David S. Gay, rebuilt their warehouse. The 1889 Winchester Handbook gives a description of the first two hemp and grain warehouses:

“Hemp and Wheat Warehouses. Jones & Gay have a very complete warehouse for storage of hemp, wheat and other produce. They have connected with their establishment a hackling house where their hemp is cleaned and prepared for market. They do an immense business.

“V. W. Bush has another large warehouse of the same kind which is now leased to Levi Goff. It has the proportions of a city establishment and is always full.”

V. W. Bush’s long-time associate in the warehouse business was Levi Goff (1852-1941). Winchester city directories for 1908 and 1928 identify the business concern as “Goff & Bush Warehouse, dealers in seeds, grain and wool” and “Goff & Bush, warehouse,” respectively.

By 1895 Winchester’s warehousing industry was expanding rapidly. The Sanborn maps show the David S. Gay Warehouse, the V. W. Bush Warehouse and one other “Grass Seed Warehouse,” otherwise unidentified, which stood adjacent to the C&O Railroad where the Winchester Cemetery is now located. Five tobacco warehouses were in operation — V. W. Bush, J. W. Glover, J. R. Stroud and R. P. Scobee had two. In 1901 there were five grain warehouses six tobacco warehouses.

David Gay, who bought out the Joneses, was spectacularly unlucky, as his warehouses suffered two more disastrous fires. From a newspaper account in June 1903 we learn: “The grain and seed warehouse of D. S. Gay burned today, including the largest stock of bluegrass seed in the world. Loss $100,000.” Then in November 1905: “The Bluegrass seed factory and warehouse of David S. Gay was burned together with most of its contents. Besides machinery it contained about $15,000 worth of bluegrass seed.” Undaunted, Gay rebuilt his warehouse, an even larger establishment, at the northeast corner of Main Street and Winn Avenue. This pair of brick buildings is shown on the 1907 Sanborn map as the “David S. Gay Hemp, Grain & Field Seed Warehouse.”

Harry Enoch, retired biochemist and history enthusiast, has been writing for the Sun since 2005.