Enoch: M. T. McEldowney
Published 8:00 am Saturday, September 9, 2023
By Harry Enoch
Morgan Thomas McEldowney (c. 1865–1934) was born on a farm near Vanceburg in Lewis County, attended the University of Kentucky, and came to Winchester as a young man. Here he had the good fortune to come under the notice of Smith Kerr, proprietor of Winchester’s most successful flour mill. He proved himself so useful that Kerr brought him into the business in 1889.
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“Mr. S. P. Kerr, of the Winchester Roller Mills, has associated with him in the milling business Mr. M. T. McEldowney, who has been an efficient employee of the house for the past six years, and we now take great pleasure in making the announcement as we know Mr. McEldowney to be a worthy young man.”
According to Kerr’s obituary, McEldowney ran the mills during Kerr’s long illness. “Years ago M. T. McEldowney became associated with him in business and of late years the cares of the large business interests of the firm, especially the details, have been looked after by the latter in a great degree.” Following Kerr’s death in 1906, the mill carried on under the partnership of his son-in-law David Matlack, William Woolcott, and McEldowney.
McEldowney sold his interest in the mills to Woolcott in 1921. By that time his business interests had greatly expanded, especially in the area of banking and real estate. He had erected Winchester’s most innovative commercial building on Cleveland Avenue, a grand house on South Main Street, a telephone building, and a new bank. The latter building, constructed in 1923 at the southwest corner of Broadway and Main, opened as the Commercial Deposit Bank. McEldowney became president and remained at the helm until his death.
His showplace home at 215 South Main, next door to the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, was framed by a massive, two-story porch supported by eight Corinthian columns. In 1927 E. O. Guerrant purchased the house as an addition to his Guerrant Mission Clinic and Hospital. The house stood vacant after 1945. Sadly, the McEldowney House, which deteriorated greatly over the years, was razed in 2011.
The McEldowney Building, now a local landmark, is located on Cleveland Avenue, just east of the circuit court building. McEldowney’s enterprise had an inauspicious beginning. The four-story building put up in 1907 was wiped out in a fire the following year. The Winchester Sun headlines read “$55,000 blaze–one of the most disastrous fires that has occurred in Winchester in recent years–the McEldowney Block and Christian Church totally destroyed.”
The fire started in the basement below W. A. Brock’s restaurant and spread to the church. Winchester’s volunteer fire department was joined by brigades from Richmond and Paris. They “fought the flames with the energy of desperation and due to their almost superhuman exertions,” the businesses on the Main Street side were saved, as well as the roller mills across the street and Dr. Isaac Shirley’s office next to the church.
At the time of the fire, occupants of the building included Brock’s Restaurant, the U.S. Post Office, the Board of Education offices, Jouett & Jouett attorneys, Roe, Winans & Scott plumbers, H. F. Bensinger insurance, Azbill & Strossman coal, G. W. Strother insurance and real estate, Winchester Granite Brick Company and many of the fraternal organizations in town (Knights Templar, Knights of Pythias, Order of Red Men and two Masonic lodges).
McEldowney went to work immediately to replace the ruined structure with a “six-story skyscraper.” Plans called for a fire-proof building of concrete and brick, minimal use of wood, and the first passenger elevator in Winchester. J. W. Wheeler was the general contractor.
With its location across from the courthouse, the building was a magnet for attorneys. Those with offices there from 1911 to 1915 were David L. Pendleton, L. Hampton Bush, Valentine W. Bush, Beverly Jouett, Rodney Haggard, Frank Haggard, Smith Hays Sr., Elmer Hays, S. A. Jeffries, Lewis Hampton, William Lindsay, Herbert Moore, T. G. Stuart, and George Wycoff. Many remained for years. Local directories reveal later attorneys: Smith Hays Jr., James Clay, William Dykeman, Blake Page, Henry Rosenthal Jr., Daniel Yates, Michael Rowady, John Keeton, and William Elkins.
During the last several decades the building fell into disrepair and became largely unoccupied. Fortunately for our community, Demetrius Fassas and Alexander Fassas (DAM Holdings) purchased the McEldowney Building in 2019, along with the old bank building at 2 South Main, and began restoration of both.
In September 2022 Adam Kidd, on behalf of DAM Holdings, accepted a Historic Preservation Award from the Clark County-Winchester Heritage Commission.
M. T. McEldowney, “philanthropist, banker, farmer, and landowner, always at the front in every call for public service,” died at his home in 1924. He was survived by his wife Nancy, daughter of Judge M. M. Cassidy of Mt. Sterling, and several brothers and sisters. McEldowney was buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Mt. Sterling.