D.B. Cox Department Store of Ashland, A Nutshell History
The D.B. Cox Department Store was the anchor of the Ashland downtown area from 1867 to 1955. When it was sold, it was the oldest business in Ashland and was the oldest in Hanover County in continuous ownership by one family. It was begun after the Civil War by Duncan Balfour Cox.
The first D.B. Cox store was begun as an addition to the family dwelling fronting the east side of the RF&P railroad, on the site of the present Ashland library. According to the Ashland Sentinel of March 9,1872, D.B. Cox, General Merchant sold: hats and shoes, dry goods and notions, confectionery, hardware, stationery, and fancy articles.
In 1869 , a second wooden building was constructed on the west side of the railroad tracks. This was a general store established by D.B. Cox, J.M. Leake and C.M. Woolfolk. .The wooden structure was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1893.
A third building was erected of brick on the west side of the tracks before 1899. The Hanover Weekly Herald mentioned that Mr. Cox had two places of business. D.B. Cox General Merchant carried groceries, hardware, feed and fertilizer. D.B. Cox and Co., a partnership formed with J.M. Stone and his nephew, James M. Cox, sold dry goods, shoes and clothing. That building today is the Caboose Wine and Cheese at 108 S.Railroad Avenue.
By 1913, D.B. Cox and his nephew, J.M. Cox, had purchased two lots at the southwest corner of Thompson and Railroad Avenue , where they built a two-story department store that year. The building is the present Iron Horse restaurant building. It is owned by McKinney & Co., an engineering firm with offices on the second floor. It was the fourth Cox structure to be built in the downtown area.
According to Dorothy Jones of Ashland, “the new store was the most impressive structure in Ashland at the time. It was so elegant that it was widely referred to as the ‘Miller and Rhoads’ of Ashland. On the first floor were departments for clothing and shoes for men, women,and children, piece goods and patterns, jewelry, cosmetics, kitchen utensils and appliances. On the mezzanine, reached by a wide, handsome stairway, was the millinery department presided over by Miss Dessie Carter and Miss Fannie Hutcheson.” Many townspeople recall gathering at the store about 1948 to watch the first television broadcast on the first set for sale in Ashland at Cox’s in the television and appliance department.
In 1914, D.B. and J.M. Cox formally incorporated as the D.B. Cox and Co. Department Store. D.B. Cox’s son, Edwin, began working for the store as a young boy and continued until his retirement as part of management in 1955. The grocery, hardware and feed part of the business at the smaller brick building (108 S. Railroad Avenue) was sold to Puryear and Napier in 1920.
When D.B. Cox died in 1925, his nephew and partner James M. Cox bought the department store and became its President. He continued to offer exemplary service to his customers .
“Jim” was well known and loved throughout the county and to many he was “Mr.Cox’s Store”. During World War II , Alice Lee Taylor of Hanover recalls that, “James M Cox did his best to keep rationed items, such as silk stockings, on hand. He was a fine person to work for and always made jobs available to ‘Ashland Girls’ at Christmas time.”
James M. Cox died in 1951 and in 1955 the department store was sold to Joseph Andrews and Fairfax Davis. They continued under the name Cox, Inc. until about 1960.
D.B. Cox’s granddaughter, Fan Cox Etienne was an Ashland resident who now lives in Richmond. James M. Cox’s grandchildren who live in Ashland today are Jim Cox, Betsy Cox, Jack Stevenson and Pen Stevenson. Jack Stevenson reminisced about the store and his ancestors in a short video produced by Tom Wulf.
Portions of this were taken from an article written by Judy Lowry for the Hanover County Historical Society Bulletin, No.3, Winter 2005, and portions were added by Cox family members.