As the wrecking ball draws nearer to Roanoke Warehouse Co. at the corner of Lamont and West Point streets, it seems only fitting to give the nearly 80-year-old structure a proper sendoff.
Many people around Roanoke call the building Master Door. However, Earl Cooper, who worked in the building for approximately 30 years, explains that although Master Door was the last tenant to occupy the site, it will always be Roanoke Warehouse Co. to him.
Cooper, 82, explained that Roanoke Warehouse Co. was one of the four companies founded by W.W. Campbell and J.C. Wright that were intertwined. If you had stock in one, you had stock in all four. If you worked for one, you worked for all four. The corporations included Roanoke Guano Co., Roanoke Oil Co., Roanoke Warehouse Co. and the old City Bank and Trust.
Roanoke Oil Co. was founded in the late 1890s. It bought cottonseed from nearby gins and processed it. According to Cooper, the products of the manufacturing process were cotton-seed meal and hulls, which were sold as cattle feed, and oil, which was sold to refineries. The buildings were converted to warehouse space in 1957 as the growing of cotton in this area gradually ceased.
Roanoke Guano Co. was founded in 1902 as a manufacturer and merchandiser of fertilizer. Located near the present location of Amoco, the railroad was important to Roanoke Guano Co., as it needed phosphate rock, sulfuric acid, muriated potash and nitrogen in various forms to be shipped in.
It later added an ice plant as its operation grew. The business continued to prosper, especially during World War II. In 1961, the plant was destroyed by fire and not rebuilt. The land was later sold.
Roanoke Warehouse Co. was built between 1914 and 1917. The warehouse was divided into ten units with railroad docks in the middle. The corporation was licensed to store up to 10,000 bales of cotton in its more than 80,000 square feet. When cotton ceased to be grown in the area, the space was rented out.
“Back in the 1920s, there was cotton stacked in the middle of the street,” tells Cooper. “The buildings were full.”
“I’m the only one living right now that was involved in any of it,” he said. Cooper has all the old records, including deeds, maps, bookkeeping, etc., of all the properties. His work for the companies began in 1946 and continued even past his official retirement in 1976.
“I was doing the appraisal work for the bank. I was buying the cottonseed to run the oil mill with and sort of managing it, too, and the same way with the Roanoke Guano co. I was looking after it, and I was a salesman for the fertilizer all the way from here to north Alabama for a period of years,” said Cooper.
After the popularity of cotton faded, tenants of Roanoke Warehouse Co. included Plantation Patterns, Roanoke Syrup Co. (maker of Diamond Joe and Kitchen Made syrups), Roanoke Shirt Factory and Master Door. The property was given to the City of Roanoke in 1985.
Roanoke Mayor Betty Ziglar said the city had hoped to restore Roanoke Warehouse Co., but architects and engineers advised that the cost of renovation would be exorbitant. Today the building is extremely dangerous, especially portions of the roof, which are falling in.
As soon as a new home can be found for some chemicals left in the building, R&M Demolition of Anniston will begin its work. Once underway, the destruction of the building is expected to take approximately 120 days, said Ziglar.
Although additional downtown parking or a place for recreation are among the ideas that have been bounced around for the spot, Ziglar said once the city planners see the empty concrete slabs and get a better grasp of how much space they’re dealing with, they will decide how the property can best be used.
From The Randolph Leader Sept. 8, 1993