Although Siloam Springs’ downtown is made up mostly of historic buildings which have stood since the early twentieth century, much of the downtown district has changed since the town was platted in 1880. In the town’s infancy, many of the buildings on St. Nicholas Street (now called Broadway) were wood frame buildings, later to be replaced with brick or stone structures. This week’s featured photo, donated to the museum in 1986, shows one of these early wood frame buildings, J. J. Britt and Son Hardware.
The store dates back to one of the last two decades of the 19th century. The first Sanborn fire insurance maps of Siloam Springs were published in 1897, and the building appears on these maps at the intersection of St. Luke Street and St. Nicholas Street (present day Alpine and Broadway, respectively). This indicates that the store was built between the town’s founding in 1880 and the publication of the Sanborn map in 1897.
The store appears to have continued after J. J. Britt’s death in 1902, as its sign is still visible on the side of the building in this parade photo below, taken after Siloam Springs received electrical power.
Today, the northwest corner of Alpine and Broadway is occupied by a brick building which houses Creative Corner and onIT.
Born in 1837, J. J. Britt led the life of a pioneer, a soldier, and a businessman. As a nineteen-year-old man, he married Mary Sager, the sixteen-year-old daughter of Simon Sager (Simon and his family were the first settlers of European descent in the Siloam Springs area, arriving here in 1839). When the American Civil War erupted, Britt sided with the Confederacy. He was wounded in the leg at the Battle of Pea Ridge, and his recovery took several months. Fearing someone may take advantage of J. J.’s wounded state, Mary moved her husband and herself into hiding in a tent near the Illinois River until he recovered. Soon after the couple had moved back into their house, word reached them that Union soldiers were coming. J. J. found a hiding place, but left his rifle on the bed in his haste. Mary saw the rifle and quickly stashed it under the floorboards. When the soldiers arrived, one of them noticed the imprint of the firearm on the bed and asked where she had put the weapon. She refused to tell them, and the soldiers eventually left. Fifteen or more years after the end of the Civil War, Britt entered the businessman stage of his life. Shortly after Siloam Springs was platted in 1880, Britt and his son opened J. J. Britt and Son Hardware, which continued on after his death in 1902. Mary lived on until 1925. Later in her life, Mary was interviewed by L. G. Chalmers, and the interview appears in Maggie Smith’s book, Hico, a Heritage: Siloam Springs History, published in 1976. To receive a scan of the interview, click the "email us" button on our Contact Us page, here.
Written by Chuck McClary using information from the Siloam Springs Museum archives, the Library of Congress, and Hico, a Heritage: Siloam Springs History by Maggie Smith.
Unless otherwise stated, photos were provided by the Siloam Springs Museum and its archives.