The House of Vacuums did business in this building from 1968-2017. Even now during the renovation, people walk to the doors carrying their vacuums, looking for the service that was provided here for almost 50 years. The sign is a landmark in itself, with the bold red letters spanning across the entire storefront. So much of the building's life has been as the House of Vacuums! But we knew it was older; that there was a story before the House of Vacuums. We found a receipt from Stagg's Grocery from 1942, newspapers from 1955, marbles and toy soldiers... so much history in this location. We decided to investigate the roots of the building.
Thursday, Oct 18th
The first stop was the Florence Library. The historian estimated the building was built between 1886-1910. We dug into maps and found the row of buildings along Huntsville Road as early as 1905. During this time frame, the Sweetwater area was growing because of the Depot. These maps gave us a good starting point, but we still didn't know who built the building or when. The historian suggested that we pull the abstract to see if it traced the ownership back. If we are able to get this, we can look up the person and match it with the Florence business directory. He also suggested we read "Sweetwater: the story of East Florence" by William McDonald. So, that's where we leave off today; headed to buy the book! We plan to contact the abstract company on Monday.
Tuesday, Oct 23
Had a few small leads and one pretty cool one on the House of Vacuums history. Today we finally found a copy of Sweetwater by William McDonald at the Mars Hill Book Store! Yesterday we talked to the Abstract Company in downtown Florence, and they are helping us pull the ownership of the building as far back as they can. They told us Alabama Land Services had copies of the original abstracts in the area at one point, but that was a no-go. We are also reaching out to the UNA Department of History to see if they have a good file of the Sweetwater area. The cool thing we started looking up was this stamped on part of the entry way outside the building:
According to Omeka at Auburn: The Foundry became the Florence Stove and Manufacturing Company when Henry Theole moved the company to Commerce Street in 1888. Theole partnered with Thomas Jefferson Phillips, who was an entrepreneur and owned many ventures in the Sweetwater area of Florence. So we aren't very clear yet if this building was somehow part of the Florence Stove & Mfg Co. or if they just made the decorative piece on the entry way. Theole specialized in iron molding and pattern work. Either way, pretty cool! Workers during that time lived in a row of red framed houses owned by the company called "Theole Row". Wonder if that's what inspired the red front we currently have on this building?.....