Hill-Behan: A New Concept In Building Materials Merchandising

former Hill-Behan Lumber Company Home Improvement Store. Biloxi, Harrison County, Miss. 3-21-2015

Today’s featured newspaper clipping notes the introduction a convenience we take for granted today.  If you’ve ever been hot and sweaty working on a project and had the frustration of needing one more widget or sprocket to finish said project on a Sunday afternoon, an air-conditioned home improvement store can be a godsend.  In his book Building a Market: The Rise of the Home Improvement Industry, 1914-1960, Richard Harris cites local lumber dealers as the primary precursor from which modern home improvement stores emerged.  The Hill-Behan Lumber Company can be seen as one example of this type of store.  According to the obituary of William L. Behan Jr.,

Founded in 1912, Hill Behan Lumber Company was a prominent retailer of lumber and building materials with locations in four states: Missouri, Illinois, Mississippi and Louisiana… Hill Behan Lumber Company first began operations in Brookhaven, Mississippi in 1943 as Columbus Lumber Company, a Southern Yellow Pine sawmill and lumber treatment plant. Hill Behan Lumber Company later added a retail building material outlet serving Southwest Mississippi home builders and homeowners.

In 1970 Hill-Behan decided to expand into the Biloxi-Gulfport market with the construction of a store on Beauvoir Road.

Hill-Behan Lumber Company from Biloxi Daily Herald June 21, 1970

FIRM TO OPEN IN BILOXI

Hill-Behan Lumber Company will open a new business in Biloxi in September, offering a new concept in building material merchandising.

The building is now under construction on a 10-acre site fronting Beauvoir road between the L&N Railroad and the Jefferson Davis Shrine.

Dennis Behan, vice president and general manager, pointed out that 11,200 square feet of the 19,600 square foot building will be air-conditioned.

The air-conditioned area will include a show room area.  Hardware items, paint, and wood products sold by Hill-Behan will all be under the same roof, Behan stated.

Behan said the structure will be a wood building with cedar shake roof in the front, built with attractiveness in mind.

The building, which will cost $82,000, has been under construction about a month,  and Behan said, “We hope to be opened in the early part of September.”

This will be the 25th such business of Hill-Behan in operation in the St. Louis, Chicago and New Orleans market areas, according to Behan.

He also noted the company owns and operates its own sawmill in Brookhaven, Miss.

Biloxi Daily Herald June 21, 1970

The store would also sell tools.  Stylistically, the building seems to follow a corporate design for all Hill-Behan stores of the period.  This store opened just shy of a year after Hurricane Camille hit in August, 1969, so there was certainly a market demand for the firm’s stock in trade.  In 1970 the competitor chain Builder Square, then known as Home Centers of America was founded, and 1971 was when Handy Andy Home Improvement Centers opened their first expansion store.  It certainly seems to be a time period when this new type of retail was flourishing.  I believe Hill-Behan would also open stores in Jackson and Brookhaven.  Does anyone recall other Hill-Behan stores in other parts of Mississippi?

Hill-Behan Ad detail from Biloxi Daily Herald December 21, 1970

When the Hill-Behan Company closed in 2001, the chain had been reduced from thirty-some stores down to eleven stores. I don’t recall that the Biloxi store was one of those, having closed earlier.  For as long as I care to remember this structure has been for sale or lease.  For being a decorated shed, the building still is impressively intact, retaining its mansardic facade, cedar shingles, and signage.  As this building is only a few years away from reaching the “magical” fifty-year mark for being eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, what do you think its chances of survival are?  Do you remember your first experience encountering a store of this type?

former Hill-Behan Lumber Company Home Improvement Store. Biloxi Harrison County, Miss. 3-21-2015



Categories: Architectural Research, Biloxi, Brookhaven, Building Types, For Sale, Historic Preservation, Jackson, National Register, Recent Past

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24 replies

  1. Brookhaven did have a store which was located on the grounds of the Brookhaven mill. That building still exits but now serves as a warehouse for the mill – still named Columbus Lumber Company but no longer owned by the Behan family. Dennis Behan who was quoted in the Daily Herald story lives in Brookhaven.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. An excellent rundown not only on the lumber concern but also on how this style of prosaic architecture has become the predominant feature of the American landscape (sadly). Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The lumber yard/home improvement store of my youth was the Hall’s Ace Hardware in Milton, FL, where my dad would go and do business and I would enjoy turning the big metal nail bins full of different size nails and such. Halls is still going, although they’ve moved into a new building and have more home/gifty items than they used to: http://www.hallshardware.com/

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting read. I’d not stopped to think about Hill-Behan being the predecessor of the big box home improvement stores, but that makes perfect sense. When they opened in Jackson on Presto Lane I was a teenager. Often went on Saturdays with my dad and thought it was an awsome place because they had, in my mind, combined a lumber yard with a hardware store. Shopped there myself until they closed vs. going to Home Depot or Sutherlands, before Lowe’s reinvented itself. The building became a Salvation Army thrift store until it unfortunately was destroyed by fire in the winter of 2014. I’m guessing January just because I remember it being a very cold day.

    Apparently the parent company is still around and has a few lumber yards in Missouri and maybe Illinois. Just went back to their roots rather than broader home improvement.

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  5. I also often went with my father to the Hill-Behan location on Presto Lane when I was a child. It was very convenient, since we lived nearby. I had never thought before of it as the predecessor to Home Depot, but it really was. Thanks for the memories brought forth by your article.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I think this site in Tupelo on Nelle St. is where Lowe’s used to be. I do not know if it was a Hill-Behan business before Lowe’s. Does it look like a Hill-Behan building?
    https://www.google.com/maps/@34.2594665,-88.7317814,3a,48.2y,333.41h,86.91t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sEalxwhTUm7J4akuDMkKPXQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

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  7. There were no Hill-Behan Stores in Tupelo or Hattisburg. The southern division stores of Hill-Behan Lumber at its peak were as follows: Harahan, LA, Algiers, LA, Gentlilly(New Orleans East), LA, Houma, LA, Covington, LA, Franklin LA, Lafayette LA, Reserve LA, Brookhaven, MS, Jackson MS, Biloxi, MS. My great grandfather started the company in 1912 with Mr. Hill. The two of them used to buy lumber by the car load and sell the product as soon as they purchased it. As it happened, one of the deals went south and they needed a place to store the lumber so they bought a piece of land on Page Ave in St. Louis MO and thus spawned Hill- Behan Lumber Co and the eventual store concept. In the early 20’s they bought Columbus Lumber Co. saw mill in Columbus, MS and later moved it to Brookhaven. In the 1950’s they began to open retail stores in the south. My father, Dennis Behan Sr, was in charge of the Southern Division. He wanted to expand the company into the Austin, TX area in the early 80’s but his father was not very keen on the idea so LA and MS were the only stats in the southern division. When Home Depot came to MS and LA market in the 80’s the game changed. It became more difficult to make signifigant profit margins. My father used to tell me that before that time all you had to do was put the key in the door and you could make good money! When Lowes arived in the early 2000’s it became apparant that our model was over with. The decision to liquidate was made. Over 85 year in business! Hope this helps answer some of your questions,
    Dennis Jr.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. In regards to the inquiry about rail spurs, all of the stores had rail spurs at one time. With the exception of maybe Franklin and Reserve. (Built in the 80’s) We used to buy lumber by the car load in the 50’s 60’s and 70’s and have it delivered to the individual stores. In the 80’s we began to stop that practice and some of spurs were removed by the railroad. However, we would still get car loads of spruce studs from Canada delivered to the Harahan, LA location (HQ) and would ship them to the yards on a tractor trailer in bunks with other dimensional lumber mixed in. If you look the map you will notice that most every Hill Behan store was built next to a railroad. In later years when the big boxes were building in more desirable,heavily trafficked parts of town the railroad sites were less desirable.

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  9. My dad, uncle and grandfather worked for Hill-Behan in Chicago. All had great stories of cruising timber for the company up in Canada. They would look at trees the morning and then fish the rest of the day. My understanding was that all of the Chicago locations were on a rail spur. My uncle worked for Hill-Behan his entire life.

    Columbus Lumber Co used to be a customer of mine back in the 90’s. I did not know that they were part of Hill-Behan at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

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