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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18 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.

    Liked by 2 people

  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

    Liked by 1 person

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