The Trousdale County Historical Society has been doing research on the early car dealerships in Hartsville and Trousdale County, and if any reader has old photos or information, please share them with us.

Our research shows us that Dick Owen, nicknamed Cotton, was the first fellow in Hartsville to have a car dealership.

As we mentioned in last week’s article, the first cars were sold directly from the maker. With time, it became evident that a certified dealer with a showroom would be more efficient.

These dealerships were franchises, and a person would purchase the right to sell a certain make of car for a specified area, perhaps a town or an entire county.

Cotton Owen was part of the family that owned the Owen Tobacco factory in Hartsville. It later moved to Gallatin and is still in business. It was also one of the original investors in the old Citizen’s Bank.

Owen put his dealership in a location already associated with travel. It was where the old Vance Livery Stable stood. A livery stable was where people could leave their buggy and horse when doing business in Hartsville, or they could rent one if they wanted to travel out of town.

A huge barn on the property, at the corner of River Street and East Main Street, was used for storing cars and became part of a small complex of buildings used for service, selling tires and gasoline.

In 1914, an advertisement appeared in the Hartsville Vidette for “Hartsville Motor Car Co., R. C. Owen, Jr., Proprietor…Agents for Trousdale and Macon Counties.”

An advertisement in the 1919 high-school annual gives the name as Hartsville Auto Co. and states, “Dealers for FORD and DODGE Cars also Fordson Tractors.”

In 1922, a Ford sedan was given away as part of a Christmas promotion by the Hartsville Auto Co. The society has one of the tickets for the drawing, signed on the back by Roy Owen.

The dealership changed names by 1924, when we find mention of the business in the Dec. 10 issue of the Vidette, “Owen Tire Company, a branch of Owen Motor Company, has opened a new filling station and accessories store across the street from their garage.”

It didn’t take long for car dealers to see the money that could be made working on the cars they sold. Today, dealerships make more profit from their service department than from their showroom.

Cotton Owen had a slogan that appeared in advertisements for his dealership and tire company, “Good Fires in Winter, Ice Water in Summer — Service by Cotton.”

His hospitality towards people by offering them a warm spot to visit in the winter months and serving them a glass of ice water in the summer months likely paid off when they decided to buy a new car … at least, that was his way of thinking.

We continue to see ads for the Owen Motor Company in the following years, even as other dealerships appeared in town.

Ads for the business continue to appear up until 1948.

At some time in the 1940s, a new building replaced the old, wood barn and gas station that Owen was using with a new, much bigger, concrete and brick building. The new building boasted a bigger showroom with an Art Deco touch, glass bricks on a curved exterior wall.

That building would later be used by the Oakley Mungle Feed Store and then the Macon-Trousdale Co-Op until the county turned it into our new justice center a few years ago.

Dewey Martin owned the business for a while, and the name changed to Trousdale County Motor Company.

In a Vidette article from 1956, we find this headline, “Ford Agency In New Quarters.”

The article beneath the headline explains, “Trousdale County Motor Company, Ford dealers for Trousdale County, moved this week from the former location on East Main Street to the new building recently completed on Hwy. 25, near North Broadway.”

Completion of a new highway north of the old downtown business district saw several businesses move from Main Street to Hwy. 25.

The article further states, “Mynette Beal is the manager of Trousdale Motors.”

It also gives this description, “… one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and is modern in every respect. The glassed in front represents one half an octagon, and is topped by a fluted parapet with aluminum trim.”

In next week’s article, we will see that it once again changes hands in 1963 and became, Rickman Ford Sales.

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