Wire Hardware Store

February 2008

The Welsh house and store looking through St. Mary's cemetery.

The Welsh house and store looking through St. Mary’s cemetery.

The building now known as Wire Hardware store was built for William Wallace Welsh as a general store in 1895.  Mr. Welsh came to Rockville after the Civil War, clerking in John Higgins’ store and marrying his daughter.  In 1884, Welsh built a frame store close to the B&O Station, taking advantage of new access to the railroad for many of the grains, fuels, implements, and groceries that he sold.  When the store was destroyed by fire, Welsh erected this building.

In rebuilding, W.W. Welsh considered not only safety but also design. The all-brick store is in the Queen Anne style, with an ornate cornice, stepped façade, and patterned slate roof.  The cast iron storefront, shipped from the Geo. Mesker Co. in Evansville, Indiana, adds solidity and style.

By the 1890s, the business was doing well enough for Welsh to buy out his partner, to build a large residence next door (demolished in 1978), and to subdivide an 8-acre parcel northeast of this property into a new development for black homeowners that he called “Lincoln Park.”

After Welsh died in the influenza epidemic at the close of World War I, Frank and Porter Ward operated the business for two decades.  Paul F. Wire and his partner Ben J. Lanier leased the store in 1944, soon adding a one-story annex.  Mr. Wire bought the business 20 years later, continuing to offer a wide range of goods – agricultural implements, clothing, food, seed, shoes, coal, lumber and hardware materials, appliances, and more.  His three sons worked in the store over the years, one buying it when the senior Mr. Wire retired in 1982.  When the business relocated in 1990 and the fixtures were auctioned off, Peerless Rockville acquired the shelving, counters, and rolling ladders.  By agreement with the family, these items remained in the building where they belong.

Although the Wires sold to a new owner (who ultimately succumbed to the economic woes of the 1990s), the old store stood neglected until Peerless stepped in again.  After signing a contract as the purchaser of last resort, Peerless had to sue the family to honor the contract when they selected another buyer who would have “gutted” the interior.  By the time the Maryland Court of Special Appeals ruled favorably for Peerless, the store had deteriorated terribly.

Peerless took title in 1993 and performed emergency repairs for 18 months while looking for a new owner who would accept protective interior and exterior easements.  A partnership of local businesses — Investment Properties and Insurance Associates – employed vision to restore, renovate, and revitalize this local landmark.  Insurance Associates conducted business here for twelve years before recently outgrowing the space.  Currently, the building is offered for lease.

Along with St. Mary’s Church and Cemetery and the B&O Station, Wire Hardware store is designated as a Rockville Historic District and listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  In Peerless Rockville’s archives, scholars can find a century’s worth of business records from the store, which have been cleaned, organized, and safely stored for future generations.