News

McVoy’s fades into history

Building was site of town’s worst fire, legendary business
By MIKE BROWN
Reporter Editor

Terry Drummond, final office manager at McVoy Feed and Fertilizer, moves some of the last items from the historic local business. Reporter/Mike Brown Terry Drummond, final office manager at McVoy Feed and Fertilizer, moves some of the last items from the historic local business. Reporter/Mike Brown “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.”— Gen. Douglas MacArthur

So do old buildings. This month one of Rockdale’s most historic buildings ceased to be a place of business for the first time in a century.

McVoy’s Feed & Fertilizer closed its doors earlier this month, ending a string of continuous operation in the same building which probably stretches back more than 100 years.

For 53 of those years, 1946-1999, it was operated as McVoy Grocery & Feed, one of the true legendary businesses in Rockdale.

But the building’s history goes back even further, to a tragic day in 1888 when it was the site of Rockdale’s worst fire of all time, the Mundine Hotel blaze which claimed the lives of 11 persons.

After 122 years, ‘Mundine’ is still visible in metal grillwork at some entrances. After 122 years, ‘Mundine’ is still visible in metal grillwork at some entrances. CLOSING— Terry Drummond, who managed McVoy Feed & Fertilizer, kept the business going for many months before getting the word to close.

Owner was Moore Feeds of Bryan. McVoy Grocery & Feed was purchased by the Caulo- Graham Company from owner Adolph McVoy in 1999.

Drummond said Rockdale General Store, west of Rockdale on US 79, is now the local distributor for Purina Feeds and Moore Feeds.

ROOTS— McVoy, who died in 2006 at age 87, first went to work in the store which came to bear his name in 1935.

“I was a junior in high school,” he told The Reporter in 1999. “The business was called Rockdale Poultry & Egg and it was owned by a fellow named Square Goodall.”

Adolph McVoy first went to work ‘on the corner’ in 1935, later owned McVoy Grocery & Feed for 53 years. Adolph McVoy first went to work ‘on the corner’ in 1935, later owned McVoy Grocery & Feed for 53 years. Then a man named George Hollander came through Rockdale. He was first in the scrap iron business, became a partner in Rockdale Poultry & Egg and ended up owning it.

McVoy remembered trucks were loaded with eggs in Rockdale, then taken to New Orleans.

“It was my job to go all over the country, as far as Lampasas, which was a pretty good trip in the 1930s, and buy eggs,” he said.

OMAHA BE ACH— McVoy’s life was interrupted, as were those of many American men in the 1940s, by World War II.

He got his draft notice on July 13, 1943.

He was sent to Europe and didn’t get teased about his first name—there was an ‘Adolf’ who figured prominently in the war—because everybody called McVoy “Tex.”

This poster commemorated the Mundine Hotel fire and its victims. It shows only 10 of the 11 persons who perished that night 122 years ago. Four Brooks children, not three, died in the blaze. This poster commemorated the Mundine Hotel fire and its victims. It shows only 10 of the 11 persons who perished that night 122 years ago. Four Brooks children, not three, died in the blaze. McVoy was in the second wave to hit Omaha Beach on D-Day.

He survived that, as well as the Battle of the Bulge the next year, and came home to Rockdale.

ON THE CORNER— In 1946 his uncle, Bruce McVoy, came to him with a simple proposition: “Do you want to get back on the corner?” Those words started a business which endured for 53 years.

“The building was owned by Bredt & Haley and a grocery store had been started in part of it while I was away,” McVoy said. “My uncle and I got some money together and we bought it.”

It was a family effort from the beginning. McVoy’s parents, A. A. Sr. and Lula Mae, were familiar faces at the store in the early days.”

Winnie McVoy, a sister, came on board at the start, in 1946. She also sold the final sack of groceries in 1999.

Hilda McVoy, Adolph’s wife and their daughters, Janice, Mary and Lori, were also employed there as were niece Melanie Todd and granddaughter Jenny Gebhart.

McVoy took one vacation in those 53 years.

LA NDMARK FI building was constructed as the three-story Mundine Hotel and it was Rockdale’s showpiece in the late 1880s.

Exactly what happened the night of June 4, 1888, has never been fully explained.

The hotel’s first floor must have already been fully engulfed in flames when a guest named Oldham slid down an upright support from his second-story room and turned in a frantic fire alarm.In less than three minutes fire had engulfed the second story.

Dr. W. A. Brooks owned the hotel and lived on the second floor with his wife and their four children.

RESCUE— Dr. Brooks said he awakened in the middle of the night to find the room full of smoke, that he groped to a window and opened it.

Thus revived, Dr. Brooks said he returned to try and find his wife and children but the window fell and when he returned and shattered it to try and obtain air, rescuers pulled him through the broken glass to safety.

Mrs. Brooks and the four children died as did the four members of the J. F. Briscoe family, traveling salesman Pemberton Pierce and Rockdale businessman Isaac Crown, who lived in the hotel.

MYSTERY— For years, Rockdale residents wondered how 11 of the 13 people in the Mundine Hotel could have perished—only Oldham and Dr. Brooks escaped— since the building was a Victorian hodgepodge of windows, staircases, verandas, balconies and halls, all offering the possibility of escape.

The most rational theory advanced is that a small fire started in a first floor staircase, which acted as a flue, drawing dense smoke upwards to the bedrooms and smothering residents in their beds.

That fits in with Dr. Brooks’ recollections.

Pierce’s body was returned to Philadelphia for burial.

Crown was buried in Rockdale’s small Jewish cemetery, almost within sight of the Mundine- McVoy building.

As for the Brookses and Bris- coes, the fate of their remains is sadder.

Morticians could only attempt to separate the Brookses from the Briscoes, making no attempt to separate the adults from the children.

The two families were buried, in separate coffins, in I.O.O.F Cemetery in a ceremony “attended by almost the entire population of Rockdale.”

A Texas Historical Commission marker commemorates the fire.

TRANSITION— The structure was never again three stories but first-floor walls survived and it was re-built as a one-story building.

At some point in the early 20th Century it again became a place of business and commerce and remained so for over a century.

Until October, 2010.


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