LAURINBURG — M.A. and his wife Christian McKay Conoly McDougald moved to what is now Laurinburg following the War Between the States. He was a skilled cabinetmaker, and the rail yards in the community were seeking people with his skills.
With them came two sons, Will and Dan, and their daughter Annie. Annie soon married Edwin Buchanan, another skilled cabinetmaker, and later died in childbirth. My grandfather, John McDougald, was born in 1870, and was the youngest.
M.A. and a partner owned and operated a retail, hardware, undertaking store in Antioch as early as 1856, known as McDougald & Currie.
In 1881, he along with Will and Dan, stared M.A. McDougald, specializing in furniture and undertaking on the southwest corner of Fairly and South Main streets. A fire destroyed downtown Laurinburg in 1884, and they rebuilt a store on the eastern side of South Main Street. In July 1901 a fire — originating at night in the McDougald building — destroyed 11 stores on the eastern side of South Main Street.
Laurinburg then initiated the “fire zone,” specifying that all downtown buildings must be made with brick.
In 1903 the three-story building at the corner of South Main and Railroad streets was built. It was known mainly as a furniture company, but they were also undertakers, did picture framing, and John McDougald was also a gunsmith. He restored a gun belonging to the notorious Lumbee outlaw Henry Berry Lowry for a collector.
Will operated the furniture business, Dan was the undertaker and a theatre performer, and baby brother John built the coffins, cabinets, and was an embalmer. The aging M.A. passed in 1909.
From my father, Hewitt Beacham McDougald, I heard stories of things that occurred in the McDougald building many, many times. Stories like the rope-operated elevator; the location where the embalmed, unclaimed body of carnival worker Cancetto Formica rested from 1911 until 1933 when a case was built for him; and their employees including Hugh McArn, who was the bookkeeper until he became Laurinburg’s postmaster.
My ancestors lost the building in 1933 during the Great Depression, when no one had any money to pay their bills. Despite that, the memories shared that occurred on the three floors only served to form a spiritual connection with the building and ancestors who worked in it.
The building was last home for Market Furniture Company, but for most of 25 years it was vacant. I tried to purchase it in 1998, but the owner would not sell. It fell into disrepair.
An investment company bought it about three years ago and allegedly had plans for it. I shared my plans for making a pub/restaurant out of it, but they gutted it and left the unsupported walls standing.
I watched the demolition company destroy the interior, and went as far at to remind them to leave the steel supports for the exterior walls intact, as they were necessary for support.
They were removed.
The building is just a “thing,” but the history, heritage, and family that occupied it for 30 years were physically defined by its continuing presence.
On Sept. 14, 2018 — 115 years later — the exterior walls were blown down by the winds of Hurricane Florence, but the memories of the ancestors who made the “thing” something special will live in my memories.
The city of Laurinburg has been asked to deliver the truckloads of bricks to our home where they will be sorted and perhaps many of the remaining bricks will find a special and memorable use. One brick each will be buried into the graves of each family member who made the M.A. McDougald building a part of their lives (including Uncles Robert and Robah, who ran as fast away from the family business as they could) and hopefully, Hugh McArn. A special patio is in my plans, and cousins have asked for a brick or bricks as well.
A tragedy may become something memorable.
Beacham McDougald is a Laurinburg resident and Scotland County historian.