A retail establishment of this size would have been considered enormous in a larger city, but for one to have been located in the little farm town of Pelham was nothing short of amazing. Judson Larrabee Hand modeled his store on Marshall Field’s in Chicago and when it opened in 1916, dubbed it “The Largest Rural Department Store in the World”. Perhaps its most impressive architectural feature, besides its sheer size, is a central open rotunda highlighted by a dome (not visible from street level). Over the years the Hand Trading Company helped establish Pelham as both an agricultural and retail center for the region, but changing times led to its inevitable closure by 1984. It’s my understanding that the Joint Development Authority (Mitchell, Colquitt, Grady and Thomas) has been slowly renovating the building from the inside out, and I believe it now features event and retail space. They have a Facebook page.
An interesting side note: Hand’s daughter, Virginia, was the wife of Cason Callaway, famous for Callaway Gardens; his daughter Alice was married to Fuller Callaway, Jr.
Here’s a great memory of Pelham and the Hand Trading Company from C. T. Cain: From 1939 through 1945 my family share cropped a farm owned by Mr.Fred Hand. At least twice a month we would hitch up our mules and wagon for a trip to Pelham(est 4-5 miles). After parking our wagon behind Hand Trading Company,our parents would shop at HTC and I would take in a movie at the Pine Theater. Then I took what was left of the .25 cents and buy a comic book and cherry soda at Hand’s soda fountain. My fondest memories of HTC were the bathroom upstairs since it was indoors and very clean. Also the elevator (which was operated by a man with Dwarfism and always had a smile) to take us to the upper floors. I grew up all around Pelham: 1st in the Cotton/Harmony area, then west of Pelham close to the Hawthorne Trail. Worked in many areas to support my parents. Mostly hiring my labor out to farmers such as Jim Curles, Preacher Thomas, and Mr. Brim in the Cotton area. Even worked for Harris’s dairy for a spell. But each weekend led me back to Pelham and HTC.
In 1951 I joined the US Army and enjoyed 22 years of serving my country. But during all those years, my thoughts were of Pelham and HTC. When I was asked where I was from I would always say “FROM A SMALL SOUTHWESTERN TOWN WHICH HAS A LARGE BUILDING COVERING A CITY BLOCK CALLED THE HAND TRADING COMPANY”. There’s not enough space here to list all the memories I have of Pelham and the Hand Trading Co building. I’ve travelled the world , but there’s no place like home. C.T.(Buddy) Cain US Army Logistical Officer(Retired) PS: I’ve worn many shirts to school with a big hand symbol on the back from a fertilizer sack. Oh those were the days.
Pelham Commercial Historic District, National Register of Historic Places