Pre-Belk flashback: C.H. Williams estate hits auction block
An upcoming estate auction recalls one of the long-gone department stores where Charlottesvillians shopped for most of the 20th century. Slated for May 21, the sale features art and antiques from the estate of Mr. and Mrs. C. H. Williams, whose namesake store operated from 1935 to 1981 on East Main Street.
"In the first two thirds of the 20th century, if you thought about about going to a department store in Charlottesville, you went to C. H. Williams," says longtime city resident Rey Berry, who notes that the store preceded such other mid-century notables as Leggett, now operating as Belk, and the now-defunct Miller & Rhoads.
Mr. Williams, a native of Greene County, was sent to Charlottesville in 1935 to manage the Pugh Company store at 212 East Main Street. A few months later, he bought the store.
For over 40 years, C.H. Williams Co. was a Charlottesville destination for fine clothing and household goods. An advertisement from a 1944 edition of the Daily Progress touts 36-inch cotton lace for $1.39 a yard and pure linen selling for $2.19. According to another newspaper clipping on file with the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, the company employed 60 people in 1963 with an annual payroll of $175,000.
In 1981, however, after the death of the Williams' son, Harvey, who served as president, the business closed, and the building was sold. The structure became a Smith's of Bermuda shop in 1982 and now houses Siips, a wine and champagne bar/restaurant.
The auction sale– which will include additional items from outside the estate– will showcase over 200 pieces from the Williams family home, including furniture, jewelry, and paintings which include a cubist work by noted British artist John Leith Craxton. Robin Stafford, who is working with Harlowe-Powell Auction Gallery to sell the estate, had hoped to see some pieces from the department store.
"Unfortunately," says Stafford, "we didn't get any pieces with the store logo, although some of the family pieces of silver could possibly have been from the store."
Stafford says that over 200 people from across the state are expected to place bids and that dealers from New York have expressed interest. The pre-sale estimate of the proceeds is around $250,000.