A Brief History of Main Street Tucker, GA
Tucker began as a loose expanse of farms and homesteads that resulted from the Land Lottery in the early 1820’s. Dirt trails through the unclaimed forests connected the farms, brought produce to the markets and settlers to churches and schools. As more people came to the area, the woods gave way to more homes and businesses. In the records of the newly-formed DeKalb County, the town was known as Browning’s District, named for a prominent landowner whose descendants still reside in Tucker.
The trails became roads and were improved and straightened to connect the nearby towns of Clarkston, Decatur, Stone Mountain, Norcross, Pittsburg and Lawrenceville. The names of the roads changed over time but gave the new town its structure. In April of 1892, the newly completed Seaboard Air-Line Railroad was completed between Monroe, N.C. and Atlanta, with a new station at the crossing on the road that lead to Clarkston.
The center of town was officially laid out in 1907. Over time, this road‘s name changed from Third Avenue to Idlewood Road and later to Main Street. The name Tucker was given to the town, but depending on the legends, the namesake was either a Seaboard Railroad executive or a member of the Tucker family that lived in the area at the time.
There has been a constant evolution of business and institutions along Main Street, from LaVista Road to Lawrenceville Highway…. too many to list here, but just a few highlights, in a loose chronology:
Howard Grant built a grist mill and saw mill on First Avenue, now known as Railroad Avenue, where the Old Tucker Mill Antiques store now stands. After he sold out to Mr. Charlie Britt, he went on to build over 500 homes and businesses in Tucker and elsewhere in DeKalb County. Among these were the first buildings on Main Street in about 1907. They extend from the corner near the RR tracks up to the space that now houses the Masonic Lodge. On the corner was the 2-storey pharmacy and medical office of Dr. Walter W. Andrews. Various social and civic organizations used the upstairs space for meetings. Dr. Andrews practiced medicine in Tucker and Decatur at a time when there were few practitioners in the area, dispensing cure-alls and delivering babies for many years.
Beyond Dr. Andrews’ office were two adjoining storefronts, the general store belonging to George M. England and a hardware store, owner unknown. The rest of Main Street before 1910 was occupied by a handful of homes and two small churches. On the far end of the road, just east of the intersection of LaVista Road, was the First Baptist Church, established in 1893.
In 1919, Reid and Kelley Cofer bought the general store from Mr. England and opened their own mercantile shop. As business increased, they quickly outgrew the shop and built the first of the Cofer Bros. Department Stores across the road a few years later. It was destroyed by fire, resulting in tragic loss of life and livelihood, but was rebuilt in 1948. It was a Tucker institution until 1975.
Tucker’s second school building, a 2-storey wooden structure, stood on the east side, about a block down from LaVista, from 1918 until 1928, when the new stone building was dedicated on the present site of the High School. Homes and doctors’ offices later stood on that lot, followed by the Colonial Store, Tucker’s first supermarket, and is now the Fellowship Hall of the First Baptist Church.
Beyond First Avenue, strings of storefronts were built on both sides of the street. There have been gas stations, mechanics and a feed store, jewelry stores and gift shops, a bowling alley, grocery stores, restaurants, barber shops and beauty salons, a funeral home, florists and shoe stores, banks, realtors and law offices. Each one of those businesses represents an early Tucker entrepreneur who depended on the small community for his or her livelihood. The Tucker Business Association grew from this enterprising group and is still prominent today.
In 1939, a new pharmacist came to town. Dr. Norman Newsome bought the store fixtures and stock from Dr. Andrews and opened his drugstore on the west side of the street. Doc retired and sold his business to David Carr whose family operated the business until about 2009.
The Masonic Lodge was built in 1948. Two years later, the drugstore owned by Drs. Costa and Jones was built next-door to the Lodge. Their young partner, Dr. Harold Fountain, took over in 1962 and continued the business until his retirement in 1989. These two drugstores were more than pharmacies: they were social meeting places, employment opportunities for generations of high school boys and girls, someone to call in an emergency before there were trauma facilities and a milkshake on a hot summer afternoon.
The Bank of Tucker, first bank on Main Street, was established in 1919 by brothers Pierce K. and Lloyd S. Burns, descended from one of Tucker’s earliest families. It stood on the east side of the road across the alley from the present Fountain’s Drugstore. Reid and Kelly Cofer acquired control of the bank in 1944, expanding it in order to finance the growth of the town. The bank was bought by the Citizen’s and Southern Bank in the mid-1960’s. A house belonging to the Clyde Barrett family, that had been moved two hundred yards to make way for the construction of the Masonic Lodge in 1948, was finally demolished to make way for the new C&S building. The old Bank of Tucker building was torn down and replaced with the present-day brick park. The C&S Bank is now the Bank of America.
Tucker Federal Savings and Loan was opened in 1956 on the west side of the street, on the corner of First Avenue. Locally owned and operated, its board of directors was comprised of Tucker’s outstanding business men and women. It moved into its new building in 1963 and expanded to include branch offices in all the adjoining counties. Tucker Federal was very active in the community. It published a regular newsletter, The Eagle, which chronicled life in Tucker, maintained an historical archive, sponsored events such as the Tucker Day celebrations, supported youth sporting leagues, and many other local endeavors. Tucker Federal, now the Royal Bank of Canada, left a great legacy that is still missed today.
An institution on Main Street that endures today is Matthews Cafeteria. It was opened by P.T. and Ruby Matthews in 1956 on land that over time housed a brick and coal yard, a miniature golf course and a seasonal Christmas toy store for Cofer Brothers. Known for its country-style food rather than its decor, it has been unceasingly popular, a destination for diners from all over the region. Now owned and managed by Charles Green, a third generation in the business, Matthews has been featured in magazines and TV food programs for years.
In the days before Main Street was paved, it was wide and dusty and had a berm down the middle that served as a divider. It was paved in the late 40’s. Before the county laid water pipes down Main Street, all the businesses got their water pumped in from a single well located behind the upper end of Cofer’s. There was a big air whistle behind Cofer’s building supply yard that blew everyday at noon, and all the stores and banks closed at noon on Wednesdays. On every-other Friday, the DeKalb County Library System’s Book-Mobile parked in front of Newsome’s Drugstore. The first Reid H. Cofer Library was built in 1963, but the atmosphere of the Book-Mobile was unique.
There was a time when Main Street stopped only for the train or a parade. (Or the Goat Man.) Annual celebrations have been a staple of life in Tucker since 1957 when the first Tucker Semi-Centennial event aroused everyone in town. It lasted over a week, and everyone got involved in the parades, costumes, pageants, the “jail”, horse and antique car shows, barbecues, street dances and general excitement. There have been similar parties over the years, most notably the 1963 week-long Tucker Days festival, but none to match the first one. Since then, there has been an annual Tucker Day celebration, mostly devoted to food and craft booths. The Tucker High School Homecoming parades once drew great crowds, with imaginative floats, bands, drill teams and all the trappings, but that practice ended long ago. The annual Christmas celebration on Main Street continues a tradition begun in the 1950’s when Santa Claus would come to town by a different form of transportation each year. Once he arrived by parachute, but that didn’t end very well. The advent of the Cruise-Ins for antique and collector cars over the past few years has best recalled the atmosphere and town involvement remembered from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.
All towns need a Main Street. Everyone needs to have a Main Street in their memories to carry with them. No two Main Streets are alike, but memories need to be respected and kept in a special place.
August 25, 2011
The Tucker Historical Society's web site - http://tuckergahistorical.org