Renfrow General Merchandise got its start before 1900 with Thomas Jefferson “Captain” Renfrow, a mining engineer. Renfrow came to Matthews after the Civil War and opened the Rea gold mine — once located near the intersection of Sardis Road North and Monroe Road. A movie theater is built upon one of the mine shaft’s openings. As the mine became successful, Renfrow purchased farmland and oversaw a flourishing cotton farm, later becoming a cotton ginner and broker. Renfrow began ginning cotton in 1906 and at one point had four gins operating in one building.
Location, location, location
Thanks to its central location in ‘downtown’ Matthews, the general store was a hub of activity in the growing community. Matthews farmers purchased their supplies from Renfrow on credit and paid the bill in the late fall, when they brought their cotton to Renfrow for ginning. Families would then purchase their seed, fertilizer, groceries, clothing. and hardware — again on credit — and would hopefully be settled up by Christmas.
A family affair
This way of life continued virtually unchanged until 1965, when the last bale of cotton was ginned, which you can see in the store today. Captain Renfrow had several sons; one, Eugene McDowell “Dow” Renfrow, remained in the family business of farming and selling. Henry Massey, Dow’s nephew, was his assistant for nearly forty years.
Dow’s son, Franklin, began working in the store after graduating from college and maintained control of the business until 1984. Throughout the years Matthews grew from a rural agricultural community to a thriving suburb of Charlotte. Single-family housing developments were built on what was farmland. Supermarkets, malls, and large department stores replaced country stores, and automobiles became the primary mode of transportation. Improved roads and curiosity caused residents to travel away from downtown Matthews. Frank was the last surviving Renfrow and in 1984 he sold the family business to Charlotte native and family friend, David Blackley.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
Shortly before the Captain opened the doors of his store, the population of Matthews was less than 200 people. Today, the town is home to almost 30,000 residents and is no longer just a suburb of Charlotte. Blackley continues to serve the needs of the community, now made up of many home gardeners. The store’s mainstay is still farming and gardening supplies and if it can grow in the ground, Renfrow probably has the seeds.
And, while residents could go to a big box store for nuts and bolts, they choose Renfrow Hardware. Renfrow is more than a hardware store, it’s a page out of a history book. Stop by Renfrow Hardware. Listen to the floor creek as you walk from one room to the next. Lose yourself looking at nuts and bolts, crickets and baby chicks. Pop the top off a cold soda and relax.