HUNTINGTON — In the late 1890s and early 1900s, Huntington saw the opening of a number of wholesale houses that supplied an array of merchandise to retail stores in several states.
One of the first was the Barlow-Henderson Co., which was founded in 1892 with B.F. Barlow as president and manager and Charles W. Watts as secretary and treasurer. In 1895, the company built a seven-story building that later all but burned to the ground in a spectacular fire.
In 1898, G.N. Biggs became involved in the business, and the name was changed to Biggs-Watts & Company. When Biggs retired in 1906, C. Lloyd Ritter entered the business and the name was changed to Watts, Ritter & Co. with Watts as president.
In 1914, a seven-story building was erected on the northeast corner of 3rd Avenue and 11th Street that housed the Watts, Ritter offices and warehouse on the first five floors, while Huntington Lodge 53 of the Masons occupied the top two floors. Watts, Ritter built a five-story addition to the east in 1922, and added two more stories to it in 1926.
The original building was an elaborate design, with an unusual terra cotta entrance topped with an oval stained glass window depicting the Masonic emblem. The design of the addition was more utilitarian, although nicely matched to the original building.
Watts, Ritter passed from local ownership in 1930 when it was sold to Ely & Walker of St. Louis, although it retained the Watts, Ritter name. Ely & Walker shut down Watts, Ritter in 1959, bringing to an end a business that had been part of Huntington for nearly 70 years.
The original Masonic Temple/Watts, Ritter building and its addition (now known as River Tower) are still standing and over the years have housed a variety of tenants. The Huntington Masonic Lodge continues to occupy the top two floors of the original building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
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