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Gene Ramsay's History Blog

Are you a history buff who can't get their hands on enough stories about Norcross? You've come to the right place! In this blog, local historian Gene Ramsay will take you on a journey to Norcross' past to discover the people and culture who laid the foundations for the city we know and love today. 

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Jan 28

Early Automobile Services in Norcross

Posted on January 28, 2022 at 10:52 PM by Gene Ramsay

The rise of the automobile in the early 1900s brought forth a new set of service businesses that supported travelers, including filling stations and repair shops.  As a follow-on to an earlier post on old-time car dealers in Norcross, here we will look back at some of the filling stations and repair shops that once graced our town.

The most basic of services offered for motorists was the sale of gasoline.  Garner’s Store (then located where Iron Horse Tavern is found on Jones Street today) wanted a share of that business – and to get it they had a gas pump installed in front of their store, right next to the street, as is shown on the left in the photo below.  Richard Garner, whose father Minor ran the store for many years, recalls that the gas pump shown in the photo was once demolished by an unruly driver, and that other stores in Norcross had similar gas pumps on the sidewalk in front of their businesses.

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A more complete service station was run by H H Cofer in the second block of South Peachtree Street in the mid 1900s.  In addition to providing gasoline, tires and the like at his shop, as shown in the photo below, Mr. Cofer had a part time job as a deputy sheriff.

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Longtime Norcross resident David Little worked at the service station as a young man, and remembered those times in an interview, recalling:

We lived across the railroad from the service station while I was growing up, and Hubert “Highpockets” Doby and I worked at the station together for several years.  Our duties included lubricating and changing the oil in cars, and washing an occasional car was as well – the latter was more of a challenge in the winter, when we had to build a fire around the outdoor water outlet at the station to melt the ice and get the water to flow. 

When I was turning 16 I wanted to get a driver’s license.   (In those days the license document itself was a simpler affair than today’s tamper-proof version – it was simply an application card that had been filled out by the applicant, to which the DMV applied an official seal, making it legal.  The process of getting that official stamp applied was quite time consuming however - the applicant had to get someone to take them to the DMV office on Confederate Avenue on the east side of downtown Atlanta, fill out the paperwork, take a written test and then take a driving test.  If all that was successful, the application card would be stamped.)  

However, Mr. Cofer was of some assistance.  A few weeks before my birthday Mr. Cofer told me to fill out the paperwork there in Norcross and give it to him, and said he would see what he could do. When my birthday arrived, so did my license application card, with the appropriate stamp, the same day, in our family mail.

The photo below shows H H Cofer in front of the service station.

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Herman Orr, a native of Buford who had worked in the Bona Allen Shoe Factory as a young man, is remembered in Norcross for his engine repair business next to Cofer’s shop – Orr specialized in repairs to the well-known V8 flat head engines made by Ford starting in 1932.  Quoting Wikipedia:

Although the V8 configuration was not new when the Ford V8 was introduced in 1932, the latter was a market first in the respect that it made an 8-cylinder affordable and a V engine affordable to the emerging mass market consumer for the first time. It was the first independently designed and built V8 engine produced by Ford for mass production, and it ranks as one of the company's most important developments. A fascination with ever-more-powerful engines was perhaps the most salient aspect of the American car and truck market for a half century, from 1923 until 1973. 

The engine was intended to be used for big passenger cars and trucks; it was installed in such (with minor, incremental changes) until 1953, making the engine's 21-year production run for the U.S. consumer market longer than the 19-year run of the Ford Model T engine for that market. The engine was on Ward's list of the 10 best engines of the 20th century.

 It was a staple of hot rodders in the 1950s, and it remains famous in the classic car hobbies even today, despite the huge variety of other popular V8s that followed.

George Verner established a car repair facility on Jones Street, behind the Bank of Norcross building, in the 1930s.  The shop is shown in the photo below, with employees Red Gresham and Robbie Burnett in front. 

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Below is a photo of one of the cars that was brought in for repair at Verner’s garage in Norcross.  In the background on the left you can see a building across Skin Alley from the repair shop – this was a combination residence and funeral home in those days.  It has since been demolished, and that space is now a parking lot.

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In the early 20th century there was a good bit of automobile and truck traffic back and forth between Atlanta and Buford (a major manufacturing center in those days). In the 1920s much of this traffic went from Decatur to Lawrenceville on Lawrenceville Highway, and then over to Buford.  But in the mid 1930s a more direct route was built, known these days as Buford Highway, or US 23.  This road was designed to avoid towns along the way for the most part (and thus avoid congestion), and offered a shorter and quicker trip.  Gradually a number of service stations opened up along the road.

Carl Garner, Sr., owned a service station on Buford Highway near its intersection with Rockbridge Road.  This station, which sold groceries in addition to gasoline, is shown in the photo below, with Horace Minor (Carl’s cousin) on the left and Ben Scott on the right.  Ben and his wife Emma lived in the basement of this store, which their granddaughter Betty Jarrett recalls fondly – she said it had a living room, kitchen, 2 bedrooms and a bath, and they kept chickens and a cow on the property as well.

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Ben and Emma’s son Frank Scott later ran an Amoco service station on Buford Highway near downtown Norcross, at its intersection with Cemetery Street (now Holcomb Bridge Road).  The photo below shows him at the station with his daughter Betty circa 1944.

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A disaster occurred at Scott’s station the next year.  Frank and his wife Mary had gone on a fishing trip to the North Georgia mountains to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and one day while they were gone a gasoline tanker came to the station to deliver fuel.  The truck was involved in an accident there, resulting in a fire that destroyed both the truck and the station. See the post-accident photos of the truck and station below.  Luckily no one was injured.

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The Scotts had been living in space at the station, so they had to move when they returned to Norcross.  Frank and Mary both later worked for Norcross Supply Company for many years.

George Verner moved his business from downtown Norcross to Buford Highway as traffic picked up there, and is shown in the photo below. 

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The photo below shows George Verner in front of a Coca-Cola advertising sign at the Buford Highway store.  The sign featured the driving distances to locations to near and far.

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Verner, who had attended Oglethorpe University as a young man, married Corrine Cain, the daughter of Sylvester and Maybelle Robertson Cain, circa 1917.  The Verners lived in Sarasota, Florida for a time in the 1920s but had moved back to Norcross by the mid-1930s, where they lived on Thrasher Street for a number of years.  Verner was known as an avid fisherman, and sold a variety of fishing gear at his shop on Buford Highway.  He passed away in 1973.

Another long-time Norcross car repair facility was run by Golden W. Garner on Buford Highway near its intersection with Mitchell Street.   Mr. Garner was born in Buford, but lived most of his life in Norcross, where he ran Golden’s Auto Service for over 30 years.  He was well-known for excellent customer service, being available 24 hours per day to respond to the need for automotive repairs.

 

Many thanks to Betty Scott Jarrett, Richard Garner, Carl Garner Jr., Helen Cofer and others for their help with this article.  Other sources included Wikipedia.org, Newspapers.com and Ancestry.com

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