The History of the Darby Building
Over a century ago, Major Byron Parsons began drilling and discovered the great salt dome resting under land now known as Grand Saline,Texas. Major Parsons founded the Lone Star Salt Company, and it was here that his nephew, J.E. Persons, Sr. got his start in Grand Saline. Mr. Persons commissioned one of the first brick structures to be built in Grand Saline. The historic two-story building at the corner of Main and Pacific Streets was originally the home of the Salt City Company, a general merchandise business owned principally by Mr. J.E. Persons. The landmark building was constructed in 1904 using bricks fired on the site and made from clay locally available in the East Texas area.
The original building was three floors (each measuring 4,500 square feet) including the basement that was used for lumber, buggies, wagons, automobiles and larger farm implements. The first floor held the company offices, as well as an attractive bustling mercantile area selling clothing and shoes. On the sales floors, there was a small metal track winding just below the ceiling that ran from each of the check-out areas to the office, where the one cash drawer was located. On this track, wire baskets carried purchases and payment, either in the form of cash or in company-issued brass tokens, to the office where parcels would be wrapped and change made.
The Salt City Company focused on selling lumber and butane during this interim, running a lumberyard in the area now known as Depot Plaza Park. The booming economy of the 1940’s allowed the company to expand once again, and it returned to the original building.
In 1956, the Salt City Company downsized once again, and the Persons family sold all of the buildings to Clyde and Galloway Darby., The first group to rent space in the structure was The Odd Fellow Lodge which occupied the second floor. Kenneth Berry opened what was then the largest grocery store in town on the first floor. Joe Bailey’s Furniture and Appliance Store occupied part of the building and had other offices, a beauty shop and a church. In 1964, The Darby Department Store moved from across Main Street into the one-story section.
In the mis-1960’s, a fire on the back dock threatened to destroy the building. The night watchman discovered the fire as it entered the building through the boarded windows, quickly involving the upper floor. Fire Chief Perry Pugh and the Grand Saline Volunteer Fire Department saved the building, and the only remaining sign of what could have been a disaster is the scorching still visible on the beautiful tin ceiling.
Clyde Darby, after spending over 10 years managing Salt City Company’s clothing department joined E.L. Dorough to form Darby & Dorough Dry Goods Co. The year was 1929; discovery year of oil in Van, Texas and Grand Saline was a boom town. Mr. Dorough passed away shortly after the partnership was formed and Clyde purchased Dorough’s part of the business and named it Darby Dry Goods Co. Upon returning from military service in 1953, Galloway Darby joined his father in the business known by that time as Darby Department Store. Clyde suffered a disabling injury in an automobile accident in 1960 and was never active in the business again. In 1964 Darby Department Store was moved across Main Street into a newly remodeled store in the building acquired in 1956 that was formerly occupied by Salt City Company. After 69 years in business, Darby’s was closed in 1998 when Galloway Darby retired.
In loving memory of his parents, Clyde and Ruth Darby and his wife, Maribeth, Galloway generously donated this historic building in 2007 to the City of Grand Saline to house the Salt Museum.
Without the Darby building, the dream of opening the Grand Saline Salt Museum might never have been realized. Thanks to the generous donation from Mr. Galloway Darby, thousands of visitors will come to Grand Saline each year to visit our museum and community.
As the company expanded, two more buildings were added, making the retail floor area over 13,000 square feet. The new areas were used for dry goods, hardware, coffins, and furniture. As a result of Mr. Persons’ death in 1932, the company began to downsize. K. Woolen’s Department Store leased the two-story building soon thereafter, and remained the building’s occupant until after World War II. Most of the one story building was occupied by Grand Saline Hardware and Furniture, with the Grand Saline Sun occupying the northernmost building.