History of George E. Darsey & Co.
Service 1st store since 1886!
Serving East Texas Since 1886, The Darsey Family has been in the retail business for 5 generations.
Currently, Charley H. Darsey and Tonya Darsey own the corporation Darsey’s Furniture. Along with the help of the 5th generation, Reily and Brooke McCully, and a great staff, Darsey’s Furniture supplies the East Texas area with upholstery, mattresses, dining sets, bedroom sets, accessories, and more. But, let’s take it back to the beginning…
George E. Darsey Sr. came to Texas from Sunnyside, Georgia in the fall of 1873 with his aunt, Mrs. Harriet Cash, and worked on the Shivers farm on the Trinity River. When Mr. & Mrs. Cash returned to Georgia, George E. Darsey moved to Crockett where he clerked in a general store, along with carrying mail on horseback from Crockett to Centerville. He was then a traveling salesman for a year or so, and after quitting the road in 1882, he returned to his old home in Georgia for a visit.
After returning to Texas, he went into business in Grapeland with John R. Foster. The business was originally a partnership between Downes and Foster before becoming John R. Foster and Co. An important element in the career of George Darsey was the habit and rule he had always adhered to that he save a part of his earnings regardless of the amount he was making. In this way, he saved the small capital necessary to go into business with Mr. John R. Foster.
According to Mr. Foster “George had $465 and I had $765. We had a pretty hard time getting started but we soon began to make money.” Mr. Darsey bought out Mr. Foster’s share in 1886 and continued the business under his own name, George E. Darsey. The original store was a frame building and housed a wide variety of merchandise, such as dry goods, furniture, groceries, and all types of farming equipment. As the business grew, he replaced the original building with the first brick building in Grapeland, measuring 27’ by 125” in 1898.
While visiting in Georgia, George encouraged his first cousin, William Grey Darsey, to move to Texas to help him in his business. William Grey Darsey moved to Grapeland in 1900. On his arrival in Grapeland, he went to work for George in Darsey’s Store at night. In the early days, the town was wild and wooly and it was a common occurrence for the bullies to go up and down the street at night and shoot the lights out. Mr. W. G. Darsey was a skilled bookkeeper. He set up a double entry system of books similar to those commonly used in banks.
The business grew and in 1907 another brick building had been added on the adjoining lot north of the original building. At this time, the store was departmentalized with the dry goods department moving across the street into a building next door to the new Farmers and Merchants State Bank, which George E. Darsey Sr. helped organize. The other two buildings housed the stocks of groceries, hardware, farm supplies, and furniture.
The Darsey buildings were destroyed by the town fire of 1913. Mr. Darsey lost six buildings in the fire, but some of the merchandise from his store was saved and he was in business the next morning on the railroad selling in box cars rented from the railroad. Immediately after the fire, a corrugated iron warehouse building was erected on the block directly behind the store block. This structure then housed the business until the new store building was ready for occupancy.
The new store building, built in 1913, was 75’ by 125’ and occupied the two lots his main store building had occupied plus the adjoining lot. It had no interior walls and was divided into three main sections-hardware and groceries, furniture and house wares, and dry goods. This building opened onto Front Street and the alley behind the store through two doors, as well as onto the side street through one door. The office was at the rear of the store on a platform surrounded by a railing, with four sets of stairs leading to the platform. The back stairs led into the office and the front stairs joined a walkway for the customers to use in front of the railing to come up to pay on their account or borrow money to lay in their crops.
The office contained a large brick vault to keep records and deeds safe in case of fire, as well as a large safe containing money. Many of the customers left their deeds and other valuable papers at Darsey’s for safekeeping. They also had used Darsey’s Store as a depository for their money before the bank was established. This large vault had been a part of the original brick building before the town burned. The vault had many valuable papers of the people of the community in it. George E. Darsey did not allow the vault to be opened for a week after the town fire, in fear that the heat from the bricks might cause the papers inside to ignite when opened. After it cooled, the vault was opened and everything inside was found to be intact.
The business was operated as a proprietorship until 1917 when a family partnership was formed, including W. G. Darsey Sr. and S. N. Boykin Sr. as members of the firm. This partnership continued until 1930, when the death of George E. Darsey Sr. brought his wife, Mrs. Lorena Murchison Darsey, and their children, George E. Darsey Jr., Mrs. Leon Anderson, M. E. Darsey Sr., and Mrs. Frank Grandberry into the partnership.
Darsey’s Store was operated as a country store and was a family type business. Various members of the family worked in the many varied departments of the store. Joe Darsey and J. S. Darsey worked hardware, W. G. Darsey and George E. Darsey Jr. were office managers and cotton and produce buyers. M. E. Darsey Sr. managed the dry goods section aided by Miss Loye Darsey, Miss Mable Boykin, Starley Boykin Sr., and Mrs. Maggie Darsey. As the children and grandchildren grew, they were taken into the business as egg counters, sackers, and delivery boys until they were trained to handle more responsible positions.
Darsey’s Store employed not only family members but offered many young people their first job and furnished jobs for many families down through the years. During the depression years of the 1930’s, as the young men who were sons of the employees and owners graduated from college, jobs were very short. They were given jobs by Darsey’s Store to drive cotton trucks to Galveston. Mr. Will Darsey jokingly stated that only boys with college degrees could drive trucks for Darseys.
The early day business of Darsey’s Store included everything from selling mules to buying cotton: from selling whiskey by the barrel to yarn for knitting. They sold feed, crocks, churns, well dippers, horse collars, nails, furniture, vegetables, high button shoes, clothes, Madam Alexander dolls, sporting goods, lumber, steamer trunks, coffins, and Huff mobiles.
Darsey’s Store bought many products from the local farmer and paid him with Darsey tokens ranging from a $5.00 to a 5 cent piece. In the Augusta news section of the Grapeland Messenger of 1907, their local reporter stated that “If you cannot find what you need in the Augusta stores then you should go to Grapeland because George Darsey sells everything from toothpicks to ocean liners.”
Darsey’s Store also served the function of an early day bank. Farmers would borrow money by the year to make a crop and pay in the fall when the crop was gathered. Some people simply deposited their receipts with Mr. Darsey and wrote orders against his money.
In 1953, George E. Darsey Jr. and his son Charley C. Darsey bought out the interest of the other members of the family. An interior wall had been built to separate the dry goods section of the store from the rest and was rented to Wallace Pate. George E. Darsey Jr. and Charley continued to operate the grocery, appliance, and hardware sections. The partnership between George E. Darsey Jr. and Charley C. Darsey continued until the death of George E. Darsey Jr. in 1962.
From 1962 to 1993, Charley C. Darsey and his wife, Martha Ann Hill Darsey, owned the store as a sole proprietorship. In 1993, Charley and Ann’s son, Charley H. Darsey and his wife, Tonya Reynolds Darsey, bought the business from Charley C. Darsey and Ann Darsey. Charley H. Darsey and Tonya Darsey incorporated the business and run it as a corporation.
In March of 1999, Charley H. Darsey and Tonya Darsey closed the grocery division of the store and sold the grocery assets to Billy and Cathy Hobson. Charley H. Darsey and Tonya Darsey retained the name George E. Darsey and Co. and all other facets of the company.
After the death of Charley C. Darsey in 1999, Charley and Tonya decided to move George E. Darsey & Co. to its new location on the loop in Grapeland and venture back into the past of the store and sell furniture and mattresses. Charley H. Darsey and Tonya Darsey have two daughters, Haley Ann and Linda Brooke. Haley Ann Darsey has a degree in marketing from Sam Houston State University, just like her father Charley H. Darsey. Haley also has a cosmetology license from Trinity Valley Community College and is currently working at Salon on the Avenue in Palestine, TX. Linda Brooke McCully is currently pursuing an education in social work through Stephen F. Austin University. Brooke married Reily McCully in May of 2019, and they currently reside in Elkhart and are the 5th generation to be working for Darsey’s.
Charley H. Darsey and Tonya Darsey owned a showroom on the loop and purchased the old iron warehouse building that was originally built by George E. Darsey Sr. after the fire of 1913 and was used as the primary business site until the new brick building was built. Charley H. and Tonya Darsey used the warehouse as storage. In May of 2009, a tornado ripped the roof off the warehouse building. The building that had served the Darsey family so faithfully for almost 100 years had to be torn down.
Once again, the Darsey family had to regroup and decide a course of action for the business. The decision was made to build a new showroom on the property on Hwy 287 in Grapeland. The old showroom on the loop is now used as storage. The Darsey family made the decision, just as George E. Darsey Sr. had so many years before, to stay in Grapeland and Houston County and support the community that has helped it thrive. The new showroom opened in September of 2009 and houses 25,000 square feet of quality home furnishings.
In May of 2009 we lost one of our prized possessions to a tornado, it was a tragic day but one of determination to keep on going. This was not just a building, it was Charley’s Great Grand Fathers safe haven from the fire of 1913. He built this building almost a hundred years before it was lost and it was built because he had lost everything he had to fire. It was also important because it was where Charley H. and Tonya started to really prosper in the business.
“True grit weathers the storm, I can safely say that it takes a lot to run a family business, it takes a lot more when bad things happen.” – Charley Darsey
New beginnings don’t come easy or cheap, but we had a decision to make; build another warehouse or a brand-new showroom. Charley H. was unsure about the direction to go, as it would take all of their savings and more. Charley H. says that is why he is glad he married the woman he did, for as usual she set him straight and they began construction on the new Darsey’s Furniture showroom. Tonya said it was for their future, the future of their children, and the future of our community. She pointed out that almost a hundred years’ agos Charley’s Great Grand Father George E. Darsey Sr. started over from nothing but faith. Almost one hundred years to the day, tragedy had struck and, once again, the Darsey’s had to pick up and keep on going.
“We will never forget the morning of the disaster but I will never also forget the morning we opened in our new location. Bitter sweet and worth it. Thanks to a very good woman my wife, Tonya Darsey, we continued to keep the faith in our business and the fantastic customers we have had for over a hundred and thirty-five years. We continue to sell the best brand names in the furniture business and have made a lot of life long friends, but if it was not for the customer that keeps on coming back WE WOULD NOT BE HERE! A man told me just yesterday that he was also a 4th generation in the business. I then asked him how so, and he said he is a 4th generation customer. I was humbled and I thought WOW! So, I must take this time to credit to my wife, parents, grandparents, and great grandparents, but mostly for over a hundred and twenty-five years of dedicated customers that have faithfully kept on coming back. That is truly humbling.” – Charley Darsey
From My Family to Your Family I Say Thank You!
Charley H. Darsey
President George E. Darsey & Co.