Warren Brothers Sash & Door: A Venerable Nashville Business

by Mike Slate.

By 1853 Jesse Warren (1814-1885) and his partner Joseph Moore (1821-1871) had established a millwork machine shop on High Street (today’s 6th Avenue) in Nashville, Tennessee. The Warren & Moore company achieved local and regional prominence by 1857 when its nearly 50 employees, using steam-powered equipment — that era’s most modern — were producing massive quantities of balusters, newels, sash, doors, blinds, moldings, and dressed lumber of all kinds.

An 1863 story in the Nashville Dispatch showed Warren Brothers to have played an active role in civic affairs as early as 1855. The article listed the firm among the “very liberal” benefactors of the Nashville Protestant School of Industry for the Support and Education of Destitute Girls. The school’s all-female board of directors reads like a “Who’s Who” of Nashville’s first families, with names like Rutledge, Fogg, Kirkman, Maney, Campbell, Lindsley, Harding, and McGavock, along with Mrs. James K. Polk.

In 1874, continuing their father’s tradition, Jesse Warren Jr. (1853-1928) and his brother Joseph Moore Warren (1855-1920) established a business at 30 South Market Street (today’s 2nd Avenue) specializing in paints, oils, glass, and artists’ materials, but also offering sash, doors, blinds, and other building materials. The Warren Brothers Company operated on Market Street for about two years before moving to College Street (now 3rd Avenue North). The building on the corner of 3rd Avenue and Church Street, one block east of the famous Maxwell House Hotel, was Warren Brothers’ home for the next 50 years.  Lewis Wickes Hine‘s well-known photograph of 14-year-old bicycle messenger George Christopher was taken in November 1910 near the Warren Brothers shop, which can be seen in the background, below.

Photo of bicycle messenger George Christopher by Lewis Wickes Hine, 1910.  Lot 7480, v. 2, no. 1743 [P&P].  Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

In addition to his partnership in Warren Brothers, Joseph Warren served from about 1892 to 1911 as the general manager of the Edgefield & Nashville Manufacturing Company.  This large producer of millwork and furniture was situated just across the Cumberland River from the courthouse. Thus, Joseph manufactured millwork items on the north side of the river and sold millwork at Warren Brothers on the south side.  Jesse Jr. left the company before 1910 and, according to Warren family lore, “went west.” He and his family (wife Alice, two sons, and three daughters) appear in the 1910 U.S. Census living in Portland, Oregon. A widower by the time of the 1920 Census, Jesse and his daughter Alice were still in Oregon, now living in the household of his daughter Frances Warren Tetu. He died in Portland on September 3, 1928. After Jesse’s departure, the future of the company was left predominantly to Joseph Warren and his descendants, Joseph Warren Jr. (1877-1942) and Joseph Warren III (1907-1968).

In 1909, capitalizing on Warren Brothers’ success in the paint business, Joseph Warren Jr. founded a separate firm, the Warren Paint and Color Company, which rapidly attained international distinction.  The business continues to operate at 700 Wedgewood Avenue, its location since the early 1920s. In 1927 Warren Brothers relocated from 3rd and Church to 1146-1148 Broadway. About 1936 the company moved just north of the Tennessee State Capitol, at 7th Avenue and Harrison Street, where its warehouse facilities had been located for several years. The 7th and Harrison site is now part of the Tennessee Bicentennial Mall.

On May 22, 1967, the expanding Pacific Mutual Door Company, headquartered in Kansas City, Missouri, and led by Ray Lambert (1902-1986) and his son S. R. Lambert Jr., purchased Warren Brothers from the Warren family. A new plant was constructed on suburban Massman Drive, where, after nearly forty years at the 7th and Harrison location, Warren Brothers began operations in its new facility in 1975. Today Warren Brothers Sash and Door Company operates as an independent branch of its parent company. After many decades of wholesale millwork distribution to its many customers in the mid-South area, Warren Brothers is recognized as one of the oldest Nashville companies still in business. The company continues to approach the future with the same pioneering spirit that guided Jesse Warren and Joseph Moore in the 1850s. (1996)

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