M. T. McEldowney

Editor’s note: This sto­ry first ran last November. In light of the McEldowney Building on Cleveland Avenue being fea­tured in recent arti­cles, we thought it might be nice to fea­ture once again the man behind this build­ing and a hand­some house, now sad­ly lost. 

Morgan Thomas McEldowney (c. 1865–1934) was born on a farm near Vanceburg in Lewis County, attend­ed the University of Kentucky, and came to Winchester as a young man.  Here he had the good for­tune to come under the notice of Smith Kerr, pro­pri­etor of Winchester’s most suc­cess­ful flour mill.  He proved him­self so use­ful that Kerr brought him into the busi­ness in 1889.

“Mr. S. P. Kerr, of the Winchester Roller Mills, has asso­ci­at­ed with him in the milling busi­ness Mr. M. T. McEldowney, who has been an effi­cient employ­ee of the house for the past six years, and we now take great plea­sure in mak­ing the announce­ment as we know Mr. McEldowney to be a wor­thy young man.”

According to Kerr’s obit­u­ary, McEldowney ran the mills dur­ing Kerr’s long ill­ness. “Years ago M. T. McEldowney became asso­ci­at­ed with him in busi­ness and of late years the cares of the large busi­ness inter­ests of the firm, espe­cial­ly the details, have been looked after by the lat­ter in a great degree.”  Following Kerr’s death in 1906, the mill car­ried on under the part­ner­ship of his son-in-law David Matlack, William Woolcott, and McEldowney. 

McEldowney sold his inter­est in the mills to Woolcott in 1921.  By that time his busi­ness inter­ests had great­ly expand­ed, espe­cial­ly in the area of bank­ing and real estate.  He had erect­ed Winchester’s most inno­v­a­tive com­mer­cial build­ing on Cleveland Avenue, a grand house on South Main Street, a tele­phone build­ing, and a new bank.  The lat­ter build­ing, con­struct­ed in 1923 at the south­west cor­ner of Broadway and Main, opened as the Commercial Deposit Bank.  McEldowney became pres­i­dent and remained at the helm until his death. 

His show­place home at 215 South Main, next door to the Bluegrass Heritage Museum, was framed by a mas­sive, two-sto­ry porch sup­port­ed by eight Corinthian columns.  In 1927 E. O. Guerrant pur­chased the house as an addi­tion to his Guerrant Mission Clinic and Hospital.  The house stood vacant after 1945. Sadly, the McEldowney House, which dete­ri­o­rat­ed great­ly over the years, was razed in 2011.

The McEldowney Building, now a local land­mark, is locat­ed on Cleveland Avenue, just east of the cir­cuit court build­ing. McEldowney’s enter­prise had an inaus­pi­cious begin­ning. The four-sto­ry build­ing put up in 1907 was wiped out in a fire the fol­low­ing year. The Winchester Sun head­lines read “$55,000 blaze–one of the most dis­as­trous fires that has occurred in Winchester in recent years–the McEldowney Block and Christian Church total­ly destroyed.” 

The fire start­ed in the base­ment below W. A. Brock’s restau­rant and spread to the church.  Winchester’s vol­un­teer fire depart­ment was joined by brigades from Richmond and Paris.  They “fought the flames with the ener­gy of des­per­a­tion and due to their almost super­hu­man exer­tions,” the busi­ness­es on the Main Street side were saved, as well as the roller mills across the street and Dr. Isaac Shirley’s office next to the church. 

The McEldowney Building, on Cleveland Avenue in Winchester, from an old postcard.
The McEldowney Building, on Cleveland Avenue in Winchester, from an old postcard. 

At the time of the fire, occu­pants of the build­ing includ­ed Brock’s Restaurant, the U.S. Post Office, the Board of Education offices, Jouett & Jouett attor­neys, Roe, Winans & Scott plumbers, H. F. Bensinger insur­ance, Azbill & Strossman coal, G. W. Strother insur­ance and real estate, Winchester Granite Brick Company and many of the fra­ter­nal orga­ni­za­tions in town (Knights Templar, Knights of Pythias, Order of Red Men and two Masonic lodges).

McEldowney went to work imme­di­ate­ly to replace the ruined struc­ture with a “six-sto­ry sky­scraper.”  Plans called for a fire-proof build­ing of con­crete and brick, min­i­mal use of wood, and the first pas­sen­ger ele­va­tor in Winchester.  J. W. Wheeler was the gen­er­al contractor. 

With its loca­tion across from the cour­t­house, the build­ing was a mag­net for attor­neys.  Those with offices there from 1911 to 1915 were David L. Pendleton, L. Hampton Bush, Valentine W. Bush, Beverly Jouett, Rodney Haggard, Frank Haggard, Smith Hays Sr., Elmer Hays, S. A. Jeffries, Lewis Hampton, William Lindsay, Herbert Moore, T. G. Stuart, and George Wycoff.  Many remained for years.  Local direc­to­ries reveal lat­er attor­neys:  Smith Hays Jr., James Clay, William Dykeman, Blake Page, Henry Rosenthal Jr., Daniel Yates, Michael Rowady, John Keeton, and William Elkins.

During the last sev­er­al decades the build­ing fell into dis­re­pair and became large­ly unoc­cu­pied.  Fortunately for our com­mu­ni­ty, Demetrius Fassas and Alexander Fassas (DAM Holdings) pur­chased the McEldowney Building in 2019, along with the old bank build­ing at 2 South Main, and began restora­tion of both. 

In September 2022 Adam Kidd, on behalf of DAM Holdings, accept­ed a Historic Preservation Award from the Clark County-Winchester Heritage Commission.

M. T. McEldowney, “phil­an­thropist, banker, farmer, and landown­er, always at the front in every call for pub­lic ser­vice,” died at his home in 1924.  He was sur­vived by his wife Nancy, daugh­ter of Judge M. M. Cassidy of Mt. Sterling, and sev­er­al broth­ers and sis­ters.  McEldowney was buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Mt. Sterling.

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