Thursday, July 12, 2018
In the early 1900s, the McNeil Brothers had a family pharmacy at 106 W. Walnut St. This location later in the 1940s was part of Hunt's Department Store.
In 1908, the McNeil Brother's Rexall Drug Store boasted 2,500 square feet and five clerks to cater to the wants of their customers. However, pharmacist Tom McNeil became infatuated with the new invention, the automobile, and started selling the machines from behind his prescription counter. This was a time before dealerships, when auto makers sold to customers directly or through a variety of channels that included mail order, department stores and traveling representatives.
"Brother Tom broke away from the family tradition and went out on a limb for himself and started selling the new contraption and wonder, the automobile," said Vera Key, a Benton County pioneer, in 1955. She spoke of McNeil starting the first autodealership in Rogers in 1909. "He first took over the livery stable located near Poplar Street (222-224 S. First St., now the location of the big modern building between Favorite Tuxedos and the Iron Horse Coffee Shop) and made everyone fearful of passing the place lest someone might come tearing out in one of the newfangled monsters. Among the first cars sold by Mr. McNeil was to his father-in-law, Dr. Rufus Rice, and how the doctor did scare the horses and stir up the dust, incurring the wrath of the town -- especially the housewives, for this was truly one dusty town prior to paving."
McNeil and the newfangled machine both prospered, and in 1930, he hired the prominent local architect, A.O. Clarke, to design a new building at 119 S. Second St. for a Chevrolet dealership. The opening of the new dealership was a gala event, with between 1,500 and 2,000 people attending. Also, on that day, more than 500 lucky people viewed the free picture show at the Victory Theater across the street, courtesy of McNeil. With the Depression going on at the time, this was the most exciting event happening in Rogers. There were only 3,500 citizens in Rogers, and more than half of the population turned out for this event.
The dealership thrived as shown by a July 1, 1950, ad in the Rogers Daily News. It showed McNeil presenting a 1950 Chevrolet Stateline Deluxe four-door sedan to Clint Pratt for 30 years of service.
This building on Second Street was the home of McNeil Chevrolet from 1930 until 1954, when it was purchased by Joe Bill Hackler. Hackler Chevrolet was in the building until 1970, when it was acquired by Jerry Smith, and later, Buddy Sparks in 1973.
"I worked at Hackler Chevy in 1960 for a couple of years upon returning from the U.S. Army in Germany," Ted Givers related about the dealership on a popular Rogers' web site. "I worked with Jack Lynch in the parts department. Joe Bill Hackler had a cool convertible in the showroom. It was Cherry red exterior, red and white leather interior, white top 1960 Impala model. I bought that car. It was the most popular car in Rogers for two years. Back then, we had parades downtown on several occasions. I got to drive that baby in them."
In the 1970s, many businesses were moving from downtown out to Highway 71 South (Eighth Street). Sparks Chevrolet moved in 1974, and after 44 years, ended forever the building's use as an auto dealership.
Hickman Printing moved into the former auto dealership, and operated in the building for 11 years until 1984 when the business was sold and the printing office moved.
The next exciting chapter in the story of the historic building began in 1988, when it was purchased and renovated by the law firm of Matthews, Campbell and Rhoads. The story of the law firm would be a book in itself, but the friendship between David Matthews and Craig Campbell goes back to high school days in Rogers. Both graduated in the Class of 1969, with Craig as the class president, and David as Mr. Rogers High School and senior favorite.
The two old friends joined business together in 1980, and John M. Stephens joined the law practice in Lowell. The firm, established a branch office in Rogers in the First National Bank building (now Arvest) in 1983. In that same year, George R. Rhoads joined the firm. Two years later, in 1985, Johnnie Emberton Rhoads also joined the firm.
In 1988, the partners decided to consolidate the two offices and purchased the building in downtown Rogers at 119 S. Second Street. The law firm moved into the building in May 1989, after extensive remodeling with the help of architect Don Spann.
Today, historic downtown Rogers is very fortunate to have the law firm of Matthews, Campbell, Rhoads, McClure & Thompson occupying and thriving in the historic building built by Tom McNeil in 1930.
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