Saturday, January 13, 2018

Sepia Saturday: Men in the Wood Pile

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.

This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is a busy street scene that offers any number of interpretations. However, the men in the bottom right corner looking at a pile of stuff inspired me to take another look at this photo:

Unknowns in album of Velma Davis Woodring perhaps Jake Hockman or Paul Hockman

The photo is in a scrapbook that belonged to my grandaunt Velma Davis Woodring. I assumed these were friends and that the photo was taken probably between 1921 and 1928. But who were these men? What was this place? It might have been some place in Harrisonburg where Velma was studying at Harrisonburg Teachers College (now James Madison University - Go DUKES!), or it might have been a building in her hometown of Shenandoah, Virginia.

And was this place under construction? Undergoing demolition? Or was it a storage place? Where are the doors? And what is that thing under the tarp? At first I thought it was a small cannon, but that makes no sense. Is it a spool? A speaker? A handle to that thing behind it?

Eh ~ never mind. Back to my original question: Who were these men? The one on the left seemed familiar, and then it came to me. He looks like a younger version of this man on the right:
Wysong and Jacob P. Hockman about 1927
Frank Wysong and Jacob Hockman
scanned from Shenandoah: A History of Our Town
and Its People
The bow tie, the tilt of the hat, the air of authority. If my suspicions are correct, the man in the wood pile was Jacob Hockman, the neighbor and good friend of my great-grandparents Walter and Mary Frances Jollett Davis. The families lived on the same side of Sixth Street in Shenandoah, Virginia. Their daughters were best friends.

Jacob “Jake” Hockman and his wife Attie started the Home Fuel and Supply Co, Inc. in 1918 dealing in both building supplies and coal.

In 1927 Jake Hockman was featured in the Shenandoah Magazine as part of a series on local businessmen. He was praised for his business philosophy which was to provide “proven material that must stand the test of time and wear.”

The Hockmans started small but over the years Jake expanded his business to include a warehouse, lumber house, lumber yard, and coal yard. Its location with the railroad on one side and highway on the other made it easy to supply local contractors with cement, plaster, lime, paint, varnish, and, of course, lumber and coal. As the magazine noted, Jake “spared no effort to make it a progressive and successful business, and, in so doing, he has gained the confidence and approval of those who have known him.”

The building and STUFF look more like a salvage yard than a one-stop-shop for fresh building supplies, but there is a kinship in the two.

Probably one of Jake’s best customers was my great grandfather Walter Davis. He was a carpenter and house builder who built not only his own home on Sixth Street but also many of the houses in Shenandoah, quite a few of them right there on Sixth Street. 

I have thought maybe the man on the right of the first photo was Walter. The hat is his style. 

Walter Davis and his car
Walter Davis and his car

However, most of the photos of Walter Davis are from the late 1920s when he was in his late 50s-early 60s.

With that realization, I am now doubting that the other man is Jake Hockman. Perhaps it is his son Paul who in 1930 was the manager of the coal and lumber yard.

The bottom line - I’m back to where I started. Who were these men? What was this place?

See how others were inspired at Sepia Saturday.

© 2018, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.


  1. You've got the right attitude, I think. Chase a clue down, flesh it out with the details you can find, and if it falls through, enjoy the story you have created anyway. After all, nobody's life depends upon our blogs!

  2. My interpretation of the photo is that construction is going on behind them, with a makeshift "roof" protecting materials on the site. Jacob Hockman might have been supplying building materials to a builder? Anyway, it's an intriguing photo for Sepia Saturday and I enjoyed your "thinking out loud" analysis.

  3. It looks like a storage place to me.

  4. Your choice of photo proves there's more than one way to interpret the prompt picture! Nice going!!! Trying to figure out who's who in unidentified photos is not easy and can be rather frustrating when there seems to be no definitive answer.

  5. Your choice of photo proves there's more than one way to interpret the prompt picture! Nice going!!! Trying to figure out who's who in unidentified photos is not easy and can be rather frustrating when there seems to be no definitive answer.

  6. My mother would have said "say what you want as no one will know the difference". LOL! And yes, I reminded her that I would know the difference and that's what mattered.

  7. The shadows on the wall behind them look angular like roof framing, not tree branches. On the shed roof there is a large block and tackle with ropes running up to the top left. So I think the spool thing beneath the tarp is a drive wheel for a hoist. Perhaps a geared machine part for a crane. The window and large openings are incomplete so I think this is definitely a building site. But it looks unsophisticated so my guess is that it is an industrial structure rather than a commercial or residential building. Maybe Mr. Hockman's new lumber warehouse? Hockman's son seems a likely suspect for the man in the boater hat.

  8. Nice bit of sleuthing. I wouldn't be too quick to give up on the Jake Hockman theory. There is a resemblance between the "Jakes" in the two photos, right down to the bow tie, which may have been a trademark of his (since the other men in both photos have long ties). Identifyuing unlabeled photos can be frustrating, but since this one made it into an album it's worth pursuing.

  9. Two Classy Looking Guys! Surely it is more likely the photo would be promoting a Construction rather than a Demolition?
    Whoever/Whatever i Like Their Style & I wouldnt want to mess with that 'Cannon' (just in case!)