William Penick Boatwright

William Penick Boatwright

The story of the Boatwrights in Danville starts with Dr. John Guerrant Boatwright (above), a descendant of early Virginia colonists. Dr. Boatwright served during the entirety of the Civil war as a surgeon for the Confederate Army. In 1864 he married Pattie Pendleton Phillips, and a year later, when the war ended, the couple moved to Danville, where Dr. Boatwright became one of the leading surgeons in the city. The family set up house on Patton street with their four children; Richard Pendleton, Alice Winston (who eventually married George King Griggs of Green Street), John Ballard, and Herbert Lee. The couple had another son, Allen W., who died in infancy. A year after their arrival, William Penick was born, followed in 1871 by Joseph Overton.

When Dr. Boatwright died in 1873, he left six children between the ages of two and seventeen. Richard, the eldest, went to work as a bank clerk, while John Ballard, thirteen, and Henry Lee, eleven, (whom we’ll discuss in a future post) found work in the tobacco warehouses where they learned the trade to which they would later credit their success.

Young William Penick, just seven at the time of his father’s death, quit school and found work as a clerk in a store. William’s experience there eventually led him to take up interest in clerical work and that, combined with this close associations with the tobacco business through his brothers, led him to found Boatwright Brothers Company, books, stationery, and printing, which his three brothers, John Ballard, Herbert Lee, and J. Overton, had stake and name in. The business was flourishing in the 1890’s and had a storefront at 319 Main Street on what was then known as the Dudley block. It’s likely that some of the brothers were involved in the stationery business in name alone, as brother, John Ballard, had established his own tobacco re-drying business in Mullins, South Carolina in 1900.

Around midnight of December 14, 1911, fire broke out in the printing shop, ultimately destroying the Boatwright Brothers stationers as well as the neighboring Virginia Hardware Company and R.E. Tobin Shoe Company.

“At 1 A.M. the entire fire department is playing streams on the Dudley block in an effort to save a portion of it. The wind is blowing strongly from the north and the flames raging.”

The store eventually reopened at a location on Union Street.

In 1902, William set himself up in the furniture business, opening a showroom at 627 Main Street, while a large factory was constructed south of the railroad tracks near South Main Street. He operated this business while maintaining his involvement in the printing business, all while contributing to the city’s growth and development. the furniture factory, below, operated until 1919.

William married Katherina Mary Walker in 1893. He and “Rena”, as she was known, had two children, but neither survived past early childhood. The couple owned the home at 142 Sutherlin Avenue, likely built by Bass, Brown and Lee in 1897, and lived in the house until his death in 1950.

Stay tuned for more about the Boatwright family and about the Boatwright-Moore House.