And Now You Know: W.C. Griggs was Orange’s Grand Old Man

Published 3:03 pm Saturday, March 28, 2020

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Mike Louviere, And Now you Know

William Chaffe Griggs was born on September 13, 1869, in Davenport, Devonshire, England. He was the youngest of nine children. At the age of 9, he was sent to a boarding school. Griggs became a well-educated young man with an interest in music and literature, with a special interest in opera.

In 1885, at the age of 16, he immigrated to America and settled in Minden, Louisiana where he lived with his sister Mary and her husband John Charles T. Chaffe.

Chaffe owned a drug store, Griggs worked for him, learned the business and became a registered pharmacist.

When Griggs moved to Orange is not documented. It is thought that he came to Orange in the late 1800s to early 1900. In Orange, he worked as a druggist at Hewson’s Drug Store located at Fourth and Front Streets. He also worked as an insurance agent.

In 1902, Griggs established the first bookstore in Orange. He would operate the bookstore in the same location until his death in 1950.

He met Miss Catherine Brown, an art teacher at Henderson School. She was born on September 3, 1876, in Tennessee. Her family later moved to Alabama, then to San Marcos, Texas.

Miss Brown had moved to Orange to teach and lived with her uncle and aunt Mr. and Mrs. John Hart. 

She married Griggs on June 27, 1906, at her family’s home in San Marcos. The couple had two children, Katherine Elizabeth Griggs and Nancy Grace Griggs Booker.

Catherine Griggs’ father was a Methodist minister, W.C. Griggs was a member of the Church of England. The Episcopal Church in Orange had no minister at the time so the family attended the First Methodist Church of Orange. 

Griggs became a member of the Board of Stewards and a long time Sunday school teacher.

The 1917 Orange City Directory listed Griggs Book Store as being located at 203-B Fifth Street, telephone number 50. The Griggs residence was located at 608 Sixth Street, telephone number 257.

When the Griggs Book Store opened it was the only book store in Orange. It carried office supplies and school supplies. Office furniture could be ordered on request.

Students often stood in double lines to buy their supplies. 

In those days, they had to buy their own schoolbooks. Students from elementary through high school could buy all their books at Griggs Book Store.

Griggs packaged supplies for each grade level to speed up the buying process. The package included paper, pens, pencils, and books for each grade level, per student.

At the rear of the store, Griggs made frames, sized the glass, and mounted pictures. He was known for the meticulous care that he gave each project.

The bookstore took on the appearance of a toy land at Christmas. 

He had dolls for girls and toys for boys displayed throughout the store. During the month of October, he had catalogs available for parents to choose and order toys for the children’s Christmas. Games, toys, dolls, and books made up the Christmas list for many children in those days.

Griggs always encouraged his customers to browse through the many shelved volumes; “How else are you going to discover the special book you are looking for?”

After his death in 1950, his daughter Katherine took over the business. She showed the same helpful courtesy her father had given for so many years. 

The year of his death she moved the business from the original location to the Holland Hotel building. 

Cullen Browning wrote a tribute in his column to the well-known and much liked W.C. Griggs:  “Moving the landmark store in Orange brings to mind the record of the late Billie Griggs, who established the Griggs Book Store on Fifth Street more than a half-century ago. Sufficient to say that Billie Griggs lived long enough in Texas’ first city to win the title of “Grand Old Man” among hundreds of his old-time and new friends. Billie Griggs had more friends and fewer enemies than almost any other individual in Orange. He always had a good word for Orange and her people.”

“And now you know.”