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Fullerton, founded in Mitchell, shuts doors after 124 years in city

Fullerton Lumber Company, a building supply chain founded in Mitchell, this week ended its 124-year presence in the city with the closing of the local Fullerton Building Center.

Fullerton Lumber Company, a building supply chain founded in Mitchell, this week ended its 124-year presence in the city with the closing of the local Fullerton Building Center.

Company President Rick Martin said the Mitchell location, at 1717 N. Sanborn Blvd., closed Tuesday.

"There was a slowing in the market, and we needed to refocus our corporate resources," Martin said.

The local building center employed six people. It featured a home-building service and sold lumber and building materials.

Fullerton Lumber Company has 12 other building centers in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. The company, with headquarters in Plymouth, Minn., also runs a wholesale lumber supply store in Fort Dodge, Iowa; Fullerton Buildings Systems in Worthington, Minn.; and Fullerton Finishing Systems in Tulsa, Okla.

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Martin said it was a difficult decision to close the Mitchell building center, given the company's historical ties to the city.

"We're saddened to say goodbye to the people there and our customers in Mitchell," Martin said. "... It has a lot of sentimental value for us."

According to various historical sources, Fullerton Lumber Company was founded in 1882 in Mitchell by brothers Thomas, James and George Fullerton. Today, the principal owner of the company is a member of the Fullerton family who lives in Minnesota.

A story in author Bob Karolevitz's 1993 book, "An Historic Sampler of Davison County," says the Fullerton brothers intended to start their company in Sioux City, Iowa, but their railroad shipment of lumber was mistakenly sent to Mitchell.

"When they began to make sales right from the car," Karolevitz wrote, "they decided to remain in the new Davison County town from which the extensive Fullerton chain eventually expanded throughout the Upper Midwest."

Karolevitz cautioned that the railroad story might have been embellished. Doane Robinson's 1904 "History of South Dakota" also said the Fullertons started the company in 1882 in Mitchell, but Robinson did not mention the story about the misdirected railroad shipment.

Robinson did, however, relate numerous other details of the life of Thomas Fullerton, the first president of Fullerton Lumber Company.

Robinson wrote that Fullerton served on the first City Council of Mitchell following the city's 1881 incorporation, and went on to serve two terms as the 10th mayor of the city from 1896 to 1900. Fullerton also ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for the state Senate and reportedly donated 10 carloads of coal to the poor during a year of widespread crop failures.

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Fullerton and his wife, Jennie, had one child, Robert, who died at the age of 4 or 5 and is buried in the city cemetery. A record book at the cemetery lists the cause of death as homicide, but other historical sources say the boy was shot accidentally.

Lyle Swenson, president of the Mitchell Area Historical Society, said a house built by Thomas Fullerton still stands at 317 N. Duff St., next to a home at the corner of Fourth and Duff that Swenson said was built by a rival lumberyard owner. Courthouse records indicate that Fullerton acquired his lot in 1882 and built his house in 1905.

Swenson said Fullerton Lumber was among the oldest businesses in town.

"It's sad when any business goes down," Swenson said. "And then to have one of the oldest Mitchell businesses go down is really sad."

Mayor Lou Sebert said he, too, was disappointed to hear news of the closure.

"It's sad to see a longtime business in Mitchell of any type, whether it's Fullerton Lumber or something other than that, close in our community," Sebert said. "They've provided a service over the years, and we would have certainly liked to see that continue."

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