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How a Middletown lumber company has stayed in business for 160 years

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Jeff McMullen, co-owner of the Denny Lumber Company, discusses the company as it celebrated 160 years in Middletown.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Since before the American Civil War, the Denny Lumber Company has been serving Butler County with lumber and building products.

The Middletown-based company was recognized last week by The Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Trenton, and Monroe for its 160th anniversary.

Plenty has changed since the company opened in 1859, yet co-owner Jeff McMullen said the company has continued to work to provide service to its Middletown customers.

 

“I don’t think anyone thought the company would last this long, but we’re still here and still thriving,” McMullen said.

The company’s name and ownership has changed multiple times over its long history. Charles Denny, the company’s namesake, eventually took sole ownership and passed control to his sons, Mark and George.

As Middletown grew during this time, Denny also saw expansion. McMullen described George Denny as a sharp businessman who was involved in multiple civic efforts.

After World War II, McMullen said, “There was a building boom in Middletown that did very well for the lumber company.”

Denny Lumber Company, located in Middletown, is celebrating its 160th year in business. Jeff and Bob McMullen are co-owners of the store which provides lumber for commercial and residential building and sells hardware and power tools. PATRICK KECK / STAFF
Denny Lumber Company, located in Middletown, is celebrating its 160th year in business. Jeff and Bob McMullen are co-owners of the store which provides lumber for commercial and residential building and sells hardware and power tools. PATRICK KECK / STAFF

He believes 10 to 12 employees worked in the furnace and millwork shops or made cabinets.

Ed Sherman and Hugh Cook, long-time employees of the company, took over from the Denny brothers following George’s death in 1968.

Cook, who started working there in 1947, was a central part in the childhoods of McMullen and his brother, Bob, as they recalled the numerous Soap Box Derby competitions that took place at the shop.

“There must have been at least 100 or so soap box cars at each competition,” Bob McMullen said. “They might’ve kept the winner at the shop even.”

In the 1970s, Denny added more power tools and hardware to the store following the closing of another hardware store across the street.

Denny Lumber Company, located in Middletown, is celebrating its 160th year in business. Jeff and Bob McMullen are co-owners of the store which provides lumber for commercial and residential building and sells hardware and power tools. PATRICK KECK / STAFF
Denny Lumber Company, located in Middletown, is celebrating its 160th year in business. Jeff and Bob McMullen are co-owners of the store which provides lumber for commercial and residential building and sells hardware and power tools. PATRICK KECK / STAFF

Sherman began working at Denny in 1929, straight out of high school, and held on to partial ownership until 2006. When he started, the company still owned a horse and wagon. He is believed to be the company’s longest serving employee.

Sherman and Cook were both family friends of Bob Sr. and Midge McMullen, who took ownership in 1980. They were on vacation with Sherman when he made the offer, following the death of Cook earlier that year.

Bob McMullen Sr. had worked in the lumber industry as a contractor, and Midge McMullen had worked at Denny as the bookkeeper.

Denny Lumber Company, located in Middletown, is celebrating its 160th year in business. Jeff and Bob McMullen are co-owners of the store which provides lumber for commercial and residential building and sells hardware and power tools. PATRICK KECK/STAFF
Denny Lumber Company, located in Middletown, is celebrating its 160th year in business. Jeff and Bob McMullen are co-owners of the store which provides lumber for commercial and residential building and sells hardware and power tools. PATRICK KECK/STAFF

In the long company history, there have been many highs and many lows, Jeff McMullen said. Financial crises like the Great Depression and the more recent Great Recession have hindered business, but the company has continued to operate.

“We have very good long-term employees that are able to provide a service level and a knowledge base to our customers,” said Jeff.

The Denny Lumber Company is located on 1800 1st Avenue in Middletown and is open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday.