Madera County Historical Society
The billboard shown on the far side of the railroad bridge in this photo illustrates the importance of Tighe’s Department Store. For years, it stood at the center of Madera’s business community — both literally and figuratively.
W.C. Tighe was Madera’s merchant emeritus. He lived here for almost 60 years, and when he passed away, the town lost the centerpiece of its Yosemite Avenue business community.
Tighe was 82 years old when he died on April 11, 1950. He was known to at least two generations of Maderans as the proprietor of Tighe’s Department Store on Yosemite Avenue between C and D Streets.
The news passed quickly from one Maderan to another on that Wednesday morning, and they began to tell anecdotes by the dozens about this early resident. Bill Tighe had grown up with Madera. He helped make Madera. Now in 1950, he joined a long list of sturdy pioneers who left their mark on this community and became a piece of its colorful past.
Bill was born in Oakland on Jan. 5, 1868, just as the nation was licking its wounds from the Civil War. He attended the Oakland Grammar School, and that was to be the only formal education he ever received. At the age of 13, he went to work in a men’s store and soon acquitted himself most admirably in the field of business. But he was never quite satisfied. Bill had a speculative streak in him. He wanted something more out of life than clerking in a clothing store for someone else. That’s when he heard about Madera.
In those days, business news traveled swiftly, and it soon became widely known that Madera was to have a new lumber company. The Madera Flume and Trading Company, which had taken over from the bankrupt California Lumber Company, was itself about to be reborn in the form of the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Company. Bill reasoned, quite correctly, that where optimism existed, so did opportunity; therefore, he headed for Madera.
That was in 1891, and when he hopped off the train as it pulled into the local depot, he had all of his earthly belongings with him. With just a few dollars in his pocket and intent on finding a job, he went looking for work before he had his first meal here.
It just so happened that there was a store on East Yosemite Avenue owned by a man named Harris, and Harris took a liking to this energetic young man. Within a few months, as the story goes, Bill was a partner in the firm. A short time later the two men bought out John Griffin, who ran a shoe store a little farther up the street. That was the beginning of Bill’s advancement toward the top of the Madera business ladder. By the time Madera County was created in 1893, Bill was in complete control of the establishment.
Over the next few years, a series of name changes followed Bill’s store, as he began to add one department after another and to take on new partners. At one time it occupied over half of the entire block of the Manasee Building which was constructed in the early 1890s. In time Bill’s store became one of the most important shopping enterprises in Madera.
Much of the success of Bill’s store has been attributed to his own salesmanship and enterprise. He often conducted unique sales that brought in customers by the wagonload. One time, after he had suffered a fire, Bill advertised a “fire sale” that almost wiped out the entire stock of goods that had not been damaged by the flames.
For many years, Bill’s store was the center of the social life of Madera. Shoppers often congregated in his store to visit and exchange gossip. Many of Madera’s early citizens learned the clerking business under Bill’s tutelage. Bill Griffin was his first employee when he launched out on his own in 1893. The young worker earned $25 a month for his ten-hour days. Other former Maderans who were employed by Bill from time to time were Wade Hampton, Bill James, George Clapp, Annie Barnett Brown, Francis Merino Lareq, and Vic Merino.
Bill was not only known as an enterprising and successful businessman, he was a strong supporter of anything that was good for Madera. The list of his charitable expressions is long, and his giving did not end with his retirement. He was always taken in by children, and it has been said that “No Madera kid needed to go without shoes or clothing if they called on Bill. He’d always give them credit, and they paid up, too.” Years later, Bill reflected that he “never lost a nickel from the children’s trade.”
His home at 204 North C Street became a center for community reminiscing. More often than not, Bill could be seen enjoying the passing scene from his comfortable rocking chair on the front porch.
Inevitably, however, time took its toll, and Bill’s body began to just give out. His wife, Hattie, was forced to take him to San Francisco for treatment, and there he finished his earthly sojourn. He never forgot Madera, though. Those around him attested to the fact that one of his favorite pastimes was remembering “the days when he arrived in Madera with hardly enough to buy a square meal at the prevailing prices.”
So W.C. “Bill” Tighe came — he saw — he conquered. For years his store, Tighe and Breyfogle, and then just Tighe’s, was the cornerstone of the Madera business community. Like so many of his contemporaries, W.C. Tighe, came to Madera seeking only the opportunity to make good. He didn’t expect anything from the community except a chance to work hard. And that is exactly what he did.
Tighe’s Department Store later became James Department Store, and it was a fitting tribute to the man that the latter, out of respect for W.C. Tighe, closed for business on the day of his funeral.