“My grandfather and my dad started the business back in the 30s; they were on the corner of 19th and Lothbury,” said Cardwell.
At the original location, Ballard Cardwell, Bill’s father, met another fixture among Middlesboro’s business owners, Dewey Morgan.
“Dewey’s a good friend of ours,” remarked Cardwell. “ I remember back when he and Dad were next door to each other. They were good friends, but they were competitors.”
Initially, Harve (Bill’s grandfather) and Ballard operated Cardwell Furniture and Bell Hardware jointly, but the introduction of new stores to the area offering similar products led the Cardwells to give up selling hardware and focus on furniture. Upon the death of Harve, Bill’s parents took over management of the company.
Cardwell describes his mother, Treecey, as a “colorful character” and recalls her chasing inebriated patrons of near-by saloons from the front of the business. He most fondly remembers her, though, for her generosity.
“She always was doing things, buying people things, like children when they needed shoes and she did a lot for people,” he remembered.
Bill was raised in town with his three siblings, David, Sylvia (Cardwell Bruton), and Susan (Cardwell Kingsley Hurt). In college, Bill majored both in Business and English. The latter, he attributes to his sisters, whose interest in fiction lead them both to the Theatre.
Susan performed on Broadway and in several films including Coal Miner’s Daughter and Popeye. She and Sylvia both worked with the Actor’s Theatre in Louisville and Sylvia is still performing. Susan and David have passed away.
In high school, Bill got his first taste of the family business when he and his brother began delivering furniture. Several years later, Bill returned to help his father run the business, but pursued several other ventures before returning.
“After I graduated from college, I went into the Navy,” Cardwell recalled. “I was in the U.S. Navy, on a ship for a couple years.”
Bill worked as a dispersing clerk while in the Navy, and although he disliked the confinement and lack of activities available while on board, he did enjoy many of the destinations to which he traveled.
“I went all over the world,” Cardwell stated. “I liked Denmark real well. It was clean and crisp and had great food.”
After a two year stint in the Navy, Cardwell returned home and accepted a position working for a C.P.A. named Fred Roark in Pineville. Bill’s occupation of the position was brief; soon he decided to apply for the job of business manager at Pine Mountain State Park.
For the next ten years, Cardwell worked for the park system, and managed several locations, including Cumberland Falls.
“Lake Barkley was the best, and Lake Cumberland,” revealed Cardwell. “Those were my two favorites, I suppose. I like the water and fishing and all the activities.”
When Bill’s father, Ballard, fell ill in the 1990s, he took a leave of absence from the park and returned home to help with the store. He lost both of his parents in the mid-1990s, and has continued to manage the furniture store.
Cardwell Furniture sat on the corner of 19th Street and Lothbury until 1996, when a fire caused Bill to seek a new location. A vacant building on the corner of Chester Avenue and 19th Street became the new home for the business.
The former factory that now houses the business has its own historical past, for the city and the Cardwell family.
“A lot of people around town come in and say they’ve worked here at one time or another. In fact, my mother worked here in the 20s when she was in school,” Bill recalled.
Bill met his wife, Joy, when they both worked at the park at Lake Cumberland. The couple have two children, Henry and A.T.
Joy became a teacher in Russell County and worked there until she retired in 2001. Since then, she and Bill have been working together at the furniture store.
Bill and Joy enjoy seeing generations of customers return and are excited to now be offering Sponge Bob furniture for their younger clientele.
The family attends church at Binghamtown, where Bill’s parents were members, and consider Middlesboro a great place to call home.
“I’ve been doing this most of my life and been in the same place,” Bill said. “It just kind of seems like home, and when you get away from here you miss the mountains and the people.”
Lorie Settles is a staff writer for the Daily News. She may be contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.