Person County, 1909: two young cousins, W.C. Watkins and W.C. Bullock arrived to embark on a new future. Having purchased a house and adjoining property on Lamar Street in Roxboro, they intended to open a lumber yard. Soon, a sawmill and planing mill were added to the property, and wagon loads of raw timber and building supplies began to arrive on horse-drawn wagons and railway cars. The sawmill came to life, turning timber into planks of wood suitable for building. The planing mill turned out finished product ready to build up Person County and the surrounding area. And so, Watkins & Bullock was born.
From the beginning, this was a building supply company, not just a lumber yard. The initial inventory included doors, sash, window frames, mantelpieces, stair and turned work, grates, tile, shingles, cement, plaster, flooring, and more. The business was successful, and when Mr. Watkins died, Mr. Bullock bought out Watkins’s part of the company.
W.C. Bullock was also fortunate enough to have a promising young son, John, who helped with the business while preparing himself to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. When the time came, away John went, but close on his heels was the Great Depression. After a year at the university, John chose to return home to help with the family business, driving delivery wagons and helping wherever necessary. After his father’s death in the 1930s, John – well-versed in all aspects of the business – stepped into his father’s shoes. Eventually, John Bullock went on to serve the local community further by serving on the board of Roxboro Savings & Loan, a position in which he was able to assist many families and companies through the difficult Depression years. This was to become a part of the business practice that would be passed down through the generations. John went on to head the company for over 60 years, until his death in 1989.
Sixty years is a long time to lead a business, and certainly ample time for there to be lots of change. The Great Depression was followed by World War II. The 1950s was somewhat of a boom time for building as many returning GIs, who were receiving government benefits and could afford houses, were eager to build. The 1960s brought about a certain amount of social change that did not bypass Bullock Lumber Company. In the early 1960s, as Roxboro continued to develop and expand, Bullock Lumber moved to its current location on North Main Street in Roxboro. Pictures of the site at the time show that the sawmill and planing mill were still part of the operation. By this time, 18-wheel trucks were more and more prevalent, making the delivery of significant products faster and easier. The sawmill and planing mill were both still necessary, as it was often easier to process raw lumber on site than it was to receive it pre-processed. Due to changes in regulations and insurance mandates, the sawmill was closed in the 1970s, however. The planing mill remained in operation until the 1980s.
With John Bullock’s passing in 1989, his son, another William, took up the reins. Like his father, William had learned the business from the bottom up while completing his university education. William Bullock continued to build the business, already established as a local institution, by expanding the goods and services offered to meet local needs in changing times. He was also known for his support of local Eagle Scouts, having provided materials and expertise in several projects benefiting area churches and educational and civic causes. The community lending library boxes on Person County street corners were part of an Eagle Scout project supported by Bullock Lumber Company.
John Bullock (the eighth in the Bullock family tree, alternating generations with the Williams of the family) took over from his father in 2015 and became president of the company. True to family form, John started off helping at the business while he was in high school, making deliveries. His duties grew to include working in the lumber yard, sales, and office management. By this point, Bullock Lumber Company had become part of a lumber buying cooperative through which it obtained lumber and other building supplies. This is a current and efficient way of doing business and supporting the community at the same time. John continued the involvement in the community and on civic boards.
By the beginning of 2023, however, John was ready to make a change. Enter Daniel Cayton. Daniel is a native of the Durham-Roxboro area. After college, he took a job with a contractor sales firm. This opportunity afforded him work experience with numerous vendors and contractors in the building industry. John and Daniel agree that the timing was perfect. John was looking to make a change and Daniel was ready to move on to something else.
And so, in January of 2023, John passed the baton of family history and community contacts and support and Daniel became the new owner of Bullock Lumber Company. Daniel came in with a fresh perspective on expanding the business’s digital footprint as well as considerable contacts of his own in the building industry. The company has a Facebook presence where it regularly interacts with clients and the community; some of the vendors even contribute by regularly posting DIY projects. In Daniel’s own words, his role is, “to improve on a good thing.” He recently became a member of the Jaycees to further his community involvement. History, family, community, and technology are coming together in the newest version of Bullock Lumber Company.
What can customers expect when they walk through the doors of Bullock Lumber Company today? Daniel Cayton puts it accurately and succinctly – everything from supplies to solutions. On the supply side, businesses and individuals can expect to find all their building basics and then some. If Bullock’s doesn’t have it on the shelf, the company can use its extensive network of vendors and contacts to get whatever a customer needs. The store has a generous space devoted to plumbing supplies, and professional plumbers are a significant slice of the customer base. For lake residents, Bullock offers dock ladders, boat lifts, rolling windows, and composite decking in addition to the regular range of building materials. And they still deliver!
As far as solutions are concerned, staff members at Bullock Lumber have a depth and breadth of experience across the spectrum of building projects. I was assured that whether I wanted to build a doghouse or a lake house, they could help me through whatever project I wanted to undertake, from choosing and deciphering plans through selection of materials to finishing touches. Not only is the staff at Bullock committed to helping and educating their customers, but the company also serves as a resource for local high school trade departments and hires students from these programs as summer interns.
Bullock’s family origins, history, and community involvement are all good building blocks for the future. Add these to new ways of connecting, such as social media, and Bullock Lumber Company will continue to be one of the pillars of the local community, not just because it is and always has been more than just a lumber yard, but because the company builds on the relationships that matter most: family and community.
730 North Main Street
Roxboro, NC 27573
Learn about the author at https://ncvamedia.com/authors/william-spivey/