104 West Main Street in Baldwyn, Mississippi, has been known as Tom’s Drug Store for almost a century. The brick structure two doors west of 2nd Street was a pharmacy from its very beginning, but it was when namesake owner Tom Mauldin (1884-1956) erected the huge neon sign that still overhangs the sidewalk on the north side of the street that “Tom’s” became the town’s most iconic business.
It was likely the family of Dr. Elijah C. “Lige” Bills (1881-1944) who contracted the construction of the two-story building with local brick masons John, Erskine and Wiley Steed sometime before 1905. By 1910, however, the young Dr. Bills had already moved with his prominent parents J.D. and Mary Bills to Quinlan, Texas. Bills left his store in the hands of his equally prominent contemporary, Baldwyn native Argyle Taylor “Guy” Stocks (1884-1933). Several old medicine bottles still exist in collections around town with raised lettering that reads “City Drug & Jew. Co. – A.T. Stocks, Prop.” Guy Stocks, whose home was on the west side of 2nd Street just north of Clayton, was at one time recognized as Baldwyn’s only Republican. In fact, the late Bernard Coggins, a long-time Baldwyn mayor, reported that as a boy he had once gotten a whipping from his father, a staunch Democrat, when he came home from the Stocks house wearing a “Hoover for President” button. Stocks’ wife Luna Fay Bonds was Baldwyn’s very first female Postmaster, following her husband in the job after his untimely death in 1933. Stocks had been appointed postmaster by President Herbert Hoover … a Republican, of course.
Guy Stocks was about 30 years old when he first partnered with Tom Mauldin in the drug store business. But by 1920, Stocks had moved on to the once-lucrative career of cotton buying, and Mauldin took over the building at 104 West Main outright. According to historian Simon Spight, Mauldin had already been operating as a pharmacist across the street but found Guy’s property on the north side more to his liking.
In the mid-1920’s, Tom Mauldin began a second successful partnership, this time with Ira Sims Caldwell (1889-1951), a brother of notable Baldwyn physician R. B. Caldwell, and the two men established the landmark business name that has stood the test of time.
In the spring of 1951, Clyde Tapp (1926-2010) graduated from the Ole Miss School of Pharmacy and by July of that year Clyde had found a job with Mauldin and Caldwell, only a month before Ira’s death. Tapp and Mauldin continued in business together until Tom died in 1956. By that time, Clyde had purchased the building (in 1955), and for the 30+ years that followed, he and brother Jimmy (1929-2003), who joined Tom’s Drug Store as soon as he finished school, thrived and expanded the drug, general merchandise and soda shop operation that they unquestionably made their own.
The Tom’s Drug Store building has been largely unoccupied over the last two decades, changing hands several times. There is hope on the horizon for this historic property, however. In fact, there are current plans to reopen the old soda shop portion and even to reconfigure the street level storefront as a city museum. If all goes well, the historic collections of Claude Gentry, Simon Spight and other contributors may one day be housed in a “Simon ‘Buddy’ Spight City Museum” operating side-by-side with a restored Tom’s Soda Shop.