William Ajax Underground Store
William and Emma J. Hughes Ajax
The unique two-story underground building was established in 1870. Shortly thereafter a post office called “Centre” was added. The building was 80 x 100 feet, in some places the lower floor was 20 feet below ground. The excavation was done by William Ajax using a shovel and wheelbarrow. The building’s support timbers were cut from juniper and pine trees. These trees were located in the mountains west of here where he walked to and from each day to cut the timbers. The roof was constructed of poles covered with juniper boughs, sod and clay. The store was illuminated by sunlight coming through south-facing windows in the roof. Shoppers were offered a wide variety of merchandise, food, clothing, housewares, hardware, tools and medicine. Goods were arranged in department store style. It was estimated the value of the merchandise was in excess of $70,000.
Patrons came from the mining camps, sheep and cattle ranches and the communities of Rush and Vernon Valley. Meals and lodging for travelers were provided. Their livestock was also cared for in sheds and corrals located west of the present highway. Wild grass-hay was cut in nearby meadows. It was sold to miners in Stockton, Ophir and Mercur. The coming of the railroad through Rush Valley made supplies and travel more accessible, thus ending much of the need for a store in the area. William Ajax died in 1899, his family operated the store until 1914 when they liquidated the merchandise.
The building was abandoned, and later it was burned, (perhaps railroad transients camping at the building). All that remains are the mounds of dirt just east of the monument.
This illustration depicts the living quarters where meals and lodging were provided. A portion of the underground store was under this building.
See other historic markers in the series on this page for SUP Markers.