A Brief History of Dyson Building Center
Dyson Building Center is a large retail hardware store and lumberyard located on Point Lookout Road in Great Mills, Maryland. Dyson’s is one of the oldest family owned and operated hardware stores in Southern Maryland with fourth generation family members working at the store today. The store’s history can be divided by the generations for each generation has contributed greatly to the betterment of the store. This is just a brief history of how our store has evolved over the years.
The Sawmill – 1st Generation
Driving by few may realize that the family business dates back nearly a century with the first 50 years of operation being primarily that of a sawmill business. The sawmill that stood at Dyson Building Center was one of the most continuously operating sawmills in Great Mills, a town named in honor of the many mills that once occupied its limits.
Sawmilling began at Dyson Building Center, then known as Dyson’s Mill, somewhere after the turn of the century. Early documents show Sammy Dyson operating a mobile sawmill in the 1920’s. In the 1940’s the Dyson Family decided to upgrade the size of the sawmill in order to meet a greater demand and the growing community as a result of the addition of the Patuxent Naval Air Station.
The sawmill was located at the same site as the current Dyson Building Center lumberyard. The size of the new 100 horsepower mill was unprecedented in the area at this time. It was one of the first electric powered mills in Maryland, requiring an upgrade of the property’s electrical power. In the 1950’s and 60’s local schools would take field trips to the sawmill to see it in action.
The Hardware Store – 2nd Generation
LeRoy Dyson worked alongside his father, Sammy, in the sawmill before entering the service. Upon returning home from World War II, LeRoy went back to working for his father until he married Marie Meise, formally from Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Together when they took over the business, LeRoy and Marie decided the time was right to expand on the selling of lumber by opening a small retail hardware and lumber store to be known as Dyson Lumber Company in 1954. They slowly phased out the sawmill business and the mill was completely shut down in the 1970’s.
The hardware store was approximately 1000 square feet. Over the years, they added a row of storage buildings across from the store to house the various outside building materials they were selling. They continued in business in this manner successfully for many years, while also raising a family of eight children: four boys and four girls.
In 1962 an opportunity presented itself for them to open a smaller store in St. Inigoes, Maryland. Throughout the years this store operated in much the same manner today as it did in 1962, with very little in the way of renovations. Walking into this store was like stepping back into time, when life was not so rushed as it is today. Sadly the St. Inigoes store is now closed.
Expanding The Store – 3rd Generation
Many of LeRoy and Marie’s children put in time helping their parents at the “mill.” Two children knew early on that they wanted to make this business their livelihood. J.C., the fourth child in line started helping his father in his early teens and learned the hardware business from the ground up. His older sister, Vi, also decided to join the family business not long after high school. She began helping her mother in the office and also spent time working alongside her father at the counter waiting on customers.
In the 1970’s the business had started to outgrow the space it inhabited, so the first expansion of the Great Mills store occurred in 1978-79. The building was expanded to 5000 square feet and other outside buildings were added. As the expansion was taking place LeRoy began a battle with cancer that he lost in June 1982. As his illness progressed various family members became more involved in the store.
In 1986 discussions began among the family members about incorporating the business and the need to once again expand the building. The business incorporated in 1987 and a major renovation of the existing store also took place during these two years. Also at this time, discussions were taking place as to the name of the business. Feelings were that Dyson Lumber seemed a limited name as to what was actually sold within the walls of the building. The store incorporated under the name of Dyson Lumber Company, Inc. and added Dyson Building Center as the “trade only” name. When the expansion was completed, the new store became a total of 12,000 square feet.
Dyson Building Center was among the first “mom and pop” operations to computerize in the late 80’s modernizing the store to help make it more efficient. Dyson’s continued to update their computer system to keep up with technology and make their systems as user friendly as possibly.
The Store Today – 4th Generation
The fourth generation of Dyson Family members, LeRoy and Marie’s grandchildren, began working at the store in 1992. All of their sixteen grandchildren have worked either part-time or during summer vacations throughout the years. Currently three grandchildren still work there, full time, and are learning every day how to operate the store. They work directly with the 3rd generation family members still at the store as well as many employees that have become family. What other store has employees that have worked there for 10, 20, and even 30 years! They are learning from the very best!
The fourth generation brings fresh ideas and with their help the store has continued to thrive. In 2015 Dyson's became the first store in St. Mary's County to be 100% Solar Powered. Other updates that have happened in recent years include the increases in the size of the store's Marine section to incorporate more watermen and crabbing supplies, updating the paint mixing system to include a new larger color chart and a digital scanner to match colors, and updating DysonBuildingCenter.com to become an online store.
One of the nicest parts about shopping at Dyson Building Center is the atmosphere. Dyson employees greet their customers and in many cases know them by name. The store clerks know the business and strive to pass their knowledge on to helping the customer. And finally, it is one of the few businesses in the area to still offer their morning customers a free cup of coffee.