History of Farrell-Calhoun

Farrell-Calhoun... Since 1905

The founders of Farrell-Calhoun, John J. Farrell and T. Finley Calhoun, were working at H. A. Carroll & Sons Paint Dealer when they decided to form a partnership. In 1905 Farrell and Calhoun started selling paint out of a small store on the corner of Second and Monroe in Memphis, Tennessee. By 1907 these two enterprising young Irishmen had opened a store at 50 South Second Street under the name Farrell-Calhoun Paint and Glass Company. At this time, they were making paint in the basement of the store. It was in 1908 that the “Old Honesty” line of paint was introduced. “Old Honesty paints are as good as the best and better than the rest.”


The Early Years

As business increased, Farrell and Calhoun decided to move the manufacturing and warehouse facilities to 400 North Front Street. Farrell-Calhoun paint was manufactured and stored at this location from 1912 until 1986. Over the years, the building at 400 N. Front St. was added on to and rearranged many times. In 1932 the Farrell-Calhoun Company, Inc. moved their retail store to a new location at 22-24 South Second Street in Memphis. “The Largest Paint and Wallpaper House South of the Great Lakes” was the company’s slogan for years.

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During these years, Farrell-Calhoun produced a dealer catalog The Paint Pot which was distributed to a network of dealers. This publication was “The South’s Foremost Line of Painters and Decorators Supplies” and included everything from Flat Wall Paint to Strictly Pure Linseed Oil to Extension Ladder Trestles. The inside cover of The Paint Pot states “Our long experience in this business, puts us in a position to properly take care of your needs. This experience is free for the asking. Service – Is our method of showing our appreciation for your business.” Farrell-Calhoun’s commitment to service started early on, and continues today.


Excerpts from The Paint Pot...


"Made up to standard. Not down to price."

"We do our advertising in the can.”

“Quality remains long after prices are forgotten."


Painting Contractors attending a Farrell-Calhoun picnic circa 1939.


The People

In 1946 Farrell and Calhoun decided to go into semi-retirement and hand the business over Neil Farrell. At the age of 32, Neil Farrell became the President and General Manager of Farrell-Calhoun. Calhoun continued as Vice-President and chairman of the Board of Directors and Farrell as Vice-President.


Neil graduated from Notre Dame University in 1935 and started his paint business experience working for a large paint research laboratory in Louisville, Kentucky. During WWII, Neil left his job as a paint salesman in Kentucky to become an assistant executive officer to Major General W. S. Rumbough, chief signal officer in the European theater.

Both Farrell and Calhoun were noted lovers and owners of fine race horses.  Farrell’s horse, Bold Captain, finished second in the American Derby on August 28, 1943 in which the purse was $75,000.  His interest in Thoroughbreds brought about his appointment as a Kentucky Colonel by Governor Ruby Laffoon.  Calhoun was a bachelor and enjoyed his retirement in Memphis and Lexington, Kentucky where he owned a farm and stable of racehorses. 


Farrell and Calhoun were ardent sportsmen and both were members of the Lady Luck Fishing Club. Farrell died in 1947 at the age of 77. Calhoun died at the Tennessee Hotel (he was the first guest to register in 1920 and lived in the same room until his death) in 1957 at the age of 78.



Neil Farrell was ambitious and energetic and quickly expanded from one to four stores. In 1948, Neil opened a store on Summer Avenue, east of the Parkway, calling it a Super-Branch suburban store. The Union at Crosstown store opened in 1949 and was advertised as a paint and wallpaper “Super-Market”. This store was described as “Memphis’ largest and most modern paint and wallpaper store” and it was “departmentalized to make shopping easier for customers”.


In 1952, after having a Farrell-Calhoun store on Second Street for 47 years, Neil decided to close the store at 22-24 S. Second Street. According to Neil, traffic congestion and lack of parking facilities caused the closing of Farrell-Calhoun’s long established store.


All the expansion was difficult for the company and in 1957 Neil announced that Farrell-Calhoun was going out of business and he began closing all retail stores. Neil was quoted as saying, “Without national distribution and with trade confined to a limited area it was felt the continued operation would no longer be profitable.” Farrell-Calhoun never actually stopped manufacturing and the factory kept producing metal primers and spraying enamels to sell to industrial accounts.

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New Ownership

In 1974, Neil Farrell sold Farrell-Calhoun to Jack Ward and Joe Bowers. Both men had been working for Burk-Hall Paint and they were interested in starting their own paint company. They decided that buying Farrell-Calhoun was their best option because there was a raw material shortage in 1974, and new companies were not able to obtain all the raw materials needed to make paint.  Although Farrell-Calhoun had fallen on hard times, it still had a good reputation and established sources for raw materials.  At the time, the company had sales of approximately $300,000.  The company’s main customer base included painting contractors and property management companies.


John “Jack” A. Ward, Jr. is the son of a painting contractor and like John J. Farrell, he was born in St. Louis, Missouri before moving to Memphis. He graduated from Christian Brothers College (now CBHS) and Notre Dame University. He received his Masters in Chemistry from the University of Florida. Ward had been Burk-Hall’s Technical Director and had accrued 15 years of formulation experience by the time he started running Farrell-Calhoun at the age of 37. Being a chemist, he was committed to research and development. According to Ward, “Initially our success was due to our having a quality, consistent product that was in stock at our stores”.


Joseph “Joe” W. Bowers was also the son of a painting contractor. While hanging off of the Memphis-Arkansas bridge as a young painter, he came to the conclusion that selling paint had to be easier than putting it on. Bower’s 10 years of sales experience, including running Burk-Hall’s out of town stores, prepared him for his role as Vice-President at the age of 31. He focused on sales, marketing and store operations. He put together a fantastic sales force and store team, and made sure everyone knew their jobs and what they had to do. His great wisdom of the industry and knack for seeing through problems and knowing how to fix them helped Farrell-Calhoun become what it is today.


Successful Expansion

By 1977 a new store was opened in Whitehaven and a $65,000 plant renovation was necessary. New equipment, loading docks, and elevators for the plant were needed as business increased to $1.3 million in sales.


A store was opened on Mendenhall in 1983 and on Forest-Hill Irene in Germantown in 1986. This was the same year that Farrell-Calhoun moved. Farrell-Calhoun’s manufacturing, corporate office, lab, warehouse and store moved from 400 North Front Street to its current location at 221 East Carolina Avenue.


With the acquisition of Mid-America Paint in 1988, Farrell-Calhoun increased its dealer business and gained the Getwell store. From 1991 until the present, Farrell-Calhoun has continued to expand in the greater Memphis area as well as in new markets such as Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana, Missouri, and Kentucky.


All of this growth was facilitated by a $3.5 million plant expansion and automation which began in 1998.  These improvements allowed for Farrell-Calhoun’s production capabilities to double.  With the new state-of-the-art equipment, the plant increased production from 700,000 gallons per year to well over 3 million gallons a year.  In 1998, the warehouse also moved from 221 East Carolina to a 45,000 square foot off-site facility on Danny Thomas Boulevard.  Since the space was capable of stocking 250,000 gallons of finished product and provided multiple loading docks, it accommodated Farrell-Calhoun’s growing number of company stores and ever-expanding dealer network.


By 2014, Farrell-Calhoun needed increased Warehouse space and decided to purchase and renovate the vacant building located adjacent to the Corporate Office and Manufacturing Facility. With this $2.9 M renovation, Warehouse space was increased to 90,000 square feet. When driving down B.B. King Boulevard in Memphis, you might see the Farrell-Calhoun logo on the retaining wall behind the Warehouse.

The Next Generation

During this time of growth and expansion, Ward’s two sons, Anthony and Derek, began their careers at Farrell-Calhoun. Anthony and Derek first started working at Farrell-Calhoun during summer breaks from Christian Brothers High School. They learned and gained experience in the factory and the stores.


John "Anthony" Ward, III graduated from Vanderbilt University with a degree in Chemistry. He worked for Buckman Labs after college, calling on paper mills in the Mid-South. He returned to Farrell-Calhoun in 1992 and today he is Vice-President of Sales and Marketing.


Derek S. Ward graduated from Louisiana State University with a degree in Chemistry and went to work for Sterling Paint in Little Rock, Arkansas. Derek began his work as a chemist for Farrell-Calhoun in 1996 and today he is Vice-President of Manufacturing.


Julie Ward Fleming also graduated from Louisiana State University. Julie began working for Farrell-Calhoun in 2007 and today she is the Architectural and Marketing Manager.


Stephen H. Varnado is a graduate of the University of Mississppi and the first grandchild to join the family business. Stephen is the Assistant Plant Manager.


Below is a picture of the Ward family at the 2018 Color Guild Annual Meeting in Ireland.

100 Years and Growing

In 2005, Farrell-Calhoun celebrated it's 100 year anniversary. Our "100 year flyer" documented the history and milestones that occurred over the years.


During this anniversary year, the Farrell-Calhoun logo was transformed. The block style logo was changed to the current logo which was discovered in a 1932 Farrell-Calhoun newspaper advertisement.


In 2010 Farrell-Calhoun acquired the assets of Color & Supply Company, the parent company for Kentucky Paint Manufacturing Company in Lexington, Kentucky. The acquisition included Kentucky Paint's manufacturing facility and three company stores located in Lexington and Frankfort.


Farrell-Calhoun currently has 44 company-owned stores. Between 2013-2019, nine stores were opened in Middle and East Tennessee including Murfreesboro, Cleveland, Johnson City, Farragut, Pigeon Forge, Mt. Juliet, Sevierville, Chattanooga and Knoxville. During those years, company stores were also opened in Tupelo MS, Lafayette LA, Bristol VA, New Orleans LA, and Georgetown KY. In 2022, the Pelham, Alabama store opened.