John Denair was originally a conductor and later a superintendent for the Santa Fe Railroad and was a prominent businessman in the area. He held large parcels of land and a mercantile store at Bagdad, California and in Stanislaus County. In Bagdad he owned the Denair Mill site, he had offices for managing the Orange Blossom Mine where he was part owner, and he owned the building that housed the Bagdad Post office.
Apparently Mr. Denair's Mercantile store in Ludlow was financed wholly or in part by a local business woman in Ludlow, "Ma" Preston.
Matilda (Vigneron) “Ma” Preston had arrived in Ludlow with her husband Tom about 1902 and she owned several businesses in Calico and Daggett as well as a saloon, a restaurant and a boarding house in Ludlow. "Ma" Preston was Ludlow's legendary "Queen of the Desert" and no serious history of Ludlow is complete without including her.
Oddly, Denair purportedly defaulted on payments and turned the Mercantile Company business over to "Ma" Preston. However, she always cussed that concrete store because Denair’s name was once imbedded in the concrete at the peak on top but she eventually had it removed.
In 1920 Ma persuaded her husband Tom to retire and move back to her native France. She sold the store to Tom Murphy who operated the establishment as Murphy Brothers Ludlow Mercantile. Prior to purchasing the business from Ma Preston, Tom Murphy ran a competing general store that was originally in a tent and then later as a wood frame building on Ludlow’s Main Street immediately west of Ma Preston's 2-story concrete building. Farther east on Main Street he owned a garage / service station, the Shamrock Hotel and Cafe, and a saloon. He is also credited with building the Catholic Church in Ludlow which later burned down. During the time that both Ma Preston and Tom Murphy were operating businesses in Ludlow they were fierce competitors and bitter enemies. However, when Ma sold the store to Murphy before moving back to France they hugged each other goodbye. Ma Preston and Tom both died in Marne, France in 1926.
The Ludlow Mercantile, the Ludlow Motel, the Pendergast residence and the original Ludlow school are the only old Ludlow buildings that still remain – all of the former businesses on Main Street have been demolished. Murphy’s store has been completely abandoned for several decades and was badly damaged by two earthquakes, one in 1999 and one in 2008.