Sunday, May 14, 2017

Pampell's: The Sweetest Corner in Town

Pampell's after a big July 4th parade, 1952
I believe the man with the cane and hat, along the back counters, is J. L. Pampell
This image is available for purchase HERE.
It's hard to walk by Pampell's these days and see it vacant. It was such a vibrant part of downtown when I was a boy -- and even later, when my children were young. Today there are few folks under 30 who remember Pampell's as it once was, busy and full of life.
The name, "Pampell's," was a family's name. J. L. Pampell, of Brenham, Texas, arrived in Kerrville on Independence Day, 1890. That means he arrived in Kerrville about the time many of the oldest buildings in downtown Kerrville were erected, including the Masonic Building (now home to Sheftall's Jewelers), and the Weston Building (now home to Francisco's Restaurant).
In 1931 a small history of Kerr County was published to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the creation of Kerr County. It was written by middle school students under the careful guidance of their history teacher, Mrs. Kate Franklin.
The sketch about J. L. Pampell paints a picture of what Kerrville looked like in the 1890s; he arrived in Kerrville on Independence Day, 1890.
"I was impressed at first by the sight of the beautiful hills, the fine Guadalupe River and the splendid class of people who were found, not carrying 'six-shooters' nor lacking in their welcome to a stranger. Captain Schreiner's store, his residence, the St. Charles Hotel, and Dr. Parsons' livery stable, with the dance hall above, were the chief buildings except the court house and the Union Church, where all denominations worshipped."
The streets looked a lot different then, too.
"There were no sidewalks worth speaking of and where we walk on pavements now on Water Street's business section, we had to cling to upright cedar picket fencing in rainy weather to keep from bogging up in the mud.
"Water was hauled in barrels and delivered to consumers at 10 cents a barrel...It was not uncommon to see hauling done by oxen, daily trudging along. Cows from private homes were driven to the pastures to graze around the town, night and morning, in substantial herds through the streets.
"My first small business place was an 'Ice Cream Parlor and Confectionery,' where the present wool warehouse now stands," the report reads.
That means Pampell's first store was about where the porch of Cartewheels Catering now stands, almost directly across the street from the Arcadia Theater and Baublit's Jewelers.
He opened the store "six months after my arrival, with the small amount of $600 of my own earnings." That would mean the first Pampell's store opened in early 1891.
"The cows would leisurely pass my establishment, and help themselves to a cabbage or a bunch of bananas, and continue on their way."
"The town was literally filled with tourists and health-seekers who had already learned of this splendid health resort. There were people from all parts of the globe. When the new wool warehouse was erected, I was moved to a building where the post office is now located."
I think, given the timeframe, Pampell's second location was near where Sheftall's Jewelers is today, in the middle of the 200 block of Earl Garrett.
"In 1899 I purchased and removed to my third and present location where the property was then known as the Gregory Hotel."
Pampell tells a bit of what folks did for fun.
"One of the most popular diversions was horseracing, for which the public would come miles to witness. Large sums of money would be bet by the owners. These races were held in what is known as the Tivy Flats, where a number of modern homes now stand."
I think 'Tivy Flats' was probably around where today's Broadway Street now runs.
"The river was alive with fish and the woods full of deer and turkey and it was not unusual to hear a coyote yelp around the little city. Pecans were yours for the picking and I have seen wagon loads of brought in by farmers and ranchmen. The best offer [for pecans] would be perhaps two cents per pound.
"Cord wood sold for $1.50 a cord and chickens were two for 25 cents, and nice frying-size chickens could be bought for 10 cents each. Wild honey and venison were peddled on the streets."
Kerrville was quite a different place back then.
I'm old enough to remember Milton Pampell, son of J. L. Pampell. And I have many happy memories of the soda fountain at Pampell's from when I was a boy, in the 1960s.
Pampell's was a drug store and soda fountain in my youth. Mr. and Mrs. Bob Hood ran the store then, followed later by Steve Ackman. When my children were young, Sandy and Jon Wolfmueller ran an antiques store in the building, but the soda fountain remained; Beth Johnson ran the fountain during that time.
Later Ken Wilson purchased the property and spent a fortune renovating and shoring up the structure. Afterwards a successful bar and grill was in the building.
Since then many different restaurants have come and gone in the space, and today it is vacant. I last walked through the building in late 2016, when a group was considering the building as the site for a Kerr County history museum.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoyed many malted milkshakes at Pampell's. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 13, 2017.

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