New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

A newly discovered print of a 1902 photograph -- Pampell's, a downtown Kerrville landmark

Pampell's, in downtown Kerrville, around 1902,
at the intersection of Sidney Baker and Water Street.
Click on image to enlarge.
This week a long-time friend brought by two large photographs showing scenes from the 700 block of Water Street in downtown Kerrville.
One of the photographs is of Pampell’s, a cornerstone of Kerrville’s downtown business area for well over a century. The photograph was from around 1902, when the building was still a frame building, before it was remodeled and assumed its current brick fa├žade. Today the building is the home of the Humble Fork Restaurant, on the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets.
When I was a boy – in the late 1960s – Pampell’s was a very different place, with a soda fountain and a drug store. It was the store where I spent my dimes and quarters – mainly on chocolate bars and milk shakes.
John Lee Pampell, who arrived in Kerrville on July 4, 1890, was the founder of the enterprise. Born in Brenham, he first found work as an express messenger on the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad, which had its terminus here.
In 1928, Pampell told this story:
“Upon arriving [in Kerrville], I was impressed by the sight of the beautiful hills, the fine Guadalupe River, and the splendid class of people who were found here, none carrying six-shooters, or lacking in their welcome to a stranger.
“Kerrville was a thriving village of about 1,500 people. Captain Schreiner’s store, his residence, the St. Charles Hotel, and Dr. Parson’s livery stable, with the dance hall above, were the chief buildings except the court and the Union Church, where all denominations worshipped.
“There were no sidewalks to speak 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. 
“It was not uncommon to see hauling done by oxen.”
According to an excellent news article written by the late Michael Bowlin, Pampell opened an “Ice Cream Parlor and Confectionery” on Water Street about 6 months after he arrived in Kerrville. That first business was located about where the parking lot in front of Cartewheel’s restaurant is today.
“On May 9, 1901, the Brenham native bought the old W. V. Gregory Hotel.” The very next month, “on June 6, 1901, Pampell then borrowed $2,000 from Kerrville doctor E. E. Palmer to make improvements to his new establishment. Those improvements included remodeling the second floor of the building, making it into an opera house that seated 450 people. The seats were wooden folding chairs which could be removed for dances and other activities. A stage was built at the south end of the building, and an inside stairway was erected so theater patrons could go down to the first floor for ice cream, cold drinks, and candy during intermission and at the end of the performance. The candy, ice cream and soda water were made personally by Pampell [in the same building].”
In 1904 the building gained a coat of stucco, and the soda fountain was installed; that fountain is still in the building today. Pampell and his wife, Annie Braeutigam Pampell, visited the St. Louis World’s Fair that year, and purchased tables and chairs and the fountain on that trip.
Traveling performers would stage shows at Pampell’s, lecturers from various Chautauqua organizations would educate ticketholders, and many a square dance was held in the building. Several Tivy graduating classes had their graduation ceremonies there, too.
After 1910, the primary entertainment on the second floor was the presentation of motion pictures, and “from 1910 to 1920, it served almost entirely as a motion picture house.
In 1916, Pampell acquired the franchise for the Coca Cola agency for this section, and Pampell’s bottled some of the first “Cokes” in the area. By 1948 the bottling works could produce 1,560 bottles of soda per hour.
The building was renovated again in 1928, when “brick replaced stucco on the outside walls, and the floor of the opera house was sawn away leaving only a decorative balcony.”
When I was a boy, the Hood family ran the pharmacy and drug store; later Steve Ackman had his pharmacy there. In 1989, my friends Sandy and Jon Wolfmueller reopened Pampell’s as an antique store and soda fountain. Later Ken Wilson purchased the property and spent a fortune renovating and shoring up the structure, and opening it as a sports bar and restaurant. Today it’s the home of the Humble Fork Restaurant, where it still serves as a community gathering place.
The photo brought by the shop this week is the best print I’ve seen of the old photograph. I wish I knew the names of some of the folks in the photograph, but my research has not revealed that secret, yet.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who vaguely remembers the days when he could enjoy milkshakes without gaining any weight. That was a very long time ago. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 24, 2020.

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