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Saturday, May 13, 2023

A Kerr County time capsule made of glass

Pampell's bottling works -- where Coca Cola was first bottled in Kerrville.
Click on any image to enlarge.

A kind reader recently gave me an interesting bottle from Kerrville. Along its middle, it reads “Pampell’s/ Kerrville Texas.” Its shoulder says “C. C. Soda.”

There is a clue about its age: a line along the back of the bottle reads “Bottle Pat’d Nov 8, 1923.” So, about a century ago, this bottle held 6.5 ounces of a soft drink, and was bottled here in Kerrville.

A bit of research suggests the C. C. Soda was Coca-Cola; other bottles from other bottling factories have that name embossed on the bottom of their bottles; this particular bottle only has the letter “P” – which I assume stands for Pampell’s.

Pampell’s was a cornerstone of Kerrville’s downtown business area for well over a century. It served the community as a drug store, ice cream parlor, opera house, movie theater, candy factory, and even a bottling factory. Several Tivy High School classes held their graduation exercises there, in a large room upstairs.

Today the building is the home of the Humble Fork Restaurant, on the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets, and is still a popular gathering place.

When I was a boy – in the late 1960s – Pampell’s was one of my favorite places, with a soda fountain and a drug store. It was where I spent most of my dimes and quarters – mainly on chocolate bars and milk shakes. My children had a very similar experience in the early 1990s, when Sandy and Jon Wolfmueller offered a soda fountain in the same spot.

John Lee Pampell, who arrived in Kerrville on July 4, 1890, was the original founder of the enterprise. Born in Brenham, he first found work here as an express messenger on the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad, which had its terminus here.

In 1928, Pampell told this story:

Milton Pampell (l),
J. L. Pampell (seated)
“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 in 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.”

In 1905, Pampell acquired the franchise for the Coca Cola agency for this section, and Pampell’s bottled some of the first “Cokes” in the area. 

A news item from the June 10, 1905, issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, printed a letter from S. J. Newcomb, of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of San Antonio, to J. L. Pampell:

“A few days ago, our Mr. Bullis told me that in a conversation with you, he understood you desired to bottle Coca-Cola for Kerrville and points in the country west. It is not the custom of the Coca-Cola Co. to bottle Coca-Cola except at our regular bottling establishments, but on account of the unusual position of Kerrville, and as we understand that you have a very nice bottling establishment, we are willing to give you permission to bottle Coca-Cola….”

The same issue of the newspaper also printed a public response from J. L. Pampell to the Kerrville community: “I have perfected the arrangement referred to in the foregoing letter, and am now bottling Coca-Cola at the Kerrville Bottling Works and will be pleased to make prices to dealers in the section on Coca-Cola and other beverages.”

The bottle I have was used in the 1920s and 1930s; when Pampell got his license to bottle Coca-Cola, in 1905, he would have been using an old-fashioned “pop” bottle, with a cork-lined stopper. Later, he’d use a similarly-shaped bottle which would be sealed with a bottle cap. I have samples of these bottles in my collection, too.

By 1948 the bottling works could produce 1,560 bottles of soda per hour. The Pampells bottled almost all of the soft drinks in Kerrville for many years, including Coca-Cola.

On June 10, 1953 – exactly 48 years after announcing Pampell’s acquisition of the Coca-Cola local bottling license – the Kerrville Times reported Milton Pampell had sold Kerrville Coca-Cola Bottling Company to a bottler in San Antonio. (Milton Pampell was J. L. and Annie Pampell’s only child.) 

I’m grateful to the kind reader who brought me this nearly 100-year-old C. C. Soda bottle from Kerrville. It’s little artifacts like this one which help tell the story of our community.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is the grandson of a Coca-Cola bottler. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 6, 2023.

You can help by sharing this story with someone, by forwarding it by email, or sharing it on Facebook. Sharing is certainly caring. (I also have two Kerr County history books available online, with free shipping!)

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