Williamson County
Historical Commission

 

 

 

Railroad Produce Warehouse -
Historical Marker


401 W. Sixth Street


GPS Coordinates
North 30o 38' 17.6" - West 97o 40' 49.5"

UTM 14 R - east 0626481 - north 3390050


Historical Marker text
Built in 1904 by William Pearce to provide storage space for a wholesale grocery company, this building was part of a larger industrial complex. A number of buildings were constructed along nearby railroad lines, including an ice plant and bottling works, grist and planing mills, and a passenger and freight depot. Thick stone walls and spring water channeled through the basement of the structure helped to cool produce. This site is a reminder of the role industry and the railroad played in the economic development of Georgetown. (1997) Incise on base: Preserved for the future by Karalei Nunn and Tom

 

 

view Railroad Produce Depot Narrative
narrative – by The Texas Historical Commission

 


 

 

RAILROAD PRODUCE WAREHOUSE

Narrative by

Researched and written by: Dan K. Utley, Historian Austin, Texas

 

Evidence of Georgetown's economic development in the latter years of the Gilded Age can still be seen around its historic courthouse square and in its early neighborhoods. A significant inventory of impressive late Victorian buildings presents an unmistakable image of the prosperity and promise prevalent in the Williamson County seat around the turn of the century. While vestiges of the merchant and professional classes predominate today, little remains of the town's industrial complex that initially served as the foundation of its steady economic growth.

 

What was once the location of warehouses, railroad lines, commercial yards, and depots is now largely an open urban expanse on the west side of the downtown area. Farther to the west, near the San Gabriel River, is a small working class neighborhood known as the Ridge that is, in terms of location if not intact architectural fabric, also a legacy of the industrial development. In recent years there has been some infill in the former railroad area, most notably in the construction of a monolithic courthouse annex that abuts the railroad warehouse property (see photos). Such changes to the area greatly alter the historic landscape of the city, providing a visual distortion of its architectural history.

 

Change is a fact of life in today's Georgetown. As the city tries to hold onto and promote its unique historical past, it is also faced with unprecedented urban growth that represents what might be termed a third phase of its economic history. The first began with the founding of the town in 1848 as the seat of government for the newly-created Williamson County.. In its early years, Georgetown's economy centered primarily on agriculture. Before the advent of railroads, cattle were driven across nearby prairies to northern railheads connecting with eastern markets. The cattle drives were followed by increased settlement, largely by farm families from the states of the Old South. Later, they would be joined by a large influx of European immigrants, primarily Swedes, Germans, and Czechs. The settlers, most of whom were agriculturalists, were attracted to the area by the fertile and well-watered prairie soils, ideal for the production of cotton, the cash crop of Texas and much of the South at the time. Cotton drove the economy for decades, resulting in the construction of rail lines and such concomitant structures as gins, oil mills, and warehouses. Increases in population, market availability, and tillable acreage, coupled with improved transportation and the beginning of industrial diversity, marked the second phase of the town's economic growth.

 

Much of the city's extant historic architecture reflects the second stage of development, from the 1880s to the 1950s. The era began with the construction of local rail lines, which first cut across Williamson County in the 1870s. The initial line unfortunately passed miles to the south of Georgetown, at Round Rock, but local citizens soon provided capital for a vital tap line. Completed late in 1878, it became part of the International and Great Northern Railroad the following year. Other companies, including the Houston and Texas Central, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas, and several smaller operations, eventually built lines into Williamson County. There was a great deal of competition for local commodities, especially cotton, and in the 1890s businessman Captain Emzy Taylor announced plans for a new route connecting Georgetown with Granger and other points to the east. The effort was beset by numerous difficulties and economic hardships, however, which no doubt contributed to the suicide of Captain Taylor. Lacking both capital and Taylor's personal direction, the effort remained largely a paper line until 1902, when the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad (Katy) purchased rights to the route and chartered the Granger-Georgetown-Austin and San Antonio Railway Company. By June 1904, the company had completed the line through Georgetown to Austin. [1]

 

Construction of the Katy line was a further indication of the favorable economic climate Georgetown enjoyed at the beginning of the twentieth century. A similar indicator was the construction of the Railroad Produce Warehouse on a spur of the International and Great Northern line. Built in 1904, the structure was part of an industrial complex that included the I&GN passenger and freight depot, the city ice plant and bottling works, a grist mill, planing mills, an implement warehouse, and the offices of the Belford Lumber Company, one of Georgetown's premier building firms. [2]

 

William W. Pearce (1837-1909) constructed the produce warehouse to provide storage space for a wholesale grocery company. He sited the building into a natural slope to facilitate grade-level loading on two floors and channeled an available spring through the basement area for cooling purposes. As a complement to the natural "refrigeration" elements, he also utilized thick stone walls (approximately twenty inches), a vented roof cupola, and a paucity of windows and door openings. Pearce's building lacked detailed ornamentation, but did exhibit Victorian-era influences in arched windows, ashlar-cut stonework, a "boomtown" front, and a gabled roof with decorative shingling. [3]

 

W. W. Pearce probably built the produce warehouse for speculative purposes, although there is evidence that he maintained an interest in the grocery business at least in 1904. An advertisement from the November 24 edition of the Williamson County Sun carried the following announcement:

 

As our Apples are rotting badly, we will offer them to people while there
are some good ones at $1.50 per barrel, 75 cents per bushel, and 20 cents

per peck. W. W. Pearce, near I&GN Depot. [4]

 

Pearce proved to be an enigmatic historical figure in terms of available archival resources in Williamson County. It is known that he was born in Georgia and that his wife, Ella Clay Pearce (1845-1915), was a native of Alabama. The couple lived in Florida, where two children were born, before moving to Texas by the late 1870s. The census showed they were residing in Bee County in 1900. [5] Pearce was already in his sixties when he moved to Georgetown soon after and purchased the site (Lot 4 of Block 30) for the produce warehouse. He acquired the land, including three adjacent tracts, for $160 in October 1903, from the heirs of Edward H. Voutress (also shown in records as Vontress and Vantrees), a prominent Georgetown attorney killed by lightning while in service to the Confederate army in Louisiana during the Civil War. [6]

 

Pearce probably did not remain the principal in the wholesale grocery business very long. His association with Georgetown, in fact, was short-lived. Records show he was a resident of San Antonio by 1908, but his obituary indicated it may have been as early as 1905. It also referred to him as a retired sawmill and gin operator. [7] A business section of the Georgetown paper published the following year mentioned the wholesale grocery housed in the produce building had been under the management of A. M. Nalley since about the time of construction. The article included the following notation:

 

Located in a spacious stone building at the I&GN railroad depot in Georgetown, they (Nalley Wholesale Grocery Company) have ample storage room and unsurpassed facilities for handling goods at a minimum of expense. In June 1908 the company doubled its capital and established a branch house in Taylor.8

 

It added:

 

As the only strictly wholesale grocery business in Georgetown Nalley & Co. occupy a unique position and they have established a reputation for (illegible) and fair dealing that has gained them friends wherever their drummers go. [9]

 

W. W. Pearce died in San Antonio in 1909. Probate records from Bexar County show his estate included land in Arkansas and San Antonio, as well as the four railroad tracts in Georgetown, then valued at $4000. He was survived by his wife, who died six years later, and their children. Named in his 1904 will, which was signed in Georgetown but filed with the probate records in San Antonio, they were Mary Eliza Pearce, Emma V. Brown, Allen A. Pearce, Ella M. Pearce, Reuben P. Pearce, and Berrien Lee Pearce. The two eldest children, sons Allen and Reuben, were born in Florida in 1873 and 1875,respectively. The first of the remaining children to be born in Texas was daughter Ella (b. 1878).10

 

The Pearce family heirs retained ownership of the Georgetown property until 1935, when they sold to B. H. and Minnie Aderhold. Married at Waco, Georgia, in 1905, the Aderholds eventually moved west, arriving in Georgetown in 1933. He established a cotton gin repair business, which he housed in the produce warehouse until 1944, when he sold the structure to J. E. Peck. Aderhold retained ownership of the three adjacent tracts, however, until his death in 1950.9 Peck owned the warehouse' only two years, selling in 1946 to R. D. Fletcher. Fletcher, in turn, conveyed it to the Smith Cattle Company in 1955. [11]

 

The Smith family operation included ranching as well as businesses associated with the cotton industry in Georgetown. Among their holdings were the Georgetown Oil Mill and the Georgetown Oil Mill Grain Warehouse. It is in association with the latter business that the produce warehouse property was probably utilized. The founder of the Smith family enterprises was Marsh Fawn Smith (1875-1961), a native of Georgia who came to Georgetown as a college student in 1894. He gained business experience working in the First National Bank, where his father-in-law, J. E. Cooper, was president. Cooper also owned the Georgetown Oil Mill, which Smith eventually directed. With Smith's leadership and Cooper's financial backing, it soon developed, into one of the county's major businesses at a time when cotton was the prime economic determinant. Marsh Smith also participated in Georgetown's municipal government, serving as alderman and mayor. Among the accomplishments during his mayoral administration was the acquisition of land for an airport and for a city park along the San Gabriel River. [12]

 

The death of Marsh Smith, and that of his son, Fred Cooper Smith, a year earlier, coupled with a general decline in cotton production, proved devastating to the family company. Beset by financial troubles and under receivership by 1964, it sold the produce warehouse to Carl J. Doerring. In 1966, Doerring conveyed it to Robert L. and Wanda H. Lancaster. Robert Lancaster, a Southwestern University teacher and a sculptor, used the building as his studio. [13]

 

In 1976, following the death of her husband, Wanda Lancaster deeded the property to archeologist Alton Briggs and his wife, Rae Freeman Briggs, of Travis County. Under the Briggs' ownership, efforts were made to provide protective historical designations for the property. In the late 1970s it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and in the 1980s it was declared a State Archeological Landmark. The latter designation, which was supported by such groups as the Williamson County Historical Commission and the Georgetown Heritage Society, figured prominently in efforts to save the building from demolition when Williamson County officials sought to develop the site and surrounding land for a courthouse annex. The local preservation battle that ensued took its toll on the property, as plans to restore the historic building failed to materialize. Following a lengthy series of condemnation hearings, legal maneuverings, and public safety negotiations, remaining elements of the massive, but badly deteriorated, roof system were collapsed into the interior space. Minimal efforts to seal the structure from the elements proved unsuccessful, and by the early 1990s it was little more than a ruin filled with water-soaked rubble. [14]

 

In 1994, Karalei Nunn and Thomas M. Nichols purchased the property and announced plans to utilize the site while also preserving important elements of the extant architectural features. Soon after, the married couple, partners in the firm of Eleven Thirteen Architects, Inc., began work on a comprehensive rehabilitation of the structure. The result was a unique form of adaptive use that provided expansive basement rooms for their offices and upper story space for their residence. In the course of the reconstruction, they consulted with officials of the Texas Historical Commission Department of Architecture, who advised them that some of the alterations would preclude the structure's future consideration for the Recorded Texas Historic Landmark designation. The owners are therefore pursuing a subject marker to record the history of the property and the significance of the structure to the economic history of the town, as well as its rich architectural heritage. [15]

 

The Railroad Produce Warehouse is the most visible remaining vestige of the early railroad era in Georgetown. Tracks of the I&GN Railroad have been removed west of the town square, leaving several blocks of open space that are only now beginning to be filled in. Contemporaneous industrial structures such as the Belford Lumber Company, the city ice plant, and a grist mill have all been demolished. Only the warehouse remains as an architectural reminder of the important role industry and the railroad played in the economic development of Georgetown. A historical marker at the site would commemorate a core element of the city's business history that was in large part responsible for a successful and progressive climate that brought prosperity to the city in the late Victorian era. Such prosperity and the capital it generated spawned the elaborate commercial and residential districts that today form the nucleus of Georgetown's successful preservation program. An Official Texas Historical Marker on the grounds of the Railroad Produce Warehouse would help provide an important interpretive context for the city's notable built environment.

 

Researched and written by: Dan K. Utley, Historian Austin, Texas

 

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