Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Lost Chapter of Kerrville History - FOUND!

The Gregory Hotel, Kerrville ca. 1880 - now known as the Pampell's Building at the corner of
Water and Sidney Baker Streets. From the collection of Dana Lowe
For the past two years I have been corresponding with Dana Lowe, a friend in Rockvale, Tennessee who has family connections to Kerrville.  While we are not related by blood, we share relatives in common (we refer to each other as long-lost step-cousins) and are both incurable genealogy geeks.  Together we have been delving into the lives of two early Kerrville families: the Steagalls and the Gregorys. 

W.V. Gregory, ca 1875
Previously mis-identified as
one of my uncles in the
family photo collection.
Through our shared interests we have been able to identify unknown individuals in our family photo collections, learned about the lives of these two families and brought a forgotten image of downtown Kerrville back into the public eye.  The story I am about to tell you is about one of Dana's relatives, William V. Gregory, an early Kerrville resident who helped shape our town but has been (literally) lost in the annals of local history.  The pictures in this blog come from both our collections and if we hadn't been working together, neither of us would have known the treasures we each held.

William Vandyke Gregory (December 12, 1846 - January 29, 1931) was 29 years old in 1875 when he left his native home in Marshall County, Tennessee and moved to Kerrville.  Within the first three to five years of his residency here, William proved his entrepreneurial spirit: He established a shoe shop, a hotel called The Gregory House and had a horse trading business as a sideline.

In October, 1878 Mr. Gregory was a witness to the aftermath of the Dowdy Family Massacre, one of the last known Indian raids in Kerr County.  He was a family friend of the Dowdy's and was riding to the family's home on Johnson Creek for a visit. He was two miles south of the Dowdy home when he learned of the attack.  Gregory raced to the scene and arrived as the bodies of the Dowdy children were laid before the family.  His account of the tragedy was published in the October 7, 1878 issue of the San Antonio Express.  "Alice lived long enough to recognize her mother - spoke the dear name of 'Mama,' and expired." His account said.

He was very much a part of small town life.  William was remembered in a column by J.J. Starkey in the August 6, 1931 issue of the Kerrville Times, a memoir of life in early Kerrville:

"While going to school at the old building then on the Secor Hospital Corner [now John Miller's car dealership], the teacher being Professor Ryan, the boys got together their nickels and dimes and bought a round rubber football.  A jury, out on a case, borrowed our football and started a game near the old stone courthouse.  One of the jurors struck the ball with a stick and punctured it.  They had W.V. Gregory, who was a shoemaker then, mend it; but as I remember the ball never held air so well thereafter."  

William and Julia Gregory on the Porch of the Gregory House 
William and Julia Gregory, about 1900
Until Recently an unidentified couple in one of my
family group photos.

1880 was the year that changed Mr. Gregory's life.  He injured his left knee while working and it became so infected that the leg had to be amputated.  The amputation was performed by four doctors, Drs. White, Nowlin, and Harwell  from Kerrville and one other [un-named] physician from Comfort. The operation took place in the home of Joe Robinson, a "little residence situated in the southeast corner of the Starkey Farm." 

Joe Robinson's sister-in-law,  Julia Kernodle (August 1851 - Nov. 6, 1930), another 1875 transplant from Tennessee, lived in the home and helped take care of Mr. Gregory.  As Julia nursed William back to health, love bloomed and they were married later that year.

After the couple's marriage in 1880, Mr. Gregory's hotel gained a second story and they eventually branched into the mercantile business.  In studying the photo above of the Gregory House hotel, rooms were $1 a day and meals $.25 per day.

Sometime around 1900 the property was sold to J.L. Pampell and the building became a confectionary.  After their retirement from the hotel and mercantile business, William and Julia built a home on a 20 acre plot of land in the southeast corner of the D.A. Rees tract and raised chicken and dairy stock.  In the early 1920s the Gregorys sold this farm and built a home in the Lowry addition.

On Thursday, Nov. 6, 1930, Julia died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 81.  Her obituary in the Daily Times read, " On Tuesday, Nov. 4, at the general election, she accompanied her husband to the polls and cast her ballot.  The election officers and others remarked concerning her apparent good health, giving promise of more years of life.  Thursday morning she was stricken with heart trouble and passed away about nightfall."

William died only three months after his "beloved" Julia's passing, on January 29, 1931.   In his obituary, the Kerrville Times said, "He had very little education but was energetic, a keen trader and succeeded better than many men with two legs to walk upon.  He was of a kindly and peacable nature and had many friends."

A sad footnote to this tale: While William's obituary says that he and Julia are lying side by side in Glen Rest Cemetery, due to an unfortunate series of circumstances, the location of their graves has been lost and cannot be located.  After searching for old church registries, courthouse records and talking to numerous cemetery and funeral home personnel, I am still hoping for a miracle that will one day point me to their final resting place.  Mr. Gregory's name is also mis-spelled on the Pampell Building's historical marker.

It has been a lot of fun researching William and Julia Gregory with Dana and I would like to thank him for his generosity in sharing the fantastic image of the Gregory House Hotel with us.  It is an amazing photo!  Who would have guessed the Pampell's building ever looked like that?


  1. Very cool! It is amazing how much info you are able to put together.

    And since the Building is called Gregory House, I have to put this here:

  2. Awesome story and great work! Congratulations.

    1. Joe -- I really like your new book. It seems that WV Gregory is also in the photo of the Steagall House, which is on an early page of your book Home.
      All best,
      Dana Lowe

  3. Hi Lanza - What a neat story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  4. I wish you guys were in my family tree. That is the kind of story I love adding. Enjoyed the read Joe. John Rich

  5. Lanza -- It has been great working with you on this project. What an excellent result! I am so glad to have learned all about Kerrville and the family activities down there, and am especially happy to be able to provide the early photo of the Gregory House (later Pampell's) and its one-legged proprietor. Dana Lowe

  6. Wow, Lanza, this is a great story. I am in awe of your research.
    Thanks, Don

  7. Awesome! That is avery interesting part of Kerrville's history!

  8. At the free Chronicling America Website from the Library of Congress, go to Advanced Search, select Tenneesee, and type in keyword Kerrville and find some amazing history. An 1883 shootout story gives a lot of detail on exactly where buildings were located and description of the town. There was shootout between MT Edwards and a man called Roberts. The site is called Chronicling America from the Library of Congress. It's free. There are many more amazing stories there about Kerrville. Please pass on this incredible historical resource. I, for one, would love to see the people of the Tennessee share their historical knowledge as well as any photos they possess to the public before they pass. There was a photography shop in Kerrville as the above article describes so mayby the local folks will be more likely to have boxes of old photos they can share with the world.