Heritage, Volume 11, Number 3, Summer 1993 Page: 14
The following text was automatically extracted from the image on this page using optical character recognition software:
This photograph was taken in October of 1990 when the restoration of both the interior and the exterior of
John B. Ragland Mercantile Company building was almost complete.
able to give this particular building back to
the community," he adds.
"And the community seems eager to
have it," says Bruce S. Cheeseman, archivist
of King Ranch, Inc., who supervised the
National Register nomination and rehabilitation
tax credit aspects of the project.
"Most people in Kingsville can trace their
origins back to the town's founding. You
have a lot of old families here, a lot of respect
for traditional values."
Kingsville, like much of South Texas,
was developed by Henrietta M. King, owner
of the fabled King Ranch, and her son-inlaw,
Robert J. Kleberg Sr., who managed her
vast interests. Located three miles to the
east of the King Ranch headquarters, the
town was created early in this century as a
train stop along the St. Louis, Brownsville
and Mexico railway then under construction.
InJanuary 1903 the Kleberg Town and
Improvement Company was incorporated
to plan, promote, and develop the town and
adjoining farm tracts, as well as to give the
railway builders the land bonus donated to
them by Mrs. King. The survey of the town
began in May 1903 under the direction of
Fred Warren and embraced an area of 853
acres, divided into 226 blocks defined by
wide, straight streets. Most of the streets
were marked out on the prairie pasture and
grubbed clean of brush by the time the
railhead arrived in February 1904. When
the first train arrived on July 4, 1904, the
town consisted of one house, two freight
cars anchored on a siding used by officials
of the railroad, and some temporary shacks
and tents used to house the construction
crews. One early settler described it as
"truly a howling wilderness."
Town lots initially sold for as little as
$50, although choice corner lots brought
up to $600. The first Ragland store was
built in October 1904 by the owner, John
B. Ragland, whom Robert J. Kleberg Sr.
persuaded to move to Kingsville from
Alice. The structure was described as being
a one-story, frame store 15x40 feet in
size. John B. Ragland was the son of N.M.
and Sarah Scott Ragland of Victoria and
had operated general stores in Rockport
and Alice. His brother, Sam G. Ragland,
had been employed by the King Ranch
since 1892 as cattle manager.
John Ragland operated his general store
until his death in August 1908. Just prior
to his death, Ragland sold his town lots
and store to the newly created John B.
Ragland Mercantile Company, incorporated
by his brother Sam along with Robert
J. Kleberg Sr., Caesar Kleberg, and Charles
H. Flato Jr. This new business entity
commissioned architect Jules Leffland of
Victoria to design a large two-story, brick
store building. Promoting not only the new
business venture, but the new town as well,
Leffland designed an edifice a little grander
than probably was justified. The new
Ragland's quickly became the leading
mercantile establishment in the growing
town, advertising itself as "Kingsville's
Center of Style and Quality." All dry goods,
millinery, suits, pants, skirts, cloaks, shirts,
hats, and shoes were sold in the large twostory
part of the store, which was entered
from the main corner doorway on Kleberg
and Sixth. The first floor interior featured
wood floors with a large open mezzanine
level that wrapped around the interior below
a pressed tin ceiling. The second floor
contained office space. Added onto the
store the next year was a small, one-story
level, entered from Sixth Street, to house a
grocery department. In the early 1920s the
grocery business was sold to Sam and
Truman Kellam, who erected a new building
at 7th and Kleberg. This area then became
the men's department.
Under the leadership of Sam Ragland,
Charles H. Flato Jr., and store manager
Robert C. Eckhardt, Ragland's grew into
the best known clothing store in South
Texas and established a second store in
McAllen. That business was eventually
sold to Valley interests in the late 1920s.
The store also served its community as a
meeting place, with women's and men's
club rooms on the second floor as well as
offices. In 1943 the John B. Ragland Mercantile
Company was dissolved, and ownership
of the store building and town lots
was transferred to Robert J. Kleberg &
Company. When that company was dissolved
seven years later, ownership of
Ragland's was transferred to King Ranch,
Inc., which proceeded to incorporate it in
1950 as a new, wholly-owned subsidiary
named Ragland Mercantile Company. That
year also marked a complete remodeling of
the building to launch the new enterprise.
Under the direction of noted designer
Raymond Loewy, the Ragland's building
received a new facade, new interiors (including
the first escalator in South Texas),
new storefronts and new fixtures. Most of
the original fabric of the building was destroyed
during this modernization, which
in the words of one critic transformed
Ragland's "from a fusty purveyor of general
merchandise to a fine department store and
one of the most modern merchandising
emporiums in South Texas." Directed by
Ida Clement, Ragland's continued as the
preeminent department store south of San
14 HERITAGE * SUMMER 1993
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 11, Number 3, Summer 1993, periodical, Summer 1993; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45416/m1/14/: accessed October 17, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.