The Kilpatric Brothers - Early Howell County Merchants
Wed, 08/24/2022 - 1:06pm admin
In the late 1980s, while in my late teens, I worked at radio station KUKU in Willow Springs as an announcer. One of my duties was contacting the owners of Kilpatric's Supermarket for their weekly ad sheet to record it into a commercial. Phil and his wife Gerry Kilpatric were the owners, and Gerry was in charge of advertising. She was very particular that the ad be recorded with "enthusiasm." At my age, it was hard to get excited about groceries. It took a while to get there, but I finally pleased her, and in the process, we became friends. She and Phil later took up the hobby of "ham," or amateur radio, and we often talked on the air on a local net. When I went to Germany in the 1980s, they connected me with my wife via shortwave. At the time, I had no idea that the Kilpatric name was old in Howell County and, for many years, connected to the mercantile business in Willow Springs and West Plains.
Phil and Gerry (Some sources spell her name Jerry) purchased their store located at the present-day site of G&W Foods from Sloan Garrett in 1967 and additional buildings on the site in 1973. They had operated Wilbanks Grocery before the purchase. Phil was the son of Alva Kilpatric, a well-known brakeman on the Current River rail line, and Alva was the son of William Lafayette Kilpatric. The latter operated a grocery in Willow Springs in the early 1890s.
William's brother, Thomas Butler Kilpatric, according to family sources, had previously operated a store in Willow Springs shortly after the arrival of the Kansas City, Fort Scott, and Memphis Railroad in 1882. Seeking greener business pastures, Thomas moved his family to West Plains around 1886 and opened a mercantile business on the West Plains square. In March 1892, the West Plains Journal reported that " T.B. Kilpatric is reported to have bought C.T. Bolin's stock of goods. He will operate both stores until inventories are reduced to fit into one store." Both brothers used their initials for store signage and public persona, as many adult men did then. William was also known to friends and acquaintances as "Boze."
By August 1893, T.B. was also the Farmers & Merchant Bank vice president in West Plains.
The two brothers were the sons of Israel Thomas Kilpatric, who came to Missouri by way of Tennessee. Israel Thomas had been in business in Alabama and Tennessee and was the son of an Irish immigrant.
W.L. Kilpatric's reason for leaving Tennessee was personal after his marriage to Mary Hannah Wilson Kilpatric ended in divorce in 1893. He brought his thirteen-year-old son Alva, mentioned earlier, and his ex-wife took their seven-year-old daughter to Tennessee. Alva would move back to Willow Springs when he became an adult. Following the divorce, William came to West Plains and worked in his brother's store. He soon owned a portion of the business. While working in Thomas' store, he met a traveling pharmaceutical sales lady, twenty-eight years his junior, and married. He eventually opened his own grocery store in Willow Springs, located on Center Street between the railroad depot and Second, or what eventually became Main Street. In the photo included in this article, William is shown filling a bag for a customer, and his son Alva is driving the team and wagon.
In July 1895, the West Plains Gazette announced, "T. B. Kilpatrick, one of our best and busiest merchants, and who is always on the alert for bargains for his customers, has bought the stock of Ferguson and Lucas, who recently failed at Willow Springs, and is offering it at prices that are bound to bring buyers." The store mentioned is today's Charles Ferguson store.
The Gazette in 1901 described the business of T.B. Kilpatric as "Dry goods, clothing, boots, shoes, and groceries composing this splendid stock. It occupies one of the largest buildings on the east side (of the square), with the display of dry goods and notions on the first floor, surplus stock in the basement, and the clothing department upstairs. Five years ago, Mr. Kilpatric engaged extensively in the purchase of produce, eggs, and poultry being his specialty. Of these products, Mr. Kilpatric makes almost daily shipments in large quantities to the largest markets, his consignments being principally to New Orleans exporters, Havana, Cuba being a great market for eggs and poultry from Howell County. The stock of boots and shoes is one of the leaders of West Plains and comprises all desirable goods in footwear. Mr. Kilpatric is not only a thorough merchant in everything that pertains to merchandising but is one of our leading and most enterprising citizens in matters of public concern.
In October 1901, T.B. had outgrown his building on the square's east side and moved to the west side into a larger facility.
As the new year, 1906, arrived, T.B. Kilpatric took his West Plains store in a new direction. The West Plains Gazette reported, "The Kilpatric Mercantile Company is the name of a new mercantile firm of West Plains, which has been organized by T.B. Kilpatric, of the Blue Front Store, and will absorb the business of this popular establishment. The new firm has been incorporated under the laws of the State of Missouri with a capital stock of $16,000, and the stockholders consist of T.B. Kilpatric, Ira Carter, Theodore Williams, W.L. Kilpatric, and W.L. Brown, all of whom will be actively engaged in looking after various departments of the business. There also are several stockholders who will not be employed in the store. Over twenty years, T.B. Kilpatric has been in business in West Plains. By square dealing and courteous treatment of his customers, he has established a large business, which the new firm will acquire and continue to serve. Theo. Williams, another of the stockholders, has been with the Blue Front Store for ten years and is a young man who has a splendid business ability and a host of friends. Ira Carter and W.L. Kilpatric also have been with the establishment for many years and number their friends and customers by the score. W.L. Brown, the new addition to the firm, is an old resident of West Plains and, until recently, was engaged in the grocery business. We predict for the Kilpatric Mercantile Company a successful business career and a continuance of liberal patronage that the public has always accorded T.B. Kilpatric.
A Gazette reporter walked the West Plains square the week before Christmas 1906, describing merchandise displayed in store windows and reported, "Kilpatrics' show windows contain dress goods, ladies coats, fur sets, pillow top, fancy boxes of handkerchiefs decorated with the Christmas holly, which would make choice Xmas gifts."
The company flourished for a couple of decades in West Plains. To get some idea of the scale of the business, the West Plains Journal reported in July 1931, "During the first ten days of July, one thousand dollars have been paid out for chickens and eggs by the Kilpatric Mercantile Company of this city." But T.B. Kilpatric was not there. In October 1914, he had announced his retirement from the business and a move to the state of California. Other family members and partners in the corporation continued the business in West Plains.
T.B. didn't retire, though. Moving to Chico, California, he founded "Kilpatric & Sons Groceteria," which became a chain of twenty-three cash-and-carry stores in northern California. T.B. died in May 1928, a wealthy man.
Brother W.L. Kilpatric was also restless for additional business and, in 1917, moved to Oklahoma. He remained there only a few years and went to Kansas, where he engaged in the hardware business until he died in 1932.
William's son Alva remained in Willow Springs. In June 1928, he made the news. The West Plains Journal reported, "Alva Kilpatric and Frank Fisher of Willow Springs and Howard Russell of Springfield were painfully injured Monday when a work train on the Current River Branch of the Frisco broke through a bridge near Van Buren."
I found little reference to the Kilpatric store in Willow Springs, though one remained there into the 1940s. Perhaps some of our older readers will have details. Eventually, the Kilpatric interest in the store was purchased by Albert Carter. A gas station under the name Kilpatric operated where the G&W Foods business office now stands.
Phil and Gerry Kilpatric revived the name in Howell County business when they opened their store in 1967, and I feel privileged to have known them and played my little part in the story.