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"Hindsights"

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Saving the Pearl in Johnson City

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Johnson City TX - Pearl Hotel
The Pearl
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, November 2020

The Pearl Hotel in Johnson City was a mighty busy place in the early days. A lot of horse and buggy traffic came through town. Travelers could hardly wait to warm their tired backsides by the Pearl's fire place and sit on the balcony in the evenings and watch the world go by.

James Polk Johnson built the Pearl in the 1880s. He first came to the Pedernales Valley to work as a ranch hand for his uncles, Samuel Ealy Johnson, Sr. and Jesse Thomas Johnson. When the Johnson brothers dissolved their partnership in 1871, they sold their Blanco County holdings to their nephew.

As soon as James Polk Johnson closed the deal he made a flying trip to Dewitt County and married his sweetheart, Julia Ann Moore. Her honeymoon was a romantic wagon ride to the wilds of Blanco County.

James Polk Johnson donated land for what would become Johnson City. As soon as the town was up and running there was a movement to wrestle the county seat away from the town of Blanco, 14 miles to the south. It took 12 years and some gun smoke to get it done.

Johnson City TX - Pearl Hotel old photos
The Pearl Hotel old photo
Photo courtesy Johnson City Record Courier

Johnson built his 2 story, double front porched hotel at the southwest corner of the town square. He named it after his daughter Pearl. He could have named it after any of his children, but I guess Pearl was his favorite.

The Pearl welcomed guests for a half century or more. A lot of travelers experienced its hospitality.

Of course buildings, like people, age over time and not always gracefully. Buildings need constant maintenance and don't always get it.

By the 1930s the Pearl had lost its luster. The stairs creaked and the paint peeled. By the 1950s it was no longer suitable for overnight lodging. Over the next 40 years it housed a lawyer's office and an antique store among other things. At times it sat vacant.

By the year 2000 the building suffered from decades of neglect. The walls leaned, and the porch sagged. There were ripples in the floor. Walking through the kitchen was dangerous.

If the Pearl was going to survive it needed someone to save it from the bulldozer. It needed someone with a sense of history.


Johnson City TX - main street, 1909
West side of Main Street in Johnson City, Texas circa 1909:
These buildings burned circa 1920. The Bryan building was rebuilt in stone. Most later became other businesses. The Pearl Hotel in next block (tow story building) was not affected and became The Adams Hotel in 1929. A. J. Casparis built a barbershop on the site where the men are sitting in 1927. Crider's Cafe and Ford Garage were built on north end of the block and later became The Casparis Cafe and The Davis Chevrolet Dealership and Garage.
Click on image to enlarge
Photo courtesy Johnson City Record Courier

Johnson City TX - Main Street, early 1900s
Johnson City, Texas (circa early 1900s)
Taken from the Pearl Hotel
Photo courtesy Johnson City Record Courier


Johnson City TX - Pearl Hotel and stone Bank Building
Circa late 1800s
James Poke Johnson founder of Johnson City, Texas built The Pearl Hotel in the distance named for his daughter Pearl. He also built the stone building on the right now the bank building.
Photo courtesy Johnson City Record Courier

"I used to walk down Pecan Street to go to elementary school," Charlene Holden Crump recalled. "I would walk right by the Pearl every day. I thought it was a mansion."

Although Charlene's family moved away from Johnson City when she was 13, she never lost her love for the Hill Country. She lived in Austin, but heart was here. "I didn't want to leave, and in a way I never did," she said. "I always felt like coming back to Johnson City was like coming home."

As founder and director of the Mary Lee Foundation, an Austin non-profit that serves adults with special needs, Charlene Crump spent her life in service to her community, so she naturally stepped up to save an old hometown landmark. It was another way to serve.

"The Pearl was part of my childhood, so when it came on the market in 2007 I bought it. It was in bad shape. I wanted to save it before it was totally gone."

The process was long and tedious. As craftsmen peeled back the layers, new discoveries came to light. Every owner left a mark that was a part of the building's history. "To do a restoration that will accommodate the modern generation without destroying the history of it is quite a feat," Charlene said. "I think we did it."

Today the Pearl is a B&B that overlooks the busy town square. "The balcony is the best place in the world to watch the Lights Spectacular at Christmas," Charlene Crump noted.

Like the original hotel, the restored Pearl is not fancy. The building is simple, practical and functional. Inside, the rooms are filled with period furniture. Walking through the front door is like stepping back 100 years.

The Pearl has long been a building with a past. Good to know it now has a future.

Johnson City TX - Pearl Hotel interior today
The Pearl Hotel interior today
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, November 2020
More Rooms With a Past »

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" December 1, 2020 Column

[More Rooms With a Past » ]



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