WOMEN LEAD HISTORIC SQUARE’S
RISE TO FAME
by Kathy Smith, Lifestyles Editor
Hood County News On-Line Edition – February 29, 2000
She came to Granbury to attend a little barbecue get-together and enjoy the festivities. She didn’t intend to stay, but she fell in love. The love affair has been going on for 14 years now with no sign of stopping or diminishing its passion. Like other women who have gone before her and will follow, Dianne Rawls Davis is passionate about one of the most important loves of her life—the historic Granbury square.
As a 14-year business-owner, Davis is a member of a growing sorority making history on the square.
Little did Granbury’s founding fathers know that 100 years later, their men-built, men-owned and men-operated business district would be, on the whole, in the hands of women. But, oh, what women they are!
Up until the early 1970s the historic square was a man’s world with only a handful of exceptions.
Judith Oxford was a licensed mortician in the late 1800s in the building on the northeast corner of the square now owned by the Masonic Lodge. Martha Stringfellow came to Granbury as a widower with children to raise after the death of her husband in 1869. She opened the City Hotel on the southwest corner of the square in what is now a pasta restaurant.
Juaninta Hayworth ran City Florist in the 1960s and Claudine Mitchell had the Style Center dress shop. Other women worked with their husbands in family-owned businesses on the square, but on a whole, women owning businesses was not the norm.The Trailblazers
But then Mary Lou Watkins came to town.
Like a modern-day Oliver Loving or Charles Goodnight, Watkins blazed a trail for other women to follow.
Watkins came to Granbury in 1970 to restore and live in her grandfather’s home, the David L. Nutt house, on East Bridge Street. Not long after arriving, Watkins’ cousin Joe Nutt urged her to open and restore the Nutt House dining room and after much debate and thought, she did just that.
“The old guys on the square didn’t know what to think about me when I was restoring the house and the Nutt House,” laughs Watkins. “They would shake their heads and say, ‘Isn’t it too bad about her?’”
Disregarding the naysayers, Watkins persevered and opened the Nutt House Dining Room and Hotel in April 1970 to an appreciative public. The establishment operated for close to 30 years in the same manner in which Watkins started—with good food, smiling faces and large helpings of history.
The powers that be had faith in Watkins even though women’s lib had not made it as far as Granbury. She remembers going to Mr. Zweifel at First National Bank to borrow $10,000—at the time a very large loan.
“I walked in there wearing one of the short skirts that were popular at that time and asked him for the loan,” Watkins explained. “After he told me he’d loan me the money, I got up to leave. Mr. Zweifel tugged on the bottom of my skirt, and said ‘Honey, did it shrink a little?’” Watkins clapped her hands and laughed at the memory.
Like a line from the movie Field of Dreams, people came. And they came and they came. It was not uncommon for the lines of people waiting to eat to stretch out the front door and around the side of the building and down the block. They came for black-eyed pea salad, chicken and dumplings, and hot-water cornbread and left with a satisfied feeling and an overwhelming urge to return time and time again.
Even though she was busy with her new venture, Watkins kept busy with another project—putting Granbury on the map as a tourist destination. The greatest accolades that Granbury receives now are due to the work Watkins did.
Watkins was instrumental in having the historic square recognized by the Texas Historical Commission and the work she did at the Nutt House motivated other building owners to renovate the rest of the square.
She was, and is, a mentor to the women who came after her.
Jeannine Macon came to Granbury in the fall of 1973. She was a middle-aged, divorced mother of a teen-age girl and she had a plan—a plan to survive.
Although she had never owned a business, Macon was determined to succeed.
“I was probably naïve,” Macon said, “but I was already at the bottom and I had to make this work.”
Macon opened “Jeannine’s” dress shop in 1974 and changed the way Granbury women dressed. Her goal was to bring a touch of Dallas fashion sense to the small town and create a store that women couldn’t walk away from.
“My first chore was to get women out of elastic waistbands,” laughs Macon. “Then I fell in love with the ‘Bis’ designer line and they were nothing but elastic waistbands!”
Jeannine’s dress shop was housed in the historic Aston Landers Saloon building, which Macon tenderly and lovingly restored to its 1800s splendor. And, like Watkins, the male proprietors didn’t know what to think.
“One business man walked down to my store after I opened and said, ‘Oh, you’ve washed your windows—now I’m going to have to wash mine!’ laughs Macon.
Watkins and Macon wore many hats in the early days of tourism on the historic square.
“We were the chamber of commerce and the tourism office for the square,” Macon says proudly. “Mary Lou was involved with tourism on the state level and we (Granbury) won many awards.”
Macon’s goal was not to have the square become just a tourist destination, but to keep it as the founding fathers had planned it—as a business community, rich with historic integrity.
Staking their claim
With the success of Jeannine’s and the Nutt House, other women found the courage to stake their own claim on the historic square.
Other women were building what would become strong businesses—Almost Heaven, owned by Linda Preston, and Ratliff Gallery, owned by Louise Ratliff Deems—and more women followed.
Dee Gormley was a 5th grade teacher when she found out the bookstore on the square was up for sale. In the summer of 1982, Gormley decided to buy the store and not only did she not return to teaching, she began her own 17 and a half year love affair with doing business on the square.
“It’s a family atmosphere on the square,” stated Gormley. “We try to help one another and there have been countless numbers of people who have helped me.”
Gormley gives Macon and Watkins credit for paving the way and helping to keep the uniqueness of the square. As far as her business sense goes, she gives credit to the late Howard Clemmons who gave her a lot of encouragement.
“In the early years, Howard was the Godfather over all of us,” laughs Gormely.
As the news about Granbury spread more and more tourists visited the square. Gormley considers her task as a business owner on the square to be two-fold.
“Not only are we selling merchandise,” Gormley explains, “we’re entertaining visitors. People come here from Dallas and other places and are not used to the everyday conversations and quips we exchange with each other.
“When locals meet each other in the store and stand around visiting and catching up, the visitors just eat it up!”
Gormley sites hard work, involvement and timing as the keys to success on the square.
“Our tourism developed at just the right pace,” says Gormley. “It developed slowly enough that we could control what happened and business on the square has remained constant. Even during the oil bust in the 80s people still took their day trips and came to Granbury. We’ve been lucky that way.”
One of those taking a day trip in the mid 80s was Davis who came to Granbury for the 4th of July celebration and ended up staying and opening an antique and jewelry shop. Ultimately Davis opened The Merry Heart Tearoom.
Davis credits not only Macon and Watkins with putting Granbury on the map and making it possible for other business women, but Jo Ann Miller and the Granbury Opera House.
“Without that opera house, there would have been many of us to go broke,” recalls Davis. “Our livelihood depended many times on the Granbury Opera House and Jo Ann Miller worked so hard to make it and Granbury a success.”
Davis also cites the quality of merchandise and establishments as vital for the overall success of the historic square.
“The people that come to the square expecting to make a fast dollar don’t last. It’s the people with a true heart for Granbury who succeed,” says Davis. “I wanted to be a part of that and I didn’t want to be negative. The naysayers don’t have a place in Granbury!”
As other business owners strive to keep up and change according to the demand of customers, Davis has the luxury of staying the course.
“The restaurant business is different from retail,” Davis explains. “When people come to the tearoom, they want my chicken salad, my cherry crisp. And they want to see my face. It’s the familiarity they want. That’s what people like about Granbury—it’s comfortable and soothing.”
Davis has a motto—”Our past is our future”—and she believes that Granbury is an honorable community with a mission of its own—to be uplifting.
The new ‘kids’ on the block
Within the 100-year history of business on the square, Glenda Westbrook and Heather Cleveland are the relative “newcomers.”
Westbrook opened Home Again on the west side of the square in 1992. A year later she moved down the block and changed names to Houston St. Mercantile.
She had an extensive sales background, first in retail sales at 18 years old and later in insurance sales for eight years.
Westbrook’s love of crafts and sewing led her to the final look of her store, which specializes in material and caters to quilters.
“I’ve been sewing since I was 13,” said Westbrook. “When I was young I used to go to Leonard Brothers in Fort Worth and have a field day in the long bins of material they had.”
She feels blessed to be doing what she’s doing. “I love working with people and I’m lucky to have both local and out-of-town customers and many repeat customers.”
“Quilters will drive for miles to get what they want,” laughs Westbrook.
An eye for what her customers want keeps Westbrook’s store ever changing and growing and Cleveland has the same gift.
Cleveland is the “baby” on the square, in spite of the fact that she has had a successful business for seven years.
As a college student at the University of New Mexico, Cleveland—a Weatherford native—began entertaining the idea of having her own business.
“I had an idea of what I thought would work,” stated Cleveland. “I started acquiring demographics on Granbury when I was still in college and then I wrote a business plan.”
The result was the opening of The Pan Handle—a gourmet tool shop—by the then 26-year-old in November 1993.
Cleveland uses everything she can to keep up with the fast-paced mercantile business.
“I go to market, have reps visit me,” she lists, “cooking schools, trade magazines, gourmet magazines, seminars—anything it takes.”
And Cleveland’s view of Granbury and the historic square has changed in the past seven years. “I used to think that this was a retirement community,” Cleveland states, “but now I see an influx of young professional couples and families moving to the area.”
Cleveland’s business has steadily grown, but she admits to its ups and downs. She explains that retail is a learning process by trial and error and she welcomes the new businesses on the square.
“The more good businesses we have the higher the bar of quality is raised,” says Cleveland.
Starting a business and making a go of it on the historic square is hard work—a statement reflected by all of the women who share the sisterhood of business women on the historic square. But they’re all quick to lay the credit with those who started it all.
“I greatly admire Jeannine and Mary Lou,” states Cleveland. “They met a lot of obstacles in the beginning, but they made it easier for us.”
In her ever humble fashion, Watkins laughs, “I’ve received too much credit and, too much blame for what I’ve done!”
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