BUSINESS IN PINE ISLAND
The Pennington/Milam Store and Post Office
Almost all of the residents of Pine Island were either farmers when they came to Pine Island or they became farmers after they settled there. There were a few exceptions, but even the exceptions usually if not farming to some degree, at least had a large garden, chickens and a few cows.
One of the first exceptions to farming was Duncan D Robertson who owned the combination Prairie View post office and a small general store. It was located on the south east corner of "The Old Houston Highway" and Cochran road.
The house with two bed rooms, a kitchen, dining room and a shed room was built of rough, unpainted lumber... The Store and post office section was remembered by James Elisha Pennington, John Wesley's son, as a twelve by twenty room attached to the northwest corner of the house making the building L shaped... Lucille (Milam) Daut, John Wesley's grand daughter, remembers that it was roughly twice that big and divided in half by a wall with the store in one side and the post office in the other side... Both of them lived there, James from 1897 to about 1914 and Lucille from 1909 to 1924. ) Lucille has a photograph of the front of the store showing a typical late 1800's wooden store front with a porch across the front and a false front hiding the roof. The porch has six posts supporting the front of the porch roof.
Judging by the automobile parked in front, the posts are about 6 feet apart making the store twenty four feet wide. Neither the store or post office section had a ceiling except for boards loosely laid on the ceiling joists to hide the rafters and provide storage space... John Wesley Pennington bought the store in 1897 from Duncan Robertson. Duncan had been appointed the first postmaster on May 20, 1892. Will Cameron replaced him as Postmaster on December 19, 1896. John Wesley Pennington was appointed as the postmaster on February 8, 1901 and John's wife, Francis, replaced him as postmistress on October 28, 1903 after John died...
Francis and the children continued to operate the store until they closed it in 1917 and used the space to enlarge the post office. Francis resigned as postmistress in 1914 and Mamie (Pennington) Milam, her daughter, was appointed the new postmistress on October 30 1914. Mamie held the position of postmistress until December 31, 1938, when the office was merged with the Hempstead post office... Mamie had the old post office and living quarters torn down in 1924, leaving the post office section as a separate building to be used until the new one was finished. She had a new house built with three bed rooms, a living room, dining room, bath room, kitchen and two large porches. The new post office was included into the northwest corner of the home.
Their nearest neighbors, the Barnett's were kind enough to let the Milam stay with them at night until the new house and post office was completed... The house was sold to A. W. Randall about 1940 and was is still used as their home until they died a few years ago. It is currently (1993) lived in by one of Mrs. Tapscott's nephews...
The store and post office served as a multipurpose community meeting place in it's early days. It was started as the Prairie View post office but also served the citizens of Pine Island. Black citizens living in the area picked up their mail at the post office, but mail addressed to the personnel and students of the college was picked up by a special carrier and distributed by the college mail room. The same carrier picked up the outgoing mail from the college and delivered it to the post office. It is hard to imagine now, but the small post office did a huge amount of business in the early 1900's, requiring two or three clerks... Lucille (Milam) Daut has pictures of the family car (an open top model T) parked in front of the post office.
It was used to carry the mail bags on the one mile trip from the depot to the post office. One picture (taken near Christmas) shows mail bags stacked about six feet high in the rear seat, stacked on both running boards, on the front fenders, in the front passenger seat and on top of the hood. That was the second load. Lucille stated that during the holiday seasons around Thanksgiving and Christmas the mail sometime ran 100 bags per day.
Of course most of the bags held packages, presents for the holidays and goods ordered from mail-order sources, rather than letters... The area citizens used the store as a gathering place to exchange local gossip and receive news of the outside world. It also allowed people to buy the few necessities needed between the weekly or monthly trips to town or for many. The store, although small, allowed them to delay trips to town for weeks or months... John Garrett also became a merchant and operated a store in Pine Island for a few years, in the first part of the 1900's. He had a small store next to the depot, about a mile west of the post office, where he sold groceries and sundries along with gasoline and kerosene.
It was located between the railroad track and the old Houston highway, directly across the road from Frank Echol's farm... After John Garrett's store started doing well, Frank Echol decided to build a competitive store across the road from John's store. Frank and John were very strong (bitter? ) competitors for a few years until Frank's store caught fire and burned to the ground one dark night, ending the competition. It has been said that both stores had bullet holes in the front walls from unknown sources. Shortly after, John Garrett moved his business to Hempstead. The last store (actually filling station) operating in Pine Island was during the thirties was operated by Tom Mc Carvel.
Tom's store was also located on the north side of the Houston highway but was just west of Pine Island road... Buster (Frankie Lee) Milam built and operated an automobile repair shop in Pine Island in 1926. It was originally located on the old Houston highway across from the Railroad crossing by the depot. It was later moved it to the southwest corner, across Cochran road from and facing the Post Office.
One of his early mechanics who still lives in Pine Island was J. T. Jagger's. In later years the old building was sold and moved once again, to Waller...
Although he was not a resident of Pine Island, G. K. Frenkil operated in the area on a semi-regular basis in the early part of the 1900's, selling vegetables and fruits from a horse drawn wagon. Mr. Frenkil who had immigrated to Texas from Germany worked and saved his money until he could bring the rest of his family to the United States.
He lived in Houston when he first started his route, but after a few years he saved enough money to move to Hempstead and start a small store and later added another store... Though not actual a Pine Island business, the Southern Pacific depot and Railway Express Agency was located on the old Houston highway about a mile west of Cochran road until the early 1920's. At that time the whole building was moved to a location just west of the railroad crossing at the Prairie View college road (Cochran Rd. ) where it stayed until rail passenger service stopped and the building was sold and moved.