food, served out of the old school cafeteria, is as good as it gets
and reasonably priced. Ladies in the community make brown beans,
cornbread, black-eyed peas, sandwiches, hamburgers, soup, stew,
chili, bar-be-que, and the best pies in Central
Texas. The kitchen closes at 6 – or earlier if it sells out.
Bluegrass Jamboree has put Pearl
on the map, but the town dates back to Civil War days. It was originally
known as Swayback, after Swayback Mountain, but when Swayback applied
for a post office in 1884, the federal government made a clerical
error – a common occurrence in those days – and named the post office
Wayback. That name never sat well so in March 1889 citizens renamed
their post office and their community Pearl after Pearl Davenport,
the son of the local store operator.
once a bustling community. At the turn of the twentieth century
there were three doctors in Pearl.
Competition for patients was fierce. Fees for bone settings were
negotiable. Babies were delivered for $2.50. In 1908 the “Price
System” telephone came to Pearl.
Customers had to buy their own telephone boxes, wire, and posts,
then string and maintain their own line. Cost for the service was
40 cents a month. As late as the 1920s all the churches in Pearl
- Methodist, Baptist, Church of Christ, and Church of the Nazarene-
held ten-day revival meetings every July and August. Families came
by wagon and horseback from Evant,
They brought bedding and food and camped out under the stars. A
camp meeting was the social event of the year.
Then after World
War II, Pearl
was caught in an unfavorable economic cycle. Creeping inflation
drove up the cost of necessary goods and services while the prices
farmers and ranchers received for their products remained stagnant
or slipped slowly downward. Large operators could hang on, especially
if they were debt free, but a little guy with a mortgage had a hard
time making ends meet.
The exodus began in the 1950s when many farmers and ranchers sold
their places for what they could get, left Pearl,
and moved to town. They left for factory jobs with steady paychecks,
company benefits, and 40-hour work weeks. Young people found good
jobs in the city. The population of Pearl
declined. The school consolidated with Evant
in 1958. The post office shut its doors. The last business closed
in the 1960s. Pearl,
Texas almost died of neglect.
But there is a revival in Pearl
– thanks to hard working volunteers and a unique form of American
music. Pearl may be miles off the beaten path, but you and your
GPS can find it on FM 183 twenty miles west of Gatesville.
If you lose your way, don’t be discouraged. Just follow the sound
© Michael Barr
3, 2015 Column
Interview with Ronald Medart, Pearl,
Handbook of Texas, Texas State Historical Association, Austin Texas
Unbroken: The Pearl Bluegrass Circle, a film by Mystic Films, LLC,
produced and directed by Winston Hall