Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top 10 Finding the J.C. Penney House and Mother Store

Kemmerer is a town in southwest Wyoming, it has a mark in red on the 2015 Michelin Man's Map, so it must have significance and a connection to Pennsylvania.

Photograph of the town in its early stages can be found in the J.C. Penney House Museum, Kemmerer, WY.
Patrick Quealy founded Kemmerer as an independent town in 1897 when he was vice-president of the Kemmerer Coal Company. He named the company and town after his financial backer, Pennsylvania coal magnate Mahlon S. Kemmerer.

Kemmerer may get its name from a Pennsylvania coal man, but the red highlight on the map comes from James Cash Penney (aka J.C. Penney). Mr. Penney was born in Hamilton, MO and moved to Colorado some time after high school for health reasons and invested his savings in a butcher shop. One of his top customers, a hotel chef was requesting a bottle of bourbon weekly to keep the business. Penney refused to do it and the hotel discontinued their association; the butcher shop failed. He then went to work for a dry goods company, Golden Rule operating in Colorado and Wyoming which eventually led him investing in and buying out his partners.  He later established the J. C. Penney Company Inc. and the Golden Rule name was phased out by 1913.

On April 14, 1902, James Penney opened a one-room framed building located between a laundry and a boarding house off the main business district "The Golden Rule" in Kemmerer, Wyoming. He lived above the store with his family. He managed that store from 1902 -1909. In 1904, he moved that store to a larger location on the triangle, a central area in town. The store remained there until 1929 when it moved to it's present location 722 J.C.Penney Drive.

This store still maintains its original structure with the ceiling and floors with only updated paint on the walls.  They have limited merchandise compared to a typical big city J.C. Penney but also have on display some of the original pieces that had been sold at what is considered J.C. Penney Store#1 Kemmerer, WY.

When he opened up his business a new trend started.  It was a cash only system unlike the usual credit system that was in place at the current local mining company store. It was also one price for all regardless of social status. People paid it because they liked the merchandise. There were two cashiers and the money was sent upstairs through a wired cable and the change would come back the same way. Mr. Penney was quoted as saying, "When we locked the store at midnight and went upstairs to our attic after the first day's business to figure out how we stood, there wasn't a great deal of paper money or for that matter, so many silver dollars; but there was an astonishing - to us- wealth in pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters, and half dollars".

The Penney Family, his wife Berta and two children, Roswell and J. C. Jr., lived in this modest cottage home from late 1903 to June 1909.

Berta Penney was James Penney's first wife.  She died from pneumonia in 1910 after 11 years of marriage. She would have lived in this house.  Her portrait hangs just inside the front door. After her death, Mr. Penney later wrote, "In that hour, my world crashed around me". He donated $10,000 in her memory to the First Methodist Church in Salt Lake City.

In the museum just off the left from the living room you will find a baby's Christening set made by Berta from goods obtained at the Golden Rule store.

An addition to the back of home is believed to have been constructed by Mrs. Berta Penney as a sewing room. Packing crates that once held merchandise some containing the names they were shipped to adorn the walls. She could have easily started her own DIY blog or at the very least displayed a creative Pinterest.

Although she never lived in Kemmerer , Mr. Penney's second wife, Mary Kimball Penney is pictured with their son, Kimball she is displayed in the living room of the house.  The couple met while Mr. Penney was on a trip to the Holy Land in 1916. Mary Hortense Kimball was a writer and contributor to the Christian Herald and she encouraged him to increase his charitable work. In 1923, he established a 120,000 acre farming community in northern Florida named Penney Farms. .It was for industrious, moral but economically destitute farmers to live and work until they were back on their feet. Tragically, the second Mrs. Penney died suddenly in 1924. In 1925, the J.C. Penney Foundation was formed.aiding adoption agencies, homeless shelters, youth groups, vocational schools, libraries, family guidance centers, missionary projects, peace organizations and health clinics.

In 1926, the Memorial Home Community was dedicated to the memory of his parents. It was a 60-acre residential community for retired ministers, lay church workers, missionaries and their families. He also married his third wife, Caroline Marie Autenreith. Their marriage lasted 45 years until his death and they had two daughters together, Mary Frances and Carol Marie. She is also  represented by photograph in the house.

It was not confirmed but suggested by the guide that the stove may have been original to the house. Being a town founded by a coal mine it is certainly accurate to say their home was heated by coal.

Upstairs in the house your attention is drawn to a cut out piece of wood in the flooring.  This designates where Mr. Penney would bring his earning of the day for safe keeping overnight.

The cradle is original to the Penney's as is the Penney family bible that is in the living room downstairs.

 We were in a hurry to get to our next destination. Kemmerer and the J.C. Penney house were only intended to be a drive by and snap a picture.  We spent two hours viewing the store and walking down the street to Mr. Penney's home. Did I buy anything?  Yes, how could I not pay homage to such a special man and his business if only in spirit and the spirit moved me.

Kemmerer, Wyoming is a great stop on your journey. J.C. Penney opened my eyes to the pioneering spirit I was about to witness throughout Wyoming. Who knew J.C. Penney got its start in Wyoming? There are many books written about Mr. Penney and he authored one as well.  The woman guiding us through the house recommended "The Spiritual Journey of J. C. Penney"Apr 1999 by Orlando L. Tibbetts. There is a lot more to the James Cash Penney story.

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