Watson Feed Store

The Watson Feed Store is an inseparable part of downtown Mart. Built over 100 years ago, it still stands proudly at its place along Texas Avenue. In 1903, Ruff Watson moved to Mart and purchased property in the middle of town. He constructed a building on the site and in 1906, the R. Watson Feed Store opened for business.

From the beginning, the building was more than just a place to buy feed. Watson sold a variety of products, from livestock and paint, to home appliances and flour. The business was one of seven approved to sell Purina products in the state of Texas. He also operated other businesses in the same building as the feed store, including slaughter and butcher shops as well as a leather goods store.

Ruff Watson was not only a businessman, but also an ambitious farmer. Money he earned from farming went back into the Feed Store business and vice versa. Mart was a railroad stop between Fort Worth and Houston, and Watson took full advantage of the railroad tracks which crisscrossed through town. During the years of the Great Depression, he purchased a corn sheller and a mill at the edge of the tracks. This addition brought people from miles around to Mart and the Feed Store. He also used the railways to ship crops he purchased from other farmers, such as corn, wheat and oats, selling them to other areas of the state. When the railroads became too unreliable, Watson switched to hauling crops to Fort Worth via trucks and even, at times, horse-pulled wagon.

The Feed Store, with its central location downtown, drew members of the Mart community as a place to congregate, chat, and catch-up with neighbors. During election years, local politicians used the store as a central meeting place to campaign. There was a dance hall in the upstairs of the building, and the Railroad Brotherhood and other fraternal organizations used this space for meetings. Watson even sold barbecue at the back of the store on Saturdays as a way to use up any leftovers from the butcher shop.

The Feed Store has always been a family business, and when Watson’s sons, Murray and Orlette, came of age, they worked alongside their father. Murray’s son, Murray Watson Jr., began helping at the store as a child, going every day after school to work with his grandfather. In 1940, Murray Watson Sr. bought out his father and brother, renaming the business, the Watson Feed Store. Ruff Watson died ten years later in 1950. Murray Watson Sr. continued to own and operate the Feed Store, working there almost every day until his death in 1990.

Today, the store is owned by Murray Watson Jr. who is still active in running the business. In 2003, the Watson Feed Store was honored with its own Texas Historical Marker. The store remains much the same as it did over 100 years ago. For the community of Mart, the Watson Feed Store is much more than just a place to buy corn and birdseed. It is a significant part of their town history, a place to go for a friendly smile and a dose of daily gossip, and a reminder that the small town principles of neighborly kindness and kinship still exist.

Images

The Family Business (c.1950)

The Family Business (c.1950)

Watson Murray Sr. stands at the front of the store. His wife, Ethel, can be viewed in the back, behind the counter. Much of the original equipment is still at the store today, including the old cash register. The scale, which can be viewed in the background of this photo, is still used to weigh grain for purchase. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Watson Family View File Details Page

Progress (c.1910)

Progress (c.1910)

The Watson Feed Store still holds its original architecture, with impressive polychrome brick, as well as decorative pediments and pilasters. Power lines brought electricity to Mart by 1910, but horses were still more common than motorized vehicles, and Texas Avenue remained unpaved for many years. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Watson Family View File Details Page

The Entrepreneur (c.1924)

The Entrepreneur (c.1924)

Ruff Watson is remembered as a hard worker, shrewd businessman and successful farmer. When Ruff first opened the feed store, he owned only half of it, partnering in business with his brother-in-law. However, when his brother-in-law decided to open a saloon in the second story of the building, Ruff's wife, Effie, put her foot down. She informed Ruff that he either had to sell his half of the business or buy his brother-in-law out. Ruff bought the business and converted part of the second story into a dance hall instead of a saloon. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Watson Family View File Details Page

Under Construction (c.1938)

Under Construction (c.1938)

The Feed Store is one of the oldest existing buildings in Mart. As the town grew and workers constructed new buildings downtown, the Feed Store proudly stood untouched. At its height, Mart boasted three banks and five cotton gins, as well as numerous other stores and businesses. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Watson Family View File Details Page

Boom Town

Boom Town

The railroad brought people, business, and activity to Mart. At its peak in the 1920s, Mart's population reached about 4,000 people. There were also many visitors each day passing through. The streets were busy with the hustle and bustle of daily life. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Watson Family. View File Details Page

The Man and his Store (c.1941)

The Man and his Store (c.1941)

Ruff Watson is pictured here, sitting amongst his wares. The Feed store sold far more than just feed. At one point the store even sold Maytag washing machines. Mart residents fondly recalled that if you couldn't buy it at the Watson Feed Store, you didn't need it. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Watson Family. View File Details Page

Governor for a Day (1969)

Governor for a Day (1969)

Watson Murray Jr., today the sole owner of the Watson Feed Store, had an active career outside of the family business. After going to law school, he served as a Texas State Senator for ten years and a State Representative for six years. While holding the position of Senate President Pro Tempore he served as acting governor for the day, pictured here. He opened up his first law office in a backroom of the Feed Store. | Source: Photo courtesy of the Baylor University Texas Collection View File Details Page

Audio

Remembering Ruff the Business Man

Watson Murray Jr. shares about his grandfather Ruff Watson's arrival in Mart and the work ethic which made him successful. | Source: Watson, Murray Jr., interviewed by Thomas Lee Charlton and Lyle Clarence Brown, July 2 1971, in Waco, Texas. Baylor University Institute for Oral History, Waco, TX. View the full interview View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Stephanie Endicott, “Watson Feed Store,” Waco History, accessed July 26, 2017, http://wacohistory.org/items/show/159.

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