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Remember When: Potts & Ater families leave lasting impact

Polly Krenek of Oatmeal

Polly Krenek of Oatmeal researches her family roots at the Herman Brown Free Library in Burnet. Krenek’s great-great-grandfather George Melvin Ater founded Mahomet in 1853, establishing and operating the area’s first post office and stagecoach stop from his home. Staff photo by Suzanne Freeman

Polly Krenek wakes up every morning in the same house she grew up in, although it certainly doesn’t look the same. The home in Oatmeal where she was born has been renovated many times over the years as Krenek moved away to go to school, get married, and raise children. She and her husband, Michael, moved in after her mother died in 2000. 

“I was born in that house and lived there until I was 18,” said Krenek, who returned to Bertram in 1984 after years in Houston. “I remember (my family) redoing the kitchen (the first time). My mother was cooking on an old wooden cookstove. Then, she got all new appliances.” 

Krenek’s roots run deep in the Bertram area. 

“I’m one of the original Potts and Ater,” she said proudly. “My mother was a Potts and my grandmother was an Ater. 

For those who don’t know, Potts & Ater Brothers was a mercantile store and unincorporated bank in Bertram co-owned by members of two of the first families to settle in the region. Descendants of both families still own ranches in Joppa, Mahomet, and Oatmeal. 

George Melvin Ater, Krenek’s great-great-grandfather, moved to Central Texas sometime around 1853. He received a land patent for 320 acres in April 1857. Nine months later, the house he built became the first post office and stagecoach stop on the Lampasas-to-Austin route. The Mahomet stop supplied fresh horses for the stagecoaches. 

Where he got the name is no mystery. Before moving to Texas from Illinois, he lived near a community called Mahomet, which was home to the local post office. 

The Mahomet, Texas, post office and stagecoach stop remained in Ater’s home for 25 years. In 1882, railroad tracks connecting Lampasas and Austin bypassed Mahomet for Bertram, 11 miles away. The Bertram post office, which opened on Dec. 8, 1882, took over mail delivery from Mahomet. Even George Ater began retrieving his mail from the Bertram facility. 

Two of George Ater’s sons joined with a couple of Potts brothers to form Potts & Ater Brothers mercantile and bank sometime around 1916 on part of the land where the current Bertram library now sits at 170 S. Gabriel St. It closed in 1926 after the bank went bankrupt. It was co-owned by brothers Robert B. Potts and Virgil H. Potts and brothers Levi David “Bud” Ater and Allen Jewell Ater. 

Another Ater brother, Jonas Sanford Ater, was Krenek’s great-grandfather.

Krenek, of course, had not been born when Potts & Ater Brothers operated on Bertram’s main thoroughfare. That was the time of her grandmother Gussie Mabel Ater Potts. Gussie Ater married Roy Potts Sr., a Potts and Ater union that lasted a lot longer than the mercantile store did. 

“The only memory I have is of the Harvey Pott’s store in Bertram,” Krenek said. “He opened a grocery store there after Potts & Ater closed.”

Krenek has fond memories of growing up on the family farm with her parents and three sisters. She recalls endless games of dominoes, but their dominant activities revolved around chores. 

“I learned to drive a tractor when I was 5,” she said. “I drove a Farmall F-12 tractor. I was so short that I had to slide down in the seat to put on the brakes. Daddy said, ‘Do not run over the peas!’ I had to keep the two wheels between the rows of peas.” 

A trip to Austin was rare, since it took half a day just to get there. More frequent were trips to Bertram, where she and her sisters loved to visit the stores.

“Ottinger’s Five and Dime was my favorite,” she said. “I just loved Ottinger’s. They had all kinds of stuff there, like material and thread and knick-knacks.” 

She also spent time in McFarlin’s Drug Store and V.H. Potts Grocery and recalls a hotel on the main drag, the Hodges Hotel, and W.O. Witcher’s Ice Station. If she wasn’t related to the people who owned and operated these establishments, she knew them well as friends. 

“Bertram at one time was a fairly large, growing town,” Krenek said. “We had several gins and car dealerships here, too.”

Bertram has certainly slowed down since Krenek went to school there; her family farm has not. They still raise cattle and have added goats. They also plant a few crops to feed the livestock. The family has plans to carry on into the future as well. One of her four children is currently building a home there, while Krenek is once again remodeling that kitchen.

suzanne@thepicayune.com