The Persimmon Gap visitor center, located near the northern entrance to Big Bend National park, is often the first park facility that visitors enter. The exhibits, theatre and restrooms all cater to the modern visitor to the park; few may realize that the building has a long and rich history. Some visitors even ask, “Is this building new?”
While the building does appear new with air-conditioning, wiring for computers, a credit card scanner, modern exhibits, and stylish tile floors, it was built in the mid-1940s. You may find it hard to believe that this is an adobe building, and at one time, it was a store belonging to William A. Cooper, Jr., and his wife.
Hallie Stillwell, a neighbor, and Virginia Madison, in their book How Come It’s Called That say: “For many years Cooper’s Store at this [Persimmon] Gap was the clearing house for information from the railroad to the river and travelers going in either direction always stopped to find out what had happened ahead of them.”
NPS/Big Bend National Park
The William A. Cooper family owned Persimmon Gap Ranch and built a succession of five stores in the immediate area beginning in 1929. This was the last one, built in the mid 1940s, by their son Bill Cooper, Jr. It was built of 10,000 adobe blocks manufactured on site by four men from Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico.
The store sold ice, cold cuts, soft drinks, beer, gasoline, and a café served meals. The “facilities” were outdoors, and the family lived in part of the building. The Cooper Store was a gathering place for all the local ranchers and their families and was a welcome stopping place for park personnel and visitors when Big Bend National Park opened.
So that the northern park boundary could be extended to where it is today, the National Park Service purchased several sections of land including Bill Cooper’s land and the Cooper Store building. It was then that the store became a Ranger Contact Station.
Over the years, the building has evolved from a ranger station containing living quarters to the current floor plan. The latest renovation in September 2003, enables the building to continue as the 21st century version of the “clearing house for information,” as it has been for the last 60 years.
Adapted from a temporary exhibit created by park volunteer Sally Jones.