Tulare's early pioneers were a tough breed of men - they had to be tough to survive three devastating fires during the first 14 years of the town's existence. As if that weren't enough, the infant city was hit by four financial crisis during the 1890's: (1) the irrigation bond fiasco threatened to bankrupt both the town and its citizens: (2) Southern Pacific Railroad moved its shops to Bakersfield and its headquarters to Fresno, taking the town's only substantial payroll with them; (3) the valley farmers suffered through a crippling three-year drought; and (4) the nationwide depression of the 1890's was nearly the coup de grace. In Tulare the 90's were anything but gay.
The town was shrinking in population as many of its residents sought greener pastures. It was at this inopportune time, in 1893, Turner Nelson chose to move his family from Tomkinsville, Kentucky to Tulare. Here he rented the building at 127 East Tulare Avenue (some readers might remember it as the long-time site of Bob Myers Clothiers). Here he established a grocery and hardware business - in other words a general store in direct competition with established businessmen Reynold Linder and Joe Goldman.
Soon after his arrival Turner introduced himself to the 2000 citizens remaining in town with this advertisement in the Tulare Register: "Our motto is quick sales and small profit. Grocery, hardware, tin ware and crockery establishment. We invite the people of Tulare and vicinity to give us a trial. If we do not please you it will not be our fault".
Turner soon relocated his store to the ground floor of the Odd Fellows Lodge building on East Kern Avenue and finally to his own two-story building constructed for him at the northeast corner of J Street and Kern Avenue. The second floor of the building housed professional offices and the Tulare Club, an exclusive social organization for prominent business and professional men.
Turner had married Alice Glazebrook in Tomkinsville in 1878, and three of their four children - Ivy, Ada and Joe - were born there. The fourth, Caroline, was born in Tulare. The girls, who never married, worked in their father's store for much of their lives. Joe married Claire Wheeler, daughter of Alexander Wheeler, another pioneer and owner of an early Tulare furniture store.
In an era when many men sported beards and mustaches, Turner's facial hair was really spectacular. He wore the beard long, groomed it every day, and at night secured it with a rubber band to hold it straight up so it wouldn't be disturbed by the bed linens. A familiar sight in town, he was seldom seen without his derby hat.
Fire has played a big part in Tulare's history, and the Nelson store was just another example. On July 5, 1915 a blaze started in Robison & Lacell's Harness Shop and soon spread to the adjacent Nelson's store. A series of explosions from the store's storeroom made it obvious that neither building would survive. Arson was suspected because a considerable sum of gold and silver coins was missing from the ruins of the harness shop. Turner was promptly back in business in rented quarters while the two-story structure was rebuilt, only to be demolished in 1944.
In 1895 Turner moved his family into the magnificent two-year-old two-story house at 457 South H Street, built two years earlier for railroad engineer Andrew Neff. After the elder Nelsons died, the daughters continued to live in the family home until their deaths. By now the mansion has seen better days. Meanwhile Caroline succumbed to cancer in 1940 at age 42. Ada died in 1964, Ivy in 1968.
Turner died in 1924 after 31 years in business in downtown Tulare. Son Joe managed the Nelson store and, after the death of his father-in-law, continued to operate the furniture store at 121 North K Street. In 1933 he sold the general store and renamed the remaining enterprise Nelson Furniture. After Joe's death in 1955 the operation of the furniture store passed to his sons Normand and Warden. When all but two of the buildings in a two-city-block area were razed in 1975 to make way for Tower Square, the brothers moved their inventory to 1356 East Tulare Avenue and two years later to 131 East Kern Avenue where the store remained until their retirement in 1983.