Thursday, March 19, 2020

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - J.L. Panesis & Co.

     A brick from the West Barnstable Brick Factory is a highly sought after collector’s item when it comes to those who live or have lived on Cape Cod. Another piece of Cape Cod’s past that people have seen popping up across the internet on sites like eBay is in the form of a glass bottle. These heavy glass bottles are engraved with the name J.L. Panesis & Co. Who was J.L. Panesis? What was the company all about? This is the fascinating story of the man and the company behind the glass bottles.

     James L. Panesis, the man behind the name of the company, was born in Agios Petros, Greece. Orphaned as a child Panesis took a huge risk and left for America with no more than five cents to his name. After passing through Ellis Island Panesis met up with a cousin who lived near Middleboro. He helped sell produce at Fanueil Hall before trying his hand selling the produce on Cape Cod. Selling out his wares completely on his first try Panesis decided the Cape was a perfect place to open his own shop.

     In March 1912 James Panesis, along with his brother Spero, opened a retail and wholesale business selling fruit, confectionery (candy/sweets), cigars and more in the Keveney & Bearse Building on Main Street Hyannis, opposite the Iyanough House hotel which had itself been built in 1910. The business was known as J.L. Panesis & Co. Panesis was one of the founding members of the Greek settlement on Cape Cod.

A 1922 Ad from Cape Cod Magazine

     The business was an immediate success. Within a year James needed a new truck for bringing their deliveries to Hyannis from Boston and within two years had taken over the entirety of the Keveney & Bearse Building. This occurred when the Hyannis Lighting Co. moved a few doors down in April 1914. James married Dina Navroyanis from Lynn in February 1915 and their home on North Ocean Street (today Barnstable Road) in Hyannis was totally remodeled and renovated for the new couple.

     Things changed in February 1916 when Spero sold his share of the company leaving James to run the successful company on his own. The company continued to thrive in the aftermath of Spero leaving. In 1919 a garage was built on the premises to begin Panesis’ newest venture. It was called Hyannis Well Spring Beverages based off of the biblical picture ‘Rebecca at the Well.’ Advertised as ‘delicious, refreshing, and invigorating’ this pure fruit juice came in flavors such as orangeade, champagne cider, and ‘Paneco’ ginger ale.
Inside the factory
(Courtesy Nicole Sulea)

     Tragedy nearly derailed the company though when on February 13, 1920 James’ wife Dina died suddenly at the young age of 27 from a combination of premature childbirth and the Spanish flu outbreak. Somehow James Panesis carried on and oversaw his company's next big move.

     In October 1921 a larger factory was built behind Panesis’ North Ocean Street home (present-day 65 Barnstable Road) as creating Hyannis Well Spring tonic had proved fruitful.  The factory cost $10,000 ($144,000 in 2020). Every precaution was taken to provide customers with the highest quality product, this included sterilizing every glass bottle before filling it with a beverage. New flavors arrived routinely such as lemon-lime, cream soda, root beer, loganberry, and Eskimo soda. By 1926 J.L. Panesis & Co. had become so big it was a Coca-Cola bottler and distributor.

Outside of the factory on Barnstable Road
(Courtesy of Nicole Sulea)

     James Panesis was a huge part of the increasingly successful Greek population of Hyannis. He would routinely gather with others like George Garoufes owner of the Mayflower Cafe, and his nephew Peter Panesis owner of New York Sandwich Shop. This included trips back to Greece during the 1920’s. The Greek church arranged a second marriage between James and Roubiny Stavrianolpoulos although it was not a classic love connection it did last until James’ death.

     Another tragedy struck James Panesis in May 1939. His brother Spero, who had begun the company with him, took his own life. Spero had been in ill health and had only recently been released from the hospital. Sadly he left behind his wife and four children.

     After serving in World War II James’ sons Angelo and Louis joined the business. Angelo was the manager and Louis was production manager. The Hyannis Well Spring department of J.L. Panesis & Co. became distributor of Mission and White Rock brands of carbonated drinks and continued its success throughout the 1950's.

One of the glass bottles.
(Courtesy of Nicole Sulea)

     In 1960 J.L. Panesis & Co and Hyannis Well Spring Beverages closed with the retirement of James Panesis at the age of 74. Angelo and Louis went to work for Coca-Cola’s bottling plant in Sandwich after the closing of the company. James and Roubiny lived at their home on Barnstable Road until James passed in April 1970 at the age of 84. Roubiny passed in 1979. Today the property that once held the J.L. Panesis & Co. and Hyannis Well Spring factory is part of one of the busiest sections of Cape Cod.

     James Panesis came from nothing, orphaned and nearly penniless, and took a huge risk leaving his native Greece to find a better life in America just after the turn of the 20th century. Though there were tragedies and hardships the tale of Panesis in America and specifically on Cape Cod can only be seen as a success. A kind, fair, and honest business man along with the patriarch of a successful Greek family on the Cape James Panesis is one shining example of the American dream and why that idea is still so important here in the 21st century.

     A huge thank you for the facts and photos of this article goes out to Nicole Sulea. She is the great-granddaughter of James Panesis and a native Cape Codder living in Maine. Please check out her vintage fashion shop Heirloom Antiques and Vintage Boutique at 19 Temple Street, Waterville, ME. 

On Facebook here: Heirloom Vintage Boutique 

And on Instagram here: Heirloom Vintage Boutique

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

Cape Cod Sunsets 2020 Calendar available at Zazzle here: Cape Cod Living Store

Be sure to check out my websiteChristopher

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