Monday, February 8, 2016

A hard journey

Stevie Smith
My family was reminded this week how fragile life can be as we traveled to Sonora to attend the funeral of my cousin's 14-year-old daughter. The teenager had been a passenger in a truck which was involved in an accident; she was the only one to perish. Her name was Stevie Smith. It was a sad day, and it felt as if most of the little town of Sonora mourned with my cousin and her family.
Traveling west on IH10, through the rough hills of Kimble County, to Sonora -- and on such a heavy errand -- gave me plenty of time to think, to look at the land passing by, and to wonder about the lives we pursue here in what many would call a harsh country, and of the lives of those who came to these hills before us.
If you look past the highway, and the power lines which now jog alongside, it's not hard to imagine how this area looked a century ago. The dry hills looked very similar to how they look today, the few water-filled creeks looked just as lovely then.
Those settlers who first came here saw opportunity. You and I might see a unforgiving landscape, with few amenities. They saw something more. The land over which we drove Wednesday has seen many travelers, and for many centuries; how different it must have looked in different times. For the most part, the land has not changed, but how we see it has changed. A century ago, aside from differences in vegetation, it probably looked the same. While few may have ever considered it a paradise, many saw hope and a future there.
What's different, of course, is how much easier life is today than it was a hundred years ago. The hundred-mile journey from Kerrville to Sonora took about ninety minutes, and we were fairly comfortable the whole trip. The four of us sat quietly together in the car, each lost in heavy thoughts. The miles passed by quickly, eighty per hour, but the journey felt long.
What's not different from a century ago is the sorrow one feels when losing a relative, especially one so young. And while it's rarer these days than a century ago for a young person to pass away, the hurt is just the same. A century ago it was not uncommon for a family to lose several children before they reached adulthood. I know it must have hurt just as much then as it does now.
My cousin married into a ranching family that has been a part of Sutton county for generations. They're good folks, and I've never heard an unpleasant thing from any of them. They have ranched there and made a success after much hard work and dedication. They have contributed much to the story of that place.
I couldn't help but wonder as we drove along the interstate how many other stories I was passing. That old house in front of the bluff: who lived there when it was new? What had they hoped when they built the place? Did children long ago call that house home?
I saw a rock fence and wondered about the hands that built it. I saw a windmill and speculated how many generations had been working on it to keep it running, to repair it after storms, to patch its worn parts.
Passing Roosevelt I saw a building that looked like a church or a school. (It was the Roosevelt Presbyterian Church, built in 1941.) Plenty of stories at that place.
We tarry here only briefly. The stories we make and the stories we live help make sense of it all. I suppose that's one of the reasons I like history so much.
If you're the praying kind, I'd appreciate a prayer or two for the Smith family of Sonora. They're strong and have lots of help, but the days ahead will be hard.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 6, 2016.

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Garrett House

From the Kerrville Daily Times website.
photo by Tom Holden/Times Photo Editor, photo@daily
This past week saw a kerfuffle over the razing of an old Kerrville house; the Garrett house was built in 1912 by a prominent Kerrville family, and torn down last week by another prominent family.
The house stood at the intersection of Main and Broadway streets, pointing toward town. According to research by my friend Deborah Gaudier, "The San Antonio Express for Feb. 12, 1912, reported on the construction of this house. Described as a 'five-room cottage at the junction of Broadway and Main Street,' this lovely house was erected for Mary and William Gray Garrett, Jr. in advance of their marriage June 9, 1912. At the time of his death, Garrett was treasurer of the Schreiner Company. He was a brother of Earl Garrett for whom the street is named. The contractor was W. L. Council, a prominent businessman, builder, and developer in Kerrville. The Garrett and Council families live in Kerrville today."
The property is owned by the Cailloux Foundation, which had the house torn down. I exchanged emails with a member of the foundation prior to the house coming down, and was told moving the house was not feasible (it was too tall to pass through town unless the roof was removed), and, after "extensive asbestos remediation," the structure was no longer safe.
I replied that I certainly understand, because I do. My family owns an old structure in town with similar problems, and I inquired about the person doing the demolition work for them, thinking they might be a resource for my family.
What happened this week demonstrates a dilemma many property owners face, especially when faced with the special challenges of old structures: when is it feasible to maintain and restore a building, and when is it best to knock it down? And what constitutes a historic structure?
The fate of any building is in the hands of its owners. In Texas we believe (rather strongly) in property rights. Many of us also believe in historic preservation, when possible. I certainly don't fault the foundation for exercising its rights as owner of the Garrett house, and they did look into the feasibility of moving the house from the site. It sounds to me like they investigated preserving the old home.
But it's still a dilemma.
Take, for example, the property owned by my family at the eastern corner of Francisco Lemos and Herzog streets, a green building of four apartments.
These were built in 1935, and called the "Rose Garden Apartments." They were built by George and Clara Neuschafer. Clara was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Nathan Herzog; Mr. Herzog was a long-time employee of Captain Charles Schreiner, and served on the very first Kerrville City Council. Clara was also the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. Christian Dietert, one of the first families to settle in Kerrville.
George and Clara were interesting folks: they met in New York, and after a six year acquaintance, they were married in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Clara graduated from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music; George, a native of Worms, Germany, was a chemical engineer, spoke several languages, and was an avid photographer. They moved to Kerrville from South America in the late 1920s, and developed some of the land owned by the Herzog family, including the construction of the "Rose Garden Apartments."
By the time my family purchased the land in the late 1980s, the apartments were in structural decay, and the wisest course would be to have them torn down.
But twice we've contracted with individuals who indicated a desire to move the buildings or at least repurpose the materials elsewhere. We offered the structure at no cost in both cases, provided it was moved off of our lot.
In both cases the individuals were not able to complete the contract for reasons having nothing to do with the work. And so the old apartments are still standing there. (Our offer still stands, by the way.)
Historic preservation must be coupled with feasibility. And there are degrees of historic value; not all old buildings are equally historic.
While it would be easy to blame the foundation (in this case), or the city government (in general), for the lack of historic preservation, in truth the problem is more nuanced than it seems. Until the community agrees on what constitutes historic preservation, and governments and organizations can provide incentives for appropriate preservation without penalizing property owners, more such kerfuffles will occur.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who first heard the heartbeats of each of his children in the Garrett house, back when it was a physician's office in the mid-1980s. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 30, 2016

Monday, January 25, 2016

Into the digital mist

This week, thanks to the kindness of several people, I received some old cassette tapes containing interviews about local history. More on the tapes in a moment.
First, though, I want to let you know the problems future historians will face when collecting information from today.
Cassette tapes used to be ubiquitous. There were cassette players in most automobiles, folks had cassette players in their stereo equipment, and there were tons of portable players. My family owned a lot of these players back in the day.
When the kind folks gave me the tapes this week, I began looking through closets for a cassette player. I did find a few dusty machines, but none of them worked. I enlisted family members in the search, and the machines they found no longer worked, either.
So I went to the store to buy a cassette player. The young clerk looked at me with an expression of patience after I asked whether they still sold cassette players. It was the look one might give a person who was asking if Victrolas were in stock.
"No," she said, "we don't sell cassette players, and I'm not sure anyone still does."
I did find a plain cassette player at the third store I tried. It was available in any color, just as long as the color you wanted was black.
I relay this story only because I'm concerned about the historic preservation of our own era. Media formats we use every day will someday be obsolete. That's right cell phone, I'm talking about you.
Those digital photographs you own are recorded in a specific format, mostly as jpeg files. There's no guarantee that format will be common in the future.
Worse, the files are stored on a variety of devices, from your phone, to computer hard drives, to something ephemeral called the 'cloud.' Pulling those images from storage requires special equipment (a computer or a phone) which will be obsolete quicker than anyone can guess.
So, for someone like me who collects old Kerrville and Kerr county photographs, the old methods are the easiest: a negative, or a print made from a negative. No digital equipment is needed: you can see the photograph with your eyes.
Most newspapers today create their photographs using digital cameras; copies, if kept, are kept as digital files. This week I had a hard time reading files from a format (cassette tapes) that was, until recently, quite common. The tools we use today on "common" formats will soon be obsolete.
I'm concerned decades of information will be lost as formats and the devices which read those formats change. Of course, there is nothing I can do except sound the alarm.
However, if you have a lot of family photographs stored on your phone or computer, it might make sense to print out some of the best ones. I believe most photo processing places can help you with this. A print might be the only thing "readable" in the future -- because it doesn't require one of our current technologies to see.
Ok, back to the cassette tapes.
There are 10 tapes; most are clearly labeled. One is of an interview conducted by Merrill Doyle of Louis A. Schreiner, the son of Captain Charles Schreiner, and dated May 22, 1968. Others include the dedication of the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library, the marker dedication of the Schreiner / Volentine Home, and several are labeled Merrill Doyle. Mr. Doyle was an artist; he painted the mural in the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library.
What I hope to do is pull a copy of the recordings from the tapes and convert them to something I can share online with whoever might be interested. I'm still trying to figure out how to work the software to do this. If I ever complete the project, I'll post the results on my blog.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who can still work a cassette player. Well, mostly. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 23, 2016.

Monday, January 18, 2016

In our own image

When we think of the past, we often remake it in the image of today, as we often remake the early settlers of our area in our own image.
Without realizing it, we make assumptions that fit the patterns we see around us, both patterns of the physical kind, and patterns more internal.
For example: distance. For us, Austin is about two hours away by automobile; San Antonio, a little over an hour. And with a airline ticket, it's possible to have breakfast at home and dinner almost anywhere on the planet.
This was not the case when the first settlers arrived here. A journey to Fredericksburg might take more than a day. Travel from Kerrville to nearby communities was inconvenient and difficult; we'd consider the effort made by settlers to travel to Leakey or Mountain Home quite an expedition. (Most of us would not make the journey.)
And then there are other differences we overlook: communication, for instance. In an age of cell phones and Facebook, it's hard to imagine how difficult it was for early hill country settlers to communicate with anyone over a distance. There were no telephones, and in the early days, no telegraph. Mail, when it came, came on horseback or in a wagon.
Today, when a distant cousin has a new grandbaby, we can see photos of the baby that same day. When a friend on the other side of the planet wants to chat, we can talk with each other -- and see live stream video of each other at the same time.
There are other things we now take for granted: ideas we carry around without considering them. We watched men walk on the moon; we have seen photographs of Pluto. We all know what a Super Bowl is. Many of us have flown a drone. Most of us have purchased an app. There are a thousand concepts we have packed within us that would be totally foreign to a person only a decade ago. In the late 1840s, when Kerrville got its start, concepts such as these would have been impossible to communicate to the inhabitants of our little town.
Thinking about the ideas we carry around, I suppose, comes from a book I've been reading, a work of historical fiction by Stephen Harrigan: "The Gates of the Alamo." Copies are available at Wolfmueller's Books, along with other of his books.
Harrigan does better than most in keeping his characters rooted in the era of their story, without accidently slipping them into ideas which would not have made sense in their time. The book is compelling and well written -- but please remember it's a work of fiction, and should be enjoyed as such.
At 54, I've seen many changes in Kerrville. I'm old enough to remember when IH 10 was completed; before then, a trip to San Antonio went through the middle of every town between here and there. A trip to Junction was a wild ride in the mountains.
I'm old enough to remember the Charles Schreiner Bank, there on the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets -- and I remember Charles Schreiner's son, Louis, at his desk in the bank. He was very old when I saw him there, but still.
I remember when freight trains came to Kerrville. My father, in our early days here, helped unload groceries from freight cars when he worked as the advertising director for the Evans Foodway chain of grocery stores.
I remember folks water skiing in the little "lake" in Louise Hays Park. My parents were among them, and I remember riding in the boat as they skied there.
I remember a television that picked up 3, sometimes 4, stations. The reception was never all that good. I remember when we had one radio station, which was housed in a little building next to a tall tower in the middle of a plowed field on Junction Highway, just past Harper Road. I loved listening to "Ask your neighbor" each Saturday morning; I recognized the voices of most of the callers to the show.
The world was larger then, and slower. There were many social ideas then that would not be acceptable today. The past is a foreign country, and it did not speak the same language as we speak today, and it certainly wouldn't understand many of our ideas.
It's a mistake to think of the settlers in our area as we think of ourselves.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native "of a certain age." This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 16, 2016.

Monday, January 11, 2016

A rare newspaper shows up

One of the benefits of "being a certain age" is my memory, or the lack thereof. Coupled with the large collection of Kerrville and Kerr County historical items I have, this can provide repeated fresh discoveries.
This week, while cleaning up my desk, I found the facsimile of an old Kerrville newspaper.  Because of my poor memory I had forgotten I had the copy -- and so finding it this week offered the opportunity to find it again as if for the very first time.
It's the only copy I've ever seen of "Day's Doings," and the issue I have was published Thursday, August 8, 1895.  The newspaper was small in size, and only four pages in length (although other of its pages may have been lost in the roughly 120 years since it was published).
I have a feeling I was allowed to make the copy of the old newspaper by the Leinweber family in Mountain Home, but my notes are a little jumbled.
There were earlier newspapers in Kerrville, of course.  The "Frontiersman" was likely the first newspaper here, starting publication in 1876, and continuing through 1880.  The "Kerrville Eye" began publication in 1884.  Later, the name was changed to the "Kerrville Paper," and later still, to the "Kerrville Mountain Sun," which still exists, sort of.  
The year before the publication of the "Day's Doings" in my collection, Kerrville had two newspapers: the "Kerrville News," which was an "Independent" newspaper, and the "Kerrville Paper," which was a "Democrat" newspaper.  Center Point had a "Populist" paper, the "People's Day."
There were later newspapers on the Kerrville scene, too.  The "Kerrville Times" began publication in 1926, but had its roots in Center Point as the "Center Point News," was moved to Kerrville and renamed the "Latest," and then the "Hill View Times," before finally being named the "Kerrville Times." When the newspaper began publishing weekday issues, in 1949, it was renamed the "Kerrville Daily Times."
In all this history of local newspaper publishing, I have never seen any mention of "Day's Doings," nor have I heard of its publisher, J. M. Bourland, or its editor, Leone Rankin.
Although I have not found information about Leone Rankin, Bourland was here as late as 1900, when his name appears in the U. S. Census taken that year. His occupation is listed as "publisher."  I also found he was (at least briefly) the publisher of the "Kerrville News," in 1897.  He was born in Arkansas in 1850, and was buried in Llano County in 1917.
The copy I have of the "Day's Doings" was from Volume 1, No. 17, so publication probably began on April 11, 1895.  
Many of the names in the "Day's Doings" are familiar: Charles Schreiner has several advertisements, as do the Tivy Hotel, Bert Parsons' livery stable, the Ranch Saloon, the Favorite Saloon.
But there are also a lot of names I don't recognize: Daniel Cruz, the painter; Albert Glock, the photographer; a saloon called Two Brothers Saloon (run by Gus Weston); Nicholas Pfeufter, city baker; S. J. Durnett, the "water man."
The big editorial push in the issue was for the construction of an ice plant.  "This most important subject should be constantly before the people," the editor of the "Day's Doings" wrote, "and that is that our city has a very notable reputation as a health resort for pulmonary trouble, and these invalids require ice and cannot get along without it.  If they can't get it here they will go to some other place where they can and the result is that our merchants and businessmen are the losers."
I love old newspapers.  They're like a time capsule -- a quick portrait of the events of that week in our little town.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native.  If you'd like to download a copy of the August 8, 1895 issue of "Day's Doings," please visit



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