An upcoming show of Joe's collection of historic photographs....

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On My Soapbox: the Kerr County Museum

Recently my friend Mark J. Armstrong, managing editor of this newspaper, wrote a column calling for a Kerr County history museum, and suggesting it should be named in honor of the late Clarabelle Snodgrass. Both ideas are great.
Armstrong is not the first editor of the Times to support such an idea, and I'm not sure why the idea has never gotten off of the ground.
"Boost the Kerr County Museum Collection," was the headline another editor once wrote. "Valuable historic relics have been collected by the museum club of the ... junior high school, under the leadership of Mrs. R. A. Franklin. Most museums have grown from a small nucleus, and there is no reason why this should not. If you have some article of historic value, send it to [us]. Windows showing part of the museum club's collection are now on display at the Arcadia, and additions to the collection will be made from time to time. We should keep alive the memory ... of the pioneers of Kerr County and our section of the state. A museum will help do that!"
The editor was named J. J. Starkey; the words were published in the Kerrville Times in January, 1933.
I can only imagine what they'd collected in 1933.
For many years I have collected local items of historical interest. The majority of my collection dates from 1956 to present. A smaller portion from 1900-1956. And an even smaller collection from before 1900.
The items collected in 1933 would have likely been mostly from the 19th century.   And they've disappeared into the river of time.
Starkey published a monthly insert in his newspaper, "Pioneer History." He worked hard to promote the idea of a Kerr County history museum, even resorting to appealing to our community's pride, by comparing our lack of a museum with the success of our neighboring cities.
"As citizens of Kerrville," he wrote in a 3/4 page ad, "we congratulate J. Marvin Hunter on the accomplishment of a long cherished purpose in the building of the Frontier Times Museum at Bandera, Texas. It is hoped that Kerr County may soon possess a similar monument to its own pioneers. The beginnings of a museum display have been made here, and we urge all to cooperate in building it up." This ad appeared in May, 1933.
In December, 1933, the Times ran a front-page story "Pioneers Plan County Museum...." The story told of the 'Pioneers of Kerr County,' who, in their regular quarterly meeting, "voted to actively begin the Kerr County Museum, which the organization has been contemplating for the past five years."
Interestingly, the secretary of the organization, Bert Parsons, offered one of the rooms in his home on Water Street to display some of the items. Well, interesting to me, since my family now owns some of the Parsons property, and our print shop sits on part of that tract. Most of my collection of Kerr County historical items is housed in our print shop, so this is the second time 'historical items' have been on display at this spot.
As for the items collected by the junior high students of Mrs. R. A. (Kate) Franklin, it's a mystery what happened to them. It's rumored some of the items were thrown away.
In September, 1940, Mrs. W. A. Salter, the editor and publisher of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, wrote these lines in her 'It Happened Here' column:
"It is regretted that the Texas History and Pioneer Museum which Kate [Franklin] started while she was [a teacher] here, and with which she had such wonderful co-operation, has never been quite completed. It would certainly be an addition to the school and community, and old timers would part with historical objects if they were sure that the treasures had a proper home."
I understand that sentiment completely.
Gentle Reader, next week I turn 55. I'm getting to be one of those old timers. As I look at the thousands of items in my collection, I know I need to find them a home. A proper home. But so far none of the suggested organizations have demonstrated the ability (or desire) to provide a safe place to exhibit and preserve these items of our history. Just as they did not in the 1930s, or in the decades since.
I don't know why our community lacks a museum. I have pondered the problem for a long time. Perhaps one of you has a good idea that will help.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerrville and Kerr County historical items.  Lots of them. Some of the items are on display at the Museum of Western Art through August 27. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 20, 2016.

Monday, August 15, 2016

An overlooked detail in an historic Kerr County photograph

Potter, Joshua, and Sarah Brown, around 1873,
though I think it's closer to 1875.
There is a detail in one of the historic photographs in my collection that few notice.
The photograph, of Joshua, Sarah, and young Potter Brown, is currently on display at the Museum of Western Art. That exhibit runs through August 27.
Joshua D. Brown was the founder of Kerrville, coming here in the late 1840s to harvest the cypress trees along the river to make shingles. Sarah Goss Brown was his second wife; his first, Eleanor Smith Brown, died in 1848, about the same time Brown was establishing his shingle making camp here. One daughter was born in Brown's first marriage, a daughter named Mary Louisa. Seven children were born in his marriage to Sarah Goss Brown, four sons and three daughters. Alonzo Potter Brown, the youngest son, is in the photograph.
The original image of Joshua, Sarah, and Potter Brown was a tintype taken around 1873, and I received a scan of the original tintype from a descendent of the Browns, Jan Wilkinson. While I have seen copies of this image many times, mostly in commemorative newspaper issues, the image on display at the Museum of Western Art is a scan from the original tintype. It is the best reproduction of the photograph I have ever seen.
Tintypes were very popular in the 1860s and 1870s, partly because they were inexpensive to produce, and partly because they could be handed to the customer moments after the image was taken. Many tintypes were taken by itinerant photographers, often at fairs or carnivals.
One drawback to tintypes was the long exposure time required. One had to sit very, very still for a long time. In the photograph of the Brown family, it appears young Potter Brown could not stay still that long. His face is slightly blurred. Joshua's face is blurred, but less than Potter's. Joshua was sitting next to his son. Perhaps Joshua moved slightly trying to keep Potter still.
The only one who stayed still through the photograph is Sarah Goss Brown. Her blue eyes gaze clearly at the camera, and she has a slight smile on her face, as if she is just about to laugh out loud, but trying very hard not to do so. Her left hand is clenched in a fist.
The family is well-dressed in the photo. Young Potter is in a fine suit with a large collar; Joshua wears a jacket, vest, and slacks; Sarah wears a very detailed dress with a wide belt that has a shiny buckle, and a long skirt beneath that. They are wearing fine clothes, especially fine considering Kerr County was the edge of the frontier when the image was taken. Either the Brown family was at an event which required them to dress up a bit, or they had an appointment with a photographer and dressed for the image.
I'd suggest it was the latter, since the photograph has been tinted slightly. Rouge has been applied to Sarah's cheeks, and a slight touch of red to Joshua's, as well. The flower Sarah is wearing has been tinted yellow. I don't think a street photographer would have gone to the trouble to add these colors.
In 1873 none of the buildings in today's downtown Kerrville existed. The oldest building in downtown Kerrville, at 709 Water Street, is now the home of Hill Country Living. It wasn't built until 1874, a year after the photograph was taken. A portion of the home of Charles Schreiner's family, on Earl Garrett Street, was built in 1879. Other older buildings in the downtown area came along much later, many of them in 1890.
When the Browns had their photograph taken, there was no railroad to Kerrville; that came in 1887. When the photograph was taken there were few, if any, structures we'd recognize. The town would be an unexplored mystery to us.
But there is one detail in the photograph I find particularly interesting, in part because it reveals something about Joshua and Sarah Brown, and in part because of all the tintype portraits I've seen from that period, this is the only image which shows this detail.
In the photograph, Sarah and Joshua are holding hands. Her right hand rests comfortably on his left hand, as if it often found its way there.
I hope you'll see for yourself -- the photograph will be on display until August 27th at the Museum of Western Art.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects historic photographs and artifacts of Kerrville and Kerr County.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 13, 2016

Monday, August 8, 2016

An Eight-Story Hotel in downtown Kerrville

Kerrville's Blue Bonnet Hotel, at the intersection of Water and Earl Garrett Streets.
This photo was taken in the mid-1950s from atop the newly-built Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital,
probably by Starr Bryden.
When one stands at the intersection of Earl Garrett and Water streets, on the corner opposite Francisco's Restaurant, where a parking lot is today, it might be easy to think that the parking lot has been there forever.
Consider this: an eight-story hotel once stood on part of that parking lot.
There are fewer and fewer of us in Kerrville who remember the Blue Bonnet Hotel. During my childhood, the old hotel was around forty years old, and had obviously seen better days.
My earliest memories of the hotel are of joining Dad as he attended his weekly Kiwanis meetings -- and of those memories, the strongest is of the food served during those meetings. I thought the food was great, and going with Dad to Kiwanis was very special.
I also remember two ladies who lived, for a time, at the hotel: Miss Thurma Dean Miller, who was in charge of children's ministries at First Baptist Church, and Margaret Bierschwale, who wrote a history of Mason County which my father printed. It was a great treat to go to the Blue Bonnet, ride the elevator, and visit them.
The Blue Bonnet Hotel was quite a big deal for Kerrville and Kerr County.
The March 31, 1927 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun sports this bold headline: "Blue Bonnet Opening Marks New Era in City's Growth."
Indeed, the late 1920s were a period of growth for Kerrville; a year earlier the Arcadia Theater opened, to much fanfare, in the middle of the 700 block of Water Street, and Kerr County had recently built a new courthouse -- the one still in use today.
"The new hostelry, a triumph of architectural design and mechanical construction, lends a distinct metropolitan atmosphere to the city. The facilities and service offered undoubtedly will attract increased numbers of tourists to Texas' greatest playground," the Mountain Sun reported.
"The present unit of the hotel contains 80 rooms, each equipped with private bath, telephone, fan and circulating ice water. All corner rooms have a shower as well as a tub bath. The guest rooms are of commodious size and papered in pleasing harmonious colors with wood work in natural oak. Furnishings and carpeting are of quality in keeping with the high character of the hotel. On each floor are two-room suites, a living room and a bed room with connecting door. Each room throughout the building has outside exposure.”
The Blue Bonnet Hotel Company had high hopes: it planned to build "six or seven" hotels in Texas, including a Blue Bonnet Hotel in San Antonio, at the corner of Pecan and St. Mary's streets. Other towns identified in the story were Laredo, Corpus Christi, Brownsville and Abilene. Of these, only the San Antonio hotel is listed as under construction.
When the hotel opened, it was only five stories tall; a short while later the building grew to eight stories, going from 80 rooms to 140.
Along its ground floor several shops rented space: a drug store, complete with soda fountain; a barber; a beauty parlor; a coffee shop, and a magazine stand. There was an "enclosed ballroom," and plans for a garden terrace overlooking the Guadalupe below.
How the company's plans were altered by the stock market crash a few years later, along with the Great Depression which followed, is probably a story in itself. I don't know how many hotels the company actually built.
The Blue Bonnet Hotel was torn down in late 1971, by the Charles Schreiner Bank, which built the parking lot which stands on the spot today.
I have fond memories of the Blue Bonnet Hotel, and I wonder what a new hotel might mean today for Kerrville, and Kerrville's Old Town area.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has several artifacts from the Blue Bonnet Hotel in his collection of Kerrville and Kerr County historical items. This column was published in the Kerrville Daily Times August 6, 2016.

Monday, August 1, 2016

A week of changes

Thursday's Kerrville Daily Times noted changes in two local organizations' leadership: the Kerrville Independent School District and the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce.
The superintendent of KISD, Dr. Dan Troxell, is taking a similar job at a bigger district in Leander; the president of the chamber, Terry Cook, is leaving 'for personal reasons.' I certainly wish both men the best of luck in their new endeavors.
Although we tend to follow the politics at city hall and the county courthouse more than the politics of the school system, the Kerrville Independent School District is a much larger organization than either of those. The KISD has more employees, has a bigger budget, and (I would argue) has a much more important role to play in our community's future. Teaching kids to read, inspiring them to learn, and shaping them as citizens is far more important than an expensive water pond or whether public monies should fund a privately developed retail mall.
Likewise, the chamber of commerce has an important role to play in our community. Granted, modern chambers of commerce are not nearly as effective or as important as the local chamber here was in the early 20th century, but they still provide a voice for business and community not found anywhere else.
Both local organizations had their start around the same time. The Kerrville Independent School District began in 1923; the precursor to the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce began in 1922.
Public schools had been a part of Kerr County since its first days. The earliest public schools were run by county government. The first school was held in the log courthouse, with William E. Pafford as its first teacher, as early as 1857.
In the years up to the Civil War, several names are recorded as teachers in Kerrville's early schools. Bob Bennett, in his "Kerr County" history writes "It is evident that but little schooling was available in Kerrsville for the first several years after the organization of the county. The classroom equipment consisted of a rough table, slab seats, and a plentiful supply of switches."
The school moved from the courthouse to "a frame building on the site now occupied by the [old] Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital," at the corner of what is now Sidney Baker and Water streets. Later the school moved to the John Ochse Store, near the corner of Washington and Main streets.
After the Civil War there was a civic movement in Kerrville to have the school housed in a permanent facility, and classes were held in the bottom floor of a two story rock building at the corner of Main and Sidney Baker streets. But even this solution was temporary.
In 1883 a frame school building was erected on Jefferson Street, and was named the "Guadalupe Institute." Boys enrolled in the school were given training "rudimentary military tactics," and drilled by their instructor Professor J. C. Lord. "The company used wooden lances in place of guns." I imagine they were quite a sight.
Still, even with boys parading with wooden lances, many in Kerrville wanted a more permanent school system. Captain Joseph A. Tivy, Kerrville's first mayor, is really the father of our school system here, because he gave the land for the schools and also tracts that could be sold to help fund construction of a school building.
The city of Kerrville was incorporated "for school purposes" in 1888; it was incorporated again, "for municipal government purposes" a year later, in 1889.
Later, in 1923, an election established the Kerrville Independent School District, moving control of the schools and taxing authority from city government to a newly formed board.
The chamber, since its beginning in 1922 has been instrumental in the progress of our community. The Chamber has been involved in early improvements to the local telephone system, funding the County Agents' work years ago, partial funding for the municipal swimming pool (the old Cascade Pool which was at the river bluff at the end of Earl Garrett Street), support for the creation of the Upper Guadalupe River Authority, help with the creation of Louise Hays Park, and countless other projects.
In 1985, the Chamber, along with Schreiner University, began Leadership Kerr County, a program to train future leaders of the community by educating them about different aspects of the county through a nine month intensive program. It's a very good program, because it exposes the participants to the problems facing the county, the whole county.
Of course, the purpose of the Chamber is largely economic -- to promote the commercial interests of the community. Some of the achievements that the Chamber can take at least partial credit for are the Fish Hatchery near Mountain Home, Methodist Encampment, the Kerrville State Hospital, Wildlife Management Area, the Veteran's Hospital, the USDA Entomology Labs, the relocation of Mooney Aircraft to Kerrville, the local office of the Parks & Wildlife Department, the founding of the Kerr Economic Development Foundation, and a successful physician recruitment program decades ago.
Leadership of these two organizations, the school district and the chamber, is vital to our community, and I'm sure the boards of each will work hard to select people who will make Kerrville a better place.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who supports the chamber and the school district. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 30, 2016.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Fortune in Gold

Last week I shared the story of a group of men searching for the lost San Saba silver mine -- and from the responses I've received, that story of a lost fortune piqued the interest of more than one reader.
I suppose there's something about the thought of buried treasure which encourages one to wonder if the stories are true, and if the fortune is still out there to be found. The following story, from my files, is likely true:
Occasionally one finds a mystery when reading about Kerr County’s history. I was reading about two of Kerr County’s earliest families, the Burney and Rees clans, when I stumbled upon a story about buried gold.
The two families came to Kerr County from the same county in Tennessee, McNairy County. McNairy County is in the southwest part of the state, and borders Mississippi. It’s still rural; the population there in 2000 was under 25,000 people.
And both families, when they came to Texas, were headed by widows with three sons. According to Bob Bennett’s excellent history of our community, “each of the three sons in both the Burney and Rees families participated in the organization of Kerr County and all of them eventually served as county officials. Succeeding generations of the two families became related through marriage and 100 years later, descendants of both families were leaders in business and civic affairs of Kerr County and elsewhere.”
A quick check of today’s telephone directory shows both of the family names are still listed here.
Of all of the various members of the family, this story focuses on Hance McCain Burney, or rather his wife, Mary Tatum.
Hance Burney was Kerrville’s first postmaster, serving for eight years after the post office was established here in 1858. He also served as county judge – twice, once during the Civil War and later in the late 1870s. He was president of the First National Bank of Center Point, and he died in the spring of 1915.
His wife, Mary Tatum Burney, moved from McNairy County, Tennessee, to Washington County, Texas with her parents in 1853. She married Hance Burney three days after Christmas that same year in Washington County.
Soon thereafter the Hance Burneys and Mary’s parents moved to Kerr County. Her parents were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Tatum, and they settled on a homestead “across the Guadalupe from Joshua D. Brown.”
Henry Tatum served as a county commissioner from 1863-65 (while his son-in-law was county judge). I imagine that proved interesting, especially when their votes were different.
Now for the gold.
According to Bennett, “Henry Tatum is said to have brought along $10,000 in gold which was buried on his farm during the Civil War days. In 1872 a smallpox epidemic broke out in Kerr County and both Mr. and Mrs. Tatum were stricken. Both died within a week’s time without revealing the hiding place of the gold.”
$10,000 worth of gold – in 1870-era dollars – would be worth considerably more today. It would be worth a fortune.
There is evidence more than one person believed the gold was buried on the property. According to Bennett, “A. P. Brown, a son of Joshua D. Brown, recalls that during his youth, holes about six feet deep were dug all over the old Tatum farm.”
You know, Gentle Reader, that gold might still be buried out there on the Tatum farm. Who said history books can’t be interesting?
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks he knows where the Tatum farm was, and there are holes still visible there. He does not know if the gold was ever found.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 23, 2016

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