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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Then and Now: Water Street in the early 1900s

Recently I gave a presentation at the Schreiner Mansion, where I paired historic photographs with snaps I'd taken that day with my phone.  I did this because I realized most people haven't studied area photographs as I have, and so it's sometimes confusing to know where an historic photo was taken.  So I took a copy of each historic photograph with me, and tried to find the exact spot where the old photograph was taken -- and then I took a photo with my cellphone.   Over the next few Wednesdays, I'll publish the results here.  Please feel free to share these with your friends.
Click on any image to enlarge
Water Street, looking southeast, from the intersection of Sidney Baker Street, in Kerrville
I think this photo was taken between 1910 and 1920.

The scene today.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Kerrville church for many congregations

Kerrville's Union Church, at its current location.
Photo courtesy of the Kerr County Historical Commission
Although Joshua Brown and his crew of shingle makers arrived in our area in 1846, settling here permanently in 1848, the first church buildings in Kerrville weren’t built until 1885 with the completion of the Union Church.
The Union Church’s story is interesting to me for several reasons.
Considering that it took our community so long to build churches – almost 40 years – a generation of Kerrville residents had grown up in a community without the benefit of a church building.
In 1876 the Kerr County Commissioners Court approved the use of the county courtroom for “use as a place of worship of Almighty God,” but this arrangement, for several reasons, “wasn’t satisfactory.” The court’s order stipulated that the sheriff be paid $5 per day for the use of the courtroom, and that “no distinction shall be made between associations, sects, classes, or denominations of the community.”
In 1876 our community had a new courthouse, two stories tall, and made of stone. The community had insisted the building have two stories, and that the upper floor be available for community events. That courthouse was a big improvement over the previous courthouse: the first courthouse here was a log cabin, which stood near where Grimes Funeral Chapels stands today.
That 1876 courthouse served our community for ten years; in 1886 a much larger courthouse was constructed, and the 1876 courthouse was "recycled" and converted into the county jail.
During the late 1870s, according to Bob Bennett's excellent history of Kerr County, “Mrs. Whitfield Scott, who had come to Kerr County with her husband Captain Whitfield Scott, a Confederate veteran, and her sister, Miss Laura Gill, who later became Mrs. William Gray Garrett, began to solicit funds for the building of a Union Church. They were later joined in this work by Mrs. J. M. Starkey, a Methodist, and Mrs. Adeline Coleman, a member of the Christian denomination.
“These ladies went from house to house on horseback and wrote appealing articles in newspapers of that day to stimulate interest. There appears in the Christian Observer, a Presbyterian publication, in 1885, an article under the title “An Urgent Call,” which told how the youth of Kerrville were growing up without religion training, how there was no place of worship…, and how valuable a church would be to the growing community.”
Two lots were given by Capt. Charles Schreiner for the construction of the church; it was located on Clay Street facing what is Pioneer Bank today; a gas station is on the original Union Church site now.
“For several years thereafter, all denominations held services in the Union Church. It was agreed that the Methodist Church should use the building the first Sunday of every month; the Presbyterian the second Sunday; the Baptist the third; and the Christian Church the fourth Sunday. After 1914, when the other denominations had erected their own places of worship, the Church of Christ began to use the building.”
The building was later moved to Francisco Lemos Street, and when I was a boy housed an Army Navy Surplus store where a generation of boys bought camping gear.
Later still, the Friends of the Kerr County Historical Commission moved and restored the Union Church, and it now resides on the corner of the campus of Schreiner University, moving from its original lots donated by Captain Schreiner to a corner of the college which bears his name.
I suppose back in 1885 there was a lot of rejoicing in the new church building. As you visit your church during this time, take a moment to remember those three women, riding house to house on horseback, working to build the community’s first church.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who ought to attend church services more often, if only to serve as a poor example to the faithful.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 18, 2015.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Is this a photo of Chester Nimitz?


Recently I came across a photograph of a young Chester Nimitz in an email sent by a friend, and it reminded me of one another friend found in a scrapbook of photographs about the St. Charles Hotel.
First, the known photograph of Chester Nimitz as a student at the U. S. Naval Academy:
Click on image to enlarge
Chester Nimitz, as a young midshipman at the
United States Naval Academy
Click on image to enlarge
From a traveler's scrapbook, found by Lanza Teague.  The building in the background
is Kerrville's St. Charles Hotel.  The Nimitz family managed the hotel at the time.
Is the young man on the far right Chester Nimitz?

Monday, April 13, 2015

A Peek at Kerrville in 1905

A booklet by J. E. Grinstead
Click on image to enlarge
J. E. Grinstead was a newspaperman who arrived in Kerrville in 1899, seeking health for his wife who suffered from tuberculosis. Though his wife died a few months after their arrival here, Grinstead stayed on. In 1900 he bought the Kerrville Paper (a descendent of the wonderfully-named Kerrville Eye) and changed its name to the Kerrville Mountain Sun. I’ve heard he named his newspaper for the sunrise over Tivy Mountain as viewed from his home on Jefferson Street.
He is given credit for coining the term Hill Country, and for tirelessly promoting the city and the region. He served as Kerrville’s mayor from 1902 to 1904, when the first streets in town were paved, later served in the Texas Legislature a single term, served during World War I as the chairman of the local draft board, served as president of the school board, and by 1917, mainly because of politics, retired from the news business and sold his newspaper to the Terrell Publishing Company.
After the sale of his business he wrote a number of pulp westerns, using a number of pen names. Two were made into movies: “Tumbling River,” 1927, starring Tom Mix, and “Sunset of Power,” 1936, starring Buck Jones and Dorothy Dix.
I’ve run across a little booklet Grinstead published in 1905, “Kerrville and Kerr County, Texas,” which begins:
“This little booklet is not offered to the public as a work of literary merit, nor do we wish it to be considered as what is commonly known as a ‘boom pamphlet.’ It is published as a valuable compilation of facts and useful information concerning one of the most favored sections of the great Lone Star State.”
Despite his introduction, the booklet is quite liberally sprinkled with superlatives:
“The Guadalupe River, from where it breaks out of its rockbound prison under the Texas Alps…
“There is not a town in Texas having 10,000 population or less that has better streets than those of Kerrville…
He writes about the city’s electric plant and its telephone exchange, which, in 1905, put Kerrville on the cutting edge of technology. He brags about the schools, mentions each of the church denominations here, and claims “the volume of business transacted at Kerrville is equal to – probably greater than – that of any town of like population in Texas, and far exceeds the transactions of many towns more than twice her size.” He mentions the railroad, “being the terminus of the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway, and gate city to an extensive agricultural and stock growing country, all the supplies for the numerous ranches of several counties are distributed from this point.”
He describes the water-powered mill which once stood approximately where One Schreiner Center stands today on Water Street: “a modern roller flour mill, having a capacity of 140 barrels daily, and capacious elevator, which furnishes a market for much of the Kerr County wheat, and manufactures flour that ranks A1 with that made in other states.”
He describes the West Texas Fair, which was held near the present site of Wells Fargo Bank at Five Points: “whose home is in a delightful park adjoining the city limits, with the Guadalupe River upon one side and majestic oak-clad mountains on the other, is among the chief attractions of Kerrville, and is an enterprise which is the pride of the people of this entire section, and has and will continue to be a strong element in the development of our county and its resources. The exhibition of 1904 was a pronounced success from every viewpoint. And the importance of the work will increase as the country develops.”
“A well equipped opera house, which presents the best opera companies on the road and furnishes thereby entertainment for citizens and visitors is one of the city’s attractions.” I believe he was describing Pampell’s, as J. L. Pampell is listed as ‘Manager, Opera House’ in the back of the little booklet, though his name is misspelled.
The book is interesting to me for two reasons – it includes photos, with many views I’ve never seen before – and its publication date, 1905.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who encourages readers to share old Kerrville photos and publications such as the booklet described above with him – you can keep the original, all he wants is a good copy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 11, 2015, on his sister's 50th birthday.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Comedy and Tragedy of the Arcadia

The Arcadia Theater as it appeared in the early 1930s.
Photo courtesy of Bryant Saner.
With the Arcadia Theater in the news this week, I thought it might be useful to share the old girl's history here once again. Here's the story of the Arcadia from my files:
On the warm Tuesday evening of June 29, 1926, a flock of folks crowded into a newly built hall to watch the comedy film “Irene,” starring Colleen Moore. They were greeted with “cooled” air and a film about the life of a poor, beautiful Irish lass whose dire economic circumstances obscure her royal lineage. She worked as a shopkeeper’s assistant, selling dresses. A local grandee had obtained the job for her there as a model; the villainous shopkeeper had demoted her to lowly clerk. During a grand fashion show, the grandee notes the absence of his protégé, storms to the dimly lit store, costumes the girl and returns with her to triumph, and eventually love – discovered on a rusting fire escape, outside the fashion show.
The scenes of the fashion show were “registered in subdued tones of the Techni-color process, a new idea which has recently been discovered by those who invented the method of color photography.” This probably explains the choice of this movie, a First National release, as the film for that particular evening: the film was in color.
“Irene” was the first film shown in the newly built Arcadia Theater.
The town was very proud of their new theater. There was an older movie house, the Dixie, near the corner of Washington and Water streets, on the northern corner. The Dixie is remembered for its wooden bleachers, where patrons tucked their feet up to avoid the rats that ran along the floor eating popcorn and nibbling on shoelaces. The Arcadia, by contrast, was a movie palace.
Built at a cost of $90,000, the new theater featured high-tech (for 1926) projection equipment (a pair of Powers projectors), a ‘Gardner Velvet Gold Fibre Screen,’ a Hillgren-Lane pipe organ, and seating capacity for 1,000 -- approximately a quarter of the population of Kerrville at the time. (A theater built today, designed to hold a quarter of today's population, would seat 5,700 people!)
The building looked very different then: it featured a Spanish mission façade, and the 16x40 foot ‘arcade’ was accented with rough plaster and hand-hewn beams. In the ‘arcade’ was seven display cases.
Seating was also arranged differently than the seating many of us remember. In addition to the ‘orchestra’ and balcony seats, there were also eight loges with five chairs each. Smoking was allowed in the balcony seats only.
The small stage (8 x 15 feet) was furnished with scenery from Volland Scenic Company of St. Louis, and included a “beautiful mountain and river scene, typical of the country surrounding Kerrville. It is a remarkable reproduction of nature, done in oil.” There was also an orchestra pit measuring 7 ½ x 25 feet; this was the home of the pipe organ.
The neon sign we see frantically flashing in the night sky is not the original sign for the theater. The first was about 15 feet high and extended six feet above the building, with 16” letters. The lighting flashed on and off at intervals, but was not neon; the coloring of the letters was done by placing ‘glass color hoods’ over the lamps, and red and green and amber were the predominate colors. There was a twinkling torch and a ‘flowing’ border driven by an electric motor.
The Bart Moore Construction Company built the building. Mr. Moore was also the president of the Kerrville Amusement Company, which owned the Arcadia and Dixie Theaters, and he would serve as the Arcadia’s first general manager.
Admission prices that first week of performances were 25 and 50 cents.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who owns a copy of the movie "Irene," and has a poster advertising the movie on display in his family's print shop offices.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 4th, 2015.

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