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Thursday, May 20, 2010

Recalling how the City of Kerrville got its start

I've arbitrarily assigned the years from 1869 to 1927 to "the Golden Era" of our community's history, since so many of the institutions we have in our community had their start during that time.
Take for instance, the City of Kerrville.
I decided to pull out my trusty Kerr County history book by Bob Bennett and read up on the founding of Kerrville.
Over 120 years ago, if you take the long view, the whole experiment began in a law office. On August 23, 1889, a group of Kerrville citizens met in the law office of Robert H. Burney and "definitely started the plans for incorporation." A petition was soon presented to the county judge, W. G. Garrett, signed by fifty "resident citizens and qualified voters of Kerrville, Texas" stating the "desire to incorporate said town of Kerrville for municipal purposes, in accordance to the laws of the State of Texas."
Charles Schreiner Company around 1895
Since the court was not in session, Judge Garrett granted the request 'in vacation' -- and an election "to determine whether or not said town of Kerrville shall be incorporated" was scheduled for September 7th, 1889. Consider that for a moment: from the first meeting in the lawyer's office until the election was held about two weeks passed. There were no lengthy studies, public hearings, prolonged debate. I wonder if the full Commissioners Court would have approved the election.
There was not a lot of voter turnout, either. The petition stated Kerrville was a "town of more than one thousand inhabitants," yet only 98 votes were cast in the election. The results: 95 for incorporation and 3 against.
The election for the new city's first mayor and aldermen was set for September 26th, where Joseph A. Tivy (yes, the same Tivy for which the high school was named) was elected mayor; A. C. Schreiner, W. W. Burnett, Ed Smallwood, B. C. Richards and Nathan Herzog were chosen as aldermen. If my memory local people is correct, Mr. Herzog was an employee of Mr. Schreiner. Ed Smallwood was the editor of the newspaper.
Ironically, the very first city council meeting in the City of Kerrville was held on Halloween, 1889, about two months after the process began.
At the first meeting Richards and Smallwood were named as a committee to draft ordinances for the city; at the second meeting, Richards was appointed to "devise ways and means for operating the city government;" Richards and Schreiner were named as the finance committee.
Taxes followed. Property taxes were 1/4 cent per $100 valuation; a dollar poll tax for all men aged 21 to 60; various occupation taxes were also levied. A dog tax was proposed, but failed to receive the necessary 2/3 vote to make it into law until it was proposed again the following year, putting a $1.50 tax on all dogs aged three months and older.
Some of the taxes and regulations of the new government seem rather quaint now. There were ordinances covering "fights between men and bulls, between dogs and bears, between dogs and other animals, and menageries or wax works exhibitions and concert where a fee was demanded or received." Between dogs and bears was specifically mentioned; I'm thinking the spectacle must have occured here at least once.
There were ordinances against "immoderately riding or driving on the streets," leaving your steed or wagon unhitched on city streets, vulgar language was illegal, and the "raising, hatching, or breeding of pigeons" within the city limits was also outlawed.
All able-bodied men "between the ages of eighteen and forty-five were required to give five days' work on streets during the year, and city officials were empowered to summon them as needed."
Things have certainly changed.
I suppose in ages hence the things concerning city government about which we're all talking about today will also seem rather quaint.
With all of the new taxes and regulations discontent blossomed in the hearts of many Kerrville citizens and a new election was called to dissolve the new city, though the question failed, and the young city survived.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who once was involved in city government.

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