Historic Kerr County photographs available!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mystery Solved: Lake Cathorne

Lake Cathorne, Kerrville
There is a lake in Kerr County with an interesting name: Lake Cathorne. Few call it that today, though it was so named in 1906, by the Kerrville Chautauqua committee.
If you're interested in old photographs and postcards, like me, you'll come across the name often: several enterprising businesses published picture postcards showing pretty girls in boats on Lake Cathorne; some of the images show fishermen on Lake Cathorne; others show a picnic beside Lake Cathorne. I think the postcards were an attempt to promote Kerrville as a tourist destination. To tell the truth, the images are quite enchanting. In the words of Tina Fey: "I want to go to there."
J. E. Grinstead, the publisher of the Kerrville Mountain Sun at the turn of the last century, wrote about Lake Cathorne:
"Art has produced many beautiful things, but after all, nature, guided by the unerring hand of providence, creates the most beautiful and rarest blessing mankind enjoys. The beautiful Lake Cathorne is a true and
perfect mirror of nature, that has reflected the fleecy clouds and soft blue sky, the feathery cypress boughs and flying birds throughout countless ages. The barefooted boy with his torn straw hat and fishing pole has dug his toes into the soft banks and pondered on the peculiarity of his features reflected in the glossy water, or tired and hot thrown himself full length upon the ground and drunk from the cool bubbling springs which feed the lake, which in turn gives its quota of rippling water to the happy, laughing Guadalupe."
Mr. Grinstead wrote like that all of the time. Really.
Mill Dam, Lake Cathorne, Kerrville
"Lake Cathorne is now a part of the Chautauqua grounds, and its mirrored surface will reflect the various stages of human life, from the playful, toddling little child playing with shells, to the sedate and dignified scholar who walks upon its shores with stately step in profound meditation."
See, I told you: all the time. But Grinstead's writing was effective, and did establish Kerrville as a tourist destination. He's the person who coined the phrases "The Texas Hill Country," and "The Heart of the Hills." He was also elected mayor of Kerrville, then state representative, and even school board president. He was, well, slightly involved in his community.
"The name 'Cathorne,'" Grinstead writes, "is the result of a re-christening by the Chautauqua committee and is a combination of the names of the two young ladies of the 1906 graduating class of Tivy High School, Misses Thorne Remschel and Catherine Richards."
I suppose you're wondering where Lake Cathorne is located. Well, first let me say the lake still exists, though in a slightly different form than in 1906. It's a lake almost every person in Kerrville has seen, and one in which many of us have taken a swim, or cast a fishing line.
The lake has a large island, too. One almost perfect for picnics.
Ok, I'll tell you. I've played coy long enough.
The island's name is Tranquility Island, and Lake Cathorne is the body of water found beside Louise Hays Park, bounded on the north by the bluff behind Water Street. It is slightly different in shape than it was in 1906 because it is now impounded by a concrete dam slightly up river from the original cypress dam. The Charles Schreiner Bridge (it has a plaque) crosses Lake Cathorne, extending Sidney Baker Street south across the river. though that bridge wasn't built until the 1930s.
See? I knew you knew about Lake Cathorne!
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who likes to swim in Lake Cathorne summer evenings after work This column was originally published in the Kerrville Daily Times November 13, 2010.

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