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Monday, April 18, 2011

Finding "Split Rock," an early Kerrville landmark

I have in my collection of Kerrville and Kerr County historical items several postcards from the turn of the last century showing a local landmark: Split Rock.
Postcard, Split Rock, near Kerrville
The postcards show a garage-sized rock split by a tree growing from its center. I have photographs, too. The images also show young people posing on top of the rock, the rock covered with graffiti, most of it commercial in nature. Though there was a fence in most of the photos, people often crossed the fence to climb the rock for portraits.
In addition, I learned the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad had a stop called "Split Rock."  This is the railroad that arrived in Kerrville in the 1880s and really set Kerrville on the path to economic prominence among her neighboring communities.
Here's the thing: I could not find Split Rock. There is a Split Rock Road near Kerrville's Louis Schreiner Field, and, years ago,, when my son was still quite young, I had wandered around out there looking for the old Split Rock. I did not find it and assumed two things: first, that the old landmark was in the river bed and second, that it had washed away in one of our many floods since 1900.
Of course, like most of my assumptions these were wrong. I had visited the area where I thought the rock might be several times in the past two decades, but never could find the old stone. Comfortable in my assumption, I stopped the search.
Postcard, Split Rock, near Kerrville
Then a printing project at our shop changed my theory. Ruth and Frank Kiel ordered some of their well-written travel guides, a self-guided tour of the Guadalupe River Valley between Kerrville and Comfort. (Copies of the booklet are available at Wolfmueller's Books.)  I noticed a photograph of Mr. Kiel standing next to a weathered boulder. The caption read "Split Rock."
I immediately pulled out my postcards and photographs. Could it be? 
Comparing the Kiel's photograph with my turn-of-the-last-century images posed a problem, though. The rocks didn't match. They were the mirror-opposite of each other.

Split Rock
But at least it was a clue that a large, split boulder was still out there somewhere.
My next step was not possible when I started my search: I went to Google Maps for an aerial view of the area where I thought Split Rock might be. What a tool we now have at our fingertips!  And it's free!
My first search didn't reveal anything, but I noticed the highway to Bandera was awfully close to the suspected site of the landmark. Perhaps from over there I could get a view of the places I thought might be promising for my renewed search.
And so, on a recent beautiful Sunday afternoon, I drove to the spot on the Bandera highway and looked across the river with my binoculars. This took some time, and I'm sure I looked like a nut.
But through the trees I finally spotted the rock the Kiels had photographed. I made a mental note of its location, circled back to the nearest bridge, and drove to the spot.
Once there, I knew I'd found my landmark. The Kiels were correct; it was the old Split Rock. They'd taken their photograph of its northern face; the old postcards and photographs I had were taken from both the western and southern face.
My friend Aaron Yates also helped, providing an aerial image of the area with a much higher resolution than Google's image. In the photo Aaron found, you can actually see the old Split Rock.
Finding the landmark actually added to its mystery. Why was it so popular?  Was it on the original Kerrville to San Antonio road?
I suppose, like so many things I've learned as I study our local history, one discovery leads to many questions. That's part of what makes this journey interesting.
Photos of Split Rock, past and present, will be posted on my website Monday. Visit www.joeherring.com to learn more.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who likes to go exploring. Now if I can just find Captain Schreiner's tunnels.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 19, 2011
For more information about Joe's book, which features 
over 200 historical Kerrville photographs,  please click here.

5 comments:

  1. Joe...couple of questions...is the rock near the top of a hill or in a valley...is the rock in Kerr County or Bandera County?
    Thanks...George Prendergast

    ReplyDelete
  2. George: the one I found is in the Guadalupe River floodway near the Kerrville airport.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Joe,
    This is a great piece of detective work.
    We're all proud of you.

    Do you have photos of all four sides of the rock?
    If so, it would be very interesting to see them.

    Thanks again, Detective Joe.

    You truly are Kerr County's Historian.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I remember my dad telling me that the old road to Center Point did not follow the same path that 27 does today. In fact, part of that old road was still around when I was a teenager. It was just below the Flatrock Dam and wound along the south bank of the river just up the bluff toward 173. They had it blocked off with a fence back then, but Dad said that was the old road to Center Point, and, one would assume,points further east. It could be that Split Rock was visible from that old road.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That's it. That's the correct rock.

    Great work, Joe!

    ReplyDelete

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