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Monday, April 30, 2012

A living reminder of the earliest days


The Founders' Tree
Given that Friday was Arbor Day, this column will be about a tree, one very special tree, and how it stands witness to the earliest times of our community.
While researching another topic for this column, I ran across the following in Bob Bennett's history of our community:
"Joshua D. Brown himself had a log cabin located in a grove of live oak trees near the present residence of Mrs. A. C. Schreiner, Sr., in Block 22-A on Water Street."
Joshua Brown, you'll recall, was the founder of Kerrville. He arrived here in 1846 with nine men to build a shingle camp -- they here to harvest the cypress trees along the river and make shingles from them.
Soon, however, the local Native American tribes "became troublesome" and that first camp was abandoned. But on the shinglemakers' second attempt, in 1848, the camp took hold, and Kerrville was born.
Later, in 1856, Joshua Brown purchased 640 acres from the heirs of Benjamin F. Cage. Cage was a veteran of San Jacinto, and the land was given to him by the Republic of Texas for his military service.
In this one transaction, Brown purchased the land that became most of downtown Kerrville. It was this site Brown convinced the Kerr County commissioners court, in its first session, to make the county seat.
Bob Bennett's book continues: "Brown probably salvaged what was usable from his old shingle camp and added other building materials to build on this choice location, which he later sold to the Burney brothers, Hance, Robert, and DeWitt."
Elsewhere Bennett reports "Hance Burney's house was in Block 1. DeWitt and Bob Burney were at that time living in the log house built by Joshua D. Brown on the river bank."
The great old house between our print shop and the library, there where Clay Street runs into Water, that's the A. C. Schreiner home mentioned earlier. And near there, according to Bob Bennett, was a cabin in a "grove of live oaks" where the founder of Kerrville lived with his family in 1856, when Kerrville, at Joshua Brown's insistence, became the county seat of the newly formed Kerr County.
Here's the thing: if you look today between our print shop and the Schreiner home, you'll see two great and very old live oak trees.
The largest measures about 45 inches in diameter 4 feet above the ground.
I've asked several experts who all agree: it's impossible to exactly estimate the age of an old live oak without taking a core sample, which no one is suggesting. But this word also came back to me from people who know: that large tree is likely between 150 and 200 years old.
Meaning, Gentle Reader, that particular live oak, standing so pretty between the print shop and the Schreiner home, was possibly one of the trees in the "grove of  live oaks" where the founder of our community once lived. A living reminder, if you will, of Kerr County's earliest days.
How it's survived this long, given all of the changes in our town since those days, I'll never guess.  I hope it can be preserved and even set aside as significant to our history.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has spent most of his life on land once owned by Joshua D. Brown. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 28, 2012.

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