Historic Kerr County photographs available!

Monday, August 19, 2013

A gem of a riverside park

Louise Hays Park, Kerrville, under construction, 1950.
Like many of you, I have been very concerned with the plans for the Louise Hays Park, especially the plans to remove so many beautiful trees.  Visiting the park recently I noticed trees marked with bright red surveyor's tape, and many without.  I'm not sure whether the marked trees will be spared, or knocked down.  Regardless, there are beautiful trees in the park which are marked with the tape, and there are beautiful trees unmarked, meaning, I suppose, some good trees are going to be sacrificed in service to the city's plan for the park.
Additionally I am concerned about the length of time the park will be closed, especially since building the park only took a single day.
Here's the story of the day the park was built, from my files:
Robert S. Hays, an oilman from San Antonio, took possession of a 2800 acre ranch south of the city on October 1, 1949. He offered to donate 35 acres to the city on a public (and a private) condition. The public condition: the park would be named for his young wife, Louise. The private condition: the park had to be built in a day. A family member told me that he wanted the park built in a day because he was worried the sleepy little town napping in the bend of the Guadalupe River would put off finishing the park, and it would never get done.
The community took the challenge.
Jack Peterson chaired the committee that built the park. J. O. McKnight was the landscape architect that designed the park, which featured drives, a grand arched entryway, picnic tables, a pontoon bridge, playground equipment, and a big, big slab -- for dances. The committee labored under the constant constraint: it had to be built in a day. The roadways would be a challenge. The archway, another. The big slab, yet another. The plan brought in estimates of $20,000. Subcommittees raised donations from businesses and individuals, and area stockmen were asked to contribute livestock for a big auction. The grocery stores sent food for the lunches. Bakeries sent doughnuts and bread. Schreiner College sent some engineering students under the careful supervision of Harry Crate. The Tivy Principal came with some young volunteers. Contributions came from the entire county -- not just the city residents.
After months of planning, April 26, 1950, the Big Day, dawned slowly over Tivy Mountain. At 7 o'clock that morning work began, to the sounds of horns, whistles, bells, and sirens. The Rev. Walter Kerr, pastor of the First Methodist Church, and chair of the ministerial alliance, asked a blessing on the crew. The lovely Ms. Louise Hays turned the first spade of dirt. Then an estimated 500 workers began their history-making project.
One of the workers that day was Ken McCormick, whose wife, Laura, had given birth to their son Gary the day before, on the 25th. Mrs. McCormick wrote me this story:
"After Ken saw that the baby and I were fine, he headed home, I thought, for some sleep since he had been up all night. He asked if there was anything I needed and I told him I would like my little radio . . . . Well, I slept some and then waited all day for him to bring the radio, or at least come back up to see the baby and me. All day long I could hear heavy equipment running somewhere nearby. I asked the nurse what all the noise was, and she said she did not know.
"Finally, a little after dark, here came Ken and my brother, Bob Edwards, who was living with us. I was really feeling neglected and upset and was really pouting until I found out they had helped build the park in a day . . . and even though they were really tired, you could tell they had fun being part of that project . . . Needless to say my family and I have enjoyed the park so much over the years . . . Ken and I danced many a mile on the slab with the square dancing and round dancing."
When the sun set over the hills beyond Ingram and Hunt, Kerrville had built a park.
Kerrville had also made news. "New Park? It's All in a Day's Work." reported the Dallas News. "$1,000,000 Kerr Park Built in Day," said the Star-Telegram. The San Angelo Standard told its readers "Just Like They Said, 'We'll Build a Park in a Day.'"
But my favorite headline came from the San Antonio Express: "Think."
I don't think city government has done a good job explaining what they hope to accomplish with the long-term closure of the park, and I know they haven't explained why so many trees must be cut down.  Perhaps they should refer to that old headline: "Think."
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has spent many a happy hour at Louise Hays Park, first as a child, and later with his children. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 17, 2013.

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