Fredericksburg, or Kerrville? That was the question before the owners and management of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad (S.A.&A.P.) in 1886. Work was underway to connect San Antonio with the Gulf coast, and the larger goal was to continue the rail line from San Antonio all the way up to Denver, Colorado.
The idea, of course, was to join the mineral and agricultural wealth of Colorado to shipping points on the Texas coast, hoping for a tidy profit for the rail road that transported those goods. When the S.A.&A.P. began, its early maps showed the tracks connecting San Antonio to Denver passed through Fredericksburg, not Kerrville.
And so, as work on the rail line between San Antonio and Corpus Christi neared completion, the S.A.&A.P. turned its attention to its "Northwest Extension." During the summer of 1886 meetings critical to the future of Kerrville (and Fredericksburg) were held in San Antonio.
Uriah Lott, the president of the S.A.&A.P., met with committees from both Fredericksburg and Kerrville, and rather than deciding between the two, simply announced the route would go to whichever community could raise $180,000.
$180,000 in 1886 would be worth roughly $4.5 million today; that is about $70,000 per mile, which, if you think of the labor involved, is a real bargain.
The problem, of course, is how a small community like Kerrville, which had a population of less than 300 in 1886, could raise that much money.
In late May, 1886, a committee was formed in Kerrville (and a similar one in Fredericksburg). In Kerrville, the committee consisted of Whitfield Scott, chairman; W. F. Gill, secretary; along with Dr. G. R. Parsons, Charles Schreiner, R. H. Burney, J. M. Starkey, James Sellers, and Alonzo Rees. Others from Kerr County on the committee were J. A. Tivy, J. M. Witt, and S. H. Welborn.
At their first meeting, held in Kerr County courthouse, the group immediately agreed to cooperate with similar committees in Comfort and Boerne in raising the necessary $180,000. Representatives of those communities were in attendance and confirmed their willingness to help raise the funds. By the end of that first meeting, $12,000 had been "subscribed."
The question on everyone's minds was how the needed funds would be apportioned among the various communities: $180,000 was an almost impossible amount to raise in those times.
Meanwhile, a public relations war was taking place in the newspapers, but especially in the San Antonio newspapers. Proponents of the line to Fredericksburg wrote articles in support of their community; likewise, those favoring Kerrville wrote of their support, and the contest soon grew bitter. Soon complaints about lies were being published in the newspapers.
By June, 1886, the group working to bring the rails to Kerrville did something clever. They argued, in print, and likely in private, that the merchants of San Antonio had much more to gain from a line to Kerrville, Center Point, Comfort, and Boerne than had those villages in return.
"Extend this railroad into this mountain region," a correspondent from Boerne wrote to the San Antonio Daily Express, "which will give encouragement for greater development, and we will pour a flood of wealth in the way of trade into old San Antonio that will bring another boom of prosperity to the city such as was experienced a few years ago." The Boerne correspondent signed his letter "Palafox."
Surprisingly, this argument worked. The lion's share of the $180,000 came from San Antonio merchants. Kerrville raised $50,000; Comfort, $20,000; Boerne, $30,000. The merchants of San Antonio made up the balance, or about 44% of the total.
As you can imagine, the committee from Fredericksburg was not pleased and began a boycott of San Antonio merchants, focusing their trade toward Austin.
That shift had long-standing consequences. Fredericksburg's mail is still sorted in Austin (while Kerrville's is sorted in San Antonio). There is no direct highway from Fredericksburg to San Antonio, but a fairly direct highway connects Fredericksburg with Austin. San Antonio is about 10 miles closer to Fredericksburg than Fredericksburg is to Austin, and in the days when travel meant a horse, or a buggy, or a wagon, or good shoe leather, ten miles was a considerable distance. Ten miles, though, was a short distance to travel if it meant avoiding the San Antonio merchants which had chosen Kerrville.
The S.A.&A.P. Railroad arrived in Kerrville in 1887. Fredericksburg got their railroad 100 years ago, almost exactly, on November 1, 1913, 26 years after Kerrville's. Service to Fredericksburg ended in 1942, a span of about 29 years; service to Kerrville ended in 1971, a span of about 84 years.
Neither the rails to Kerrville or the rails to Fredericksburg ever extended any farther; the dream of connecting San Antonio to Denver never materialized. And neither line was ever particularly profitable.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers the trains that rumbled through Kerrville. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 9, 2013