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Monday, November 25, 2013

Kerrville was incorporated in 1889-ish

Looking around our community you'll find several references to 1889 as the year Kerrville was incorporated. That date is engraved in an archway in the newly-developed "Peterson Plaza," and also is featured on the seal of the City of Kerrville.
However, while researching another topic, I kept running across stories in Texas newspapers which reported Kerrville voters approving incorporation of the community in 1888.
Uh-oh. Which is right?
The April 8, 1888 issue of the Galveston Daily News has a small item which reports an election was held to determine "whether or not the people of the town of Kerrville, recently incorporated...would vote a tax of 40 cents on $100 valuation of property for the purpose of paying interest on school bonds, was carried...by there being 33 votes cast and 32 votes in favor of the tax."
A similar story appeared in other Texas newspapers at the time.
Well, before someone changes the city's seal, or carves a new date into that archway, there is an answer to which date is correct: they both are.
In the late 1880s communities across Texas were building important institutions. Many courthouses were constructed during those years. Kerr County, for example, built its third courthouse in 1886, a tall, three-story stone structure, and recycled its old courthouse into the county jail at the same time.
Communities were also building schools during that decade, aided, in part, by state legislation which allowed cities to raise capital by selling bonds -- even if the city had no municipal government.
The vehicle communities used was incorporation, but not for "municipal" purposes, but for "school" purposes. That's what Kerrville did in 1888: the voters established a corporation which could issue debt to build a school.
The school they built still stands, and houses the Kerrville Independent School District's administrative offices, at 1009 Barnett. (The two-story stone building was slated to be razed in the 1980s, but was saved by the hard work of many people, including Clarabelle Barton Snodgrass.)
The 1880s legislation providing for "incorporation for school purposes" required several things. First, the community had to have at least 200 inhabitants. (Kerrville had around 300 at the time. If you counted several people several times.)
The corporation could be formed for "free" school purposes only.
The limits of the area to be incorporated had to follow the bounds of the town, if the town was incorporated as a municipality, or, if not, in a square not to exceed twenty-five square miles, centered on the school campus itself.
Registered voters could petition the county judge, who was responsible for calling an election and record its result. Successful election results, when presented to the State Board of Education, entitled the school corporation to receive "such pro rata share of the available school fund as its scholastic population may entitle it to."
The newly formed corporation could "levy and collect taxes and issue bonds for school purposes."  In Kerrville's case, in 1888 that was a 40 cents tax on $100 valuation.
Interestingly, if the city which incorporated for "school purposes" was later incorporated for "municipal purposes," as would be the case in Kerrville, the newly formed municipality "shall not thereby acquire a right to take control of the schools within its limits out of the hands of the school corporation."
So, in a quantum-mechanics kind of way, Kerrville was incorporated in 1889, just like the history books say. But it was also incorporated in 1888. Both dates are correct.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys little historical conundrums. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 23, 2013.

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