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Monday, May 18, 2015

One Hundred Years Old in the Heart of Kerrville

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It's birthday time for the building that was once Kerrville's railroad depot, which turned 100 years old this week.
The depot building, which was the end of the line for the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad, still stands and is now one of my favorite restaurants: "Rails, A Cafe at the Depot."
The depot building housing the restaurant was almost vanished years ago, so it's a small miracle it made it to its centennial.
There was a period when so many of our old buildings were torn down (in the name of progress) that I wondered if anything old would survive. In the span of a few short years landmarks such as the Bluebonnet Hotel, the First United Methodist Church, the Kellogg Building, the old bus station and the old wool warehouses downtown all vanished; many beautiful old homes along Sidney Baker Street also disappeared. So I am glad the depot survived.
The depot was in danger of being demolished in the 1980s, but Mike Walker and Kathleen Walker saved it, if I remember correctly, running a hamburger restaurant there, and I believe there was another restaurant in the building before Rails opened several years ago.
Mark and Linda Stone renovated the building to its present greatness. Melissa Southern and John Hagerla have operated their restaurant at the depot since then.
The building was not the first train depot for Kerrville; the first burned down in 1913, and the present building was built in 1915.
The arrival of the trains here was quite a big deal.
According to the Texas Transportation Museum website, “at 11:45 AM on October 6, 1887, the first train arrived in Kerrville. On board the six Pullmans were 502 passengers, 200 from San Antonio, 131 from Boerne, 141 from Comfort and 30 from Center Point. Altogether this was 200 more people than actually lived in Kerrville. It was a banner day for the town, with parades and speeches.
“At the center of it all was Captain Charles Schreiner, whose visionary plans for the community were being realized in front of his eyes. He had been a significant part of the effort to raise the $180,000.00 demanded by the railroad, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass, before it began work just over a year earlier, August 26, 1886. With the 71 mile line complete, Kerrville's future growth and expansion were assured.”
Of the 1915 depot, the Kerrville Mountain Sun reported “the structure is to be of brick, and will be modern throughout. When completed it will be one of the handsomest passenger depots in a small town in the state.”
I think it's still a handsome building.
I'm old enough to remember trains as they slowly made their way through the east end of town. I remember their low rumbling and the clacking of their wheels as they passed gaps in the rails; especially along the tracks next to the playing field beside First Baptist Church, beside the intersection of Washington and North streets.
Many of us children (who should have been inside the church instead of playing baseball outside it) would run alongside the train as it passed, begging the engineer to blow its whistle.
On those evenings when we were actually sitting inside the church we’d listen for the train. In those days, before air-conditioning was considered such a necessity, the big blue stained glass windows of the church would often be left open. In addition to the occasional bird (or bat) that flew into the sanctuary, the rumbling of the train was always a welcome distraction.
From our pews we children would silently urge the engineer to blow the train’s whistle, and when he did, the preacher would pause, look out the south windows, and wait before continuing with his evening sermon.
Even this brief respite was welcome.
Congratulations to Mark and Linda Stone on the centennial of their building, and to Melissa Southern and John Hagerla who have made the depot such a charming place.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who should have paid much better attention to the many sermons he should have heard.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 16, 2015.

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