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Monday, March 14, 2016

The proposed gravel pit at Split Rock

Split Rock, Kerrville, around 1905.
Photo by J. E. Grinstead; the young man is his son, Doyle
Split Rock as it appeared in 2011, when I finally found it,
thanks to Ruth and Frank Keil
It doesn't look like much today, and could easily be overlooked since it resembles any of a thousand boulders which lounge beside the Guadalupe River between Kerrville and Center Point. But there was a time when any schoolchild in Kerrville would have known exactly where the old pile of limestone stood. It was a landmark. Postcards were made showing its image and hundreds of photographs were taken there -- often showing groups of people posing while standing atop the boulder. It was a place people visited, where they had picnics, where they snapped photos.
Today it is in the way of progress, and could possibly find its way onto the asset ledger of the Martin Marietta company, recorded there as several tons of limestone to be processed and sold. Progress seldom stops for old landmarks.
The "Split Rock" property which has been so much in the news lately, where an out-of-town company proposes to build a sand and gravel pit over numerous objections, was actually named for an old rock which, as the name suggests, features a large split. There once was a tree that grew in the split, a live oak. People thought the tree split the rock, though I think an acorn would have found purchase much easier in a pre-existing split.
It was a landmark for two reasons: because of the split (of course), but also because it marked where to cross the river.
Before there were roads, there were trails. River crossings needed markers. Split Rock served that purpose.
I have a theory about our local highways: Many of them follow, roughly, the roads used by our area's early settlers. The settlers often traveled roads used by those who came before them, utilizing routes used by Mexican and Spanish colonists. And those colonists often followed trails used by those who came before them, the various Native American tribes who passed through our area. It just makes sense to travel from Point A to Point B along the easiest route, and if a trail had been blazed, why make a new one?
If my theory is correct, the old Split Rock may have been used as a landmark for a very long time since it marks a spot where the road crosses from the north bank of the Guadalupe to the south. It could have been used before there were settlers in our area.
Even when the railroad came to Kerrville, Split Rock was important, giving its name to a stop on the line.
Why then has it been forgotten?
The engineers who built Texas Highway 27 chose not to cross the river near Split Rock, moving the highway nearer to the old rails of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad, and about 1500 feet uphill from the landmark. The road which once passed Split Rock is no more, but the road across the river remains -- Wharton Road. A cut into the north side of the river bank still exists, though faintly. Its gentle slope points to Wharton Road. Wharton Road ties into the Center Point Road, which crosses the river again downstream as it connects to Center Point.
It's my opinion that was the route taken by travelers between Kerrville and Center Point many years ago; if so, all travelers into Kerrville from Comfort (or San Antonio) would have traveled the same route, and all would have passed by Split Rock.
In the first decade of the 1900s, when automobiles became popular, and cameras became more common, excursions to nearby points became popular. Split Rock was one of those popular places.
The rock must have seen a lot of traffic, too, because many of the early photographs show the rock covered with advertising, as well as the names of many of those who visited the site.
I don't know what plans the Martin Marietta company might have for the old boulder, or even if it's included in the land they hope to monetize.
There are few who would miss Split Rock, because only a few know where it is, or what it once was. But I'll miss it if it's destroyed. Perhaps only because it was so hard to find. Perhaps because of the photographs of the old rock I have in my collection. Maybe because of the smiles of the folks in those photographs.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is too nostalgic over things no one cares about. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 12, 2016.

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