Sunday, May 20, 2018

He dreamt of a library for Kerrville

800 block of Water Street, downtown Kerrville, circa mid-1940s
I was going through old photos of Water Street the other day when I noticed a name on a building. Noticing that name led me to discover an important but forgotten part of our community's history.
The photo, taken sometime in the early 1950s, shows the 800 block of Water Street. The photographer was standing in the intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets, looking up the block toward Washington Street. It was taken in the late afternoon, judging by the shadows.
Opposite the Blue Bonnet Hotel stood a series of buildings. Most are now gone, or have been heavily remodeled.
Detail, showing "Walther"
On the Earl Garrett street corner stood Chaney's, and next door was the Social Club, where pool and dominos were available, then First State Bank, and then the building with the name on it. It was a two-story brick building with an impressive facade. At the very crown was the name "Walther."
I asked my friends Jake and Jeremy Walther about it, and it turns out they were as surprised as I to find their family name on an old downtown Kerrville building; they have no known connection with the person who built the building.
The Walther Building is gone now, and in its place is the old switching office of the Kerrville Telephone Company. The Walther Building stood between today's Water Street Antiques and the Fore real estate office.
Loving a mystery, I decided to investigate: Who was this Walther?
The Walther Building was built by George and Geraldena Walther, who arrived in Kerrville around 1900.
George William Walther was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1862; his mother was French and his father, German, and so young George grew up speaking those two languages in addition to English. As a youth George Walther was an apprentice to a silversmith in Boston, and continued in that career in Paris. In 1886 he returned to New England, and in 1888 he married Geraldena Sanstedt in Massachusetts. They had four children together, though two passed away in early childhood, and another, Gerald Walther, passed away as a young man in Kerrville, perishing in a fire at the old Rock Drug Store. The surviving child, Norma, married W. C. Fawcett.
Like many who found their way to Kerrville, George Walther came here for his health. While the news accounts don't specify the illness Walther suffered, it was most likely tuberculosis or something similar. The climate here was said to help with that disease, and many Kerrville families can trace their arrival here to an ancestor who was ill, seeking health.
Not long after arriving here, the Walthers purchased a small fruit store and confectionery from C. S. Hough. The couple worked in the business together, and it prospered. They added a restaurant and catering business. Things were looking good for them.
In 1902, George's father died, and with the inheritance George received, he invested in Kerrville real estate.
An advertisement from 1922
It was in 1908 when the Walthers made Kerrville history. In that year, they opened the Kerrville Sunshine Library, as a part of the International Sunshine Society. It was the first public library in Kerrville, and it was housed in a "recreation hall" for young people, which included "box ball," which is game similar to "four square," dominoes and pool.
During its peak, the Kerrville Sunshine Library had 1800 volumes and 15 bookcases. Walther spent $50 per year on periodicals, including three humor weeklies from Europe: Punch, from England; Le Rire from France; and Fliegende Blatter from Germany. Those titles were meant, I'm sure, to appeal to young people.
For decades George Walther was a passionate advocate for a community library for our community. In 1927, at the urging of Walther, a committee of local leaders met to plan for a library. Unfortunately, with the arrival of the Great Depression, those plans never got off the ground.
"We want a real library," Walther told his community, in a 1927 talk, "a distinctive type of building of an attractive and substantial appearance; a large reading room with reference books for school children, as well as novels."
Forty years later, Howard and Mary Butt built such a library for our community. That gift may have had its beginnings when they were young people in Kerrville, visited the Walther's establishment, and read a book at his Sunshine Library.
George Walther died in 1931, before his dream of a community library could be accomplished. Geraldena Walther passed away in 1940.
The Kerrville Library Association was formed in 1941, and by 1954 a free library was formed, the Kerr County Public Library, housed in the ground floor of the Charles Schreiner home. In 1958 the Memorial Library opened on Water Street, and in 1967 the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library was dedicated.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who started first grade the same year the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library opened. Talk about good timing! This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 19,2018.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Chester Nimitz was from Kerrville

Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz with his sister, Dora Nimitz Reagan, in Kerrville, October 1945
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz with his sister, Dora Nimitz Reagan, in Kerrville, October 1945
It might surprise some readers, but Kerrville can stake a very good claim as Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s boyhood home.
Whenever one thinks of the admiral’s early beginnings, one generally thinks of Fredericksburg – Nimitz was born there, and they have the wonderful Nimitz Hotel on Main Street which now anchors the National Museum of the Pacific War.
According to Bob Bennett, “the future admiral was born at Fredericksburg on February 24, 1885, the son of Chester B. and Anna Henke Nimitz. Both parents descended from the sturdy German pioneers who came to Texas with Baron John O. Meusebach in 1846 and founded Fredericksburg.”
Here’s the part you might not have known: Anna, and her second husband William Nimitz (brother of her late husband) moved to Kerrville when young Chester was about 5. Chester attended Kerrville public schools, entering “the year the new building was completed and named in honor of Capt. Joseph A. Tivy.” His classmates in Kerrville included Charles Lockett, H. E. Williams, Arthur Mueller and L. A. Enderle, Mrs. R. A. Shelburne, Mrs. Aimee Garrett Schmerbeck and Miss Harriet Garrett.
Chester Nimitz at Annapolis
Chester Nimitz at
In 1901, several weeks before Nimitz was scheduled to graduate from Tivy, he received a congressional appointment to attend the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He graduated from Annapolis in 1905, seventh in his class.
From there he had a fantastic career with the navy, but he’s probably most famous for accepting the formal surrender of the Japanese aboard the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay September 2, 1945, ending World War II.
So, from birth to about age 5, Nimitz lived in Fredericksburg; from age 5 until about 16, Nimitz lived in Kerrville. Fredericksburg might have been his birthplace, but one could argue Kerrville raised him, educated him, and helped prepare him for his place in history.
Kerrville even gave Chester Nimitz a nickname: "Cotton," for his light-colored hair.
Nimitz’s family came to Kerrville to run the St. Charles Hotel which was once on the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets, where the former Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital used to stand. Today the corner is part of Peterson Plaza.
Nimitz’s story might have been different if there hadn’t been a “surplus of army cadets from Texas in 1901.”
Here is Nimitz’s own account of what happened:
Chester Nimitz and his family in Kerrville
Nimitz and his family in Kerrville
“I was born in Fredericksburg on February 24, 1885, and, after a few years sojourn at that place, moved to Kerrville, where I attended the public schools and from which place I secured my appointment to the naval academy. My choice of the naval academy was largely accidental because my aspirations had been toward West Point, primarily because the army was then well-represented in my part of Texas and very little was known of the navy. Lack of vacancies at West Point and impending competitive examinations for the naval academy appointment settled the matter for me. I was fortunate enough to get the appointment.”
During his midshipmen days, his “sea-going aspirations were very nearly obliterated by a Sunday excursion across the bay to Kent while in one of Capt. Burgis’ sailing boats. I got frightfully seasick and must confess to some chilling enthusiasm for the sea.”
An humble beginning for a man so honored by his country for his naval service. On December 4, 1944, by act of Congress, the grade of Fleet Admiral of the United States Navy was created. The following day Franklin Roosevelt nominated Nimitz to this position, which was approved by the Senate. Nimitz took the oath of that office on December 19, 1944.
After the war, Nimitz made official visits to Kerrville and Fredericksburg.
Nimitz Day parade, Kerrville, October 13, 1945
Nimitz Day parade, Kerrville,
October 13, 1945
15,000 people celebrated in Kerrville on October 13, 1945 when the community which raised him celebrated “Nimitz Homecoming Day.” During the celebration, Tivy High School presented him with the diploma he’d earned but never received when he left for Annapolis.
After the war, Nimitz served as Chief of Naval Operations, administered the plebiscite that would determine the fate of Jammu and Kashmir for the governments of India and Pakistan, and served as a regent of University of California from 1948-1956.
He died February 20, 1966, and is buried in California.
Kerrville remembered him as one of her own by naming an elementary school after him.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville wishes all moms a very Happy Mother's Day.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 12, 2018.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Remembering James Avery

James Avery at 95
James Avery, 95th birthday party, December 2016
The last time I visited with James Avery was at his 95th birthday party, in late 2016, given by his wife Estela at the Alegria Barn, near their home on the Fredericksburg Highway. It was a fun event, with music, good food, and a crowd of well-wishers. Jim, though frailer than the previous times we'd visited, was kind and thoughtful. I brought him a copy of a late 1960s-era James Avery Craftsman catalog my father had printed.
I first met Mr. Avery at our family's print shop, when I was a boy. He was a focused printing customer, who knew exactly what he wanted, and several generations of my family worked hard to make sure we met his expectations. He was always kind to me, and to everyone at our print shop, and I have fond memories of him.
James Avery and B-26 Crew
The crew of Avery's B-26, which flew
44 bombing missions over Europe in World War II
Homer James Avery first arrived in Texas in 1943, as a 21-year-old Army Air Corps Cadet, when he traveled by train from Illinois to Lackland AFB in San Antonio. As a child, Avery had moved around a lot, between Michigan and Illinois, and after a false start at Michigan State, and a year living with his grandparents in Iowa, he enrolled in the ROTC program at the University of Illinois. He learned of a new department at the University of Illinois, "Industrial Design," and it was Avery's "entrance into the field of design," according to a talk he gave in 2007.
During World War II, in March, 1943, Avery was sent to Lackland. Later, he went to Fort Stockton for primary pilot training, San Angelo for basic training, and on to Lubbock, where he earned his wings in January, 1944.
After Lubbock, Avery was sent to Laughlin Field in Del Rio, where he learned to fly the Martin Marauder, the B-26. The B-26 had a bad reputation, since there were a lot of accidents, especially on take-offs and landings.
Avery met his crew in Shreveport, Louisiana, and they were assigned a new B-26, which they flew from Florida to England, by way of the Caribbean, South America, Ascension Island, Liberia, Dakar, Morocco, and then Wales. The trip took nine days.
Together they flew 44 bombing missions in Europe from bases in France.
After the war, Avery returned to the University of Illinois to complete his degree.
After graduation, Avery was offered a position at the University of Iowa to set up a new Industrial Design program in the Fine Arts department. He was only 24 years old.
Two years later, he moved on to the University of Colorado, where he taught in the Fine Arts school for five years.
During this time personal issues caused Avery to become very involved with his church, and with campus youth ministries at the University of Colorado. While in Colorado, he met a young woman from Kerrville, Sally Ranger, who became his second wife in 1953.
Together they moved to Minneapolis, where Avery taught at the University of Minnesota. A very cold winter there helped them decide to move back to Texas.
The couple arrived in Kerrville in June, 1954. In his in-laws' garage, James Avery built a workshop, putting up Celotex on the interior walls, building a workbench, and setting up a polishing lathe. It was there, with a few hand tools, pieces of sterling silver and copper, James Avery started making jewelry.
He'd had some experience making jewelry during  his days at the University of Colorado, where some of his students asked if they could design and make jewelry. Avery went to the library, found a book, and he and his students learned how to make jewelry together.
"Designing was not a problem" Avery said, years ago. "Fabricating was."
For the first three years of jewelry making in Kerrville, Avery made every piece himself by hand. He even had a catalog printed, by General Moran, who'd set up a print shop at his house on Jackson Road. Francis "Fuzzy" Swayze took the photos for that first catalog. Prices for the pieces ranged from around $2.50 to $10.00.
"Since I had to make by hand every piece shown in the catalog," Avery said, "I fortunately didn't get swamped with orders."
James Avery designs on Herring Printing Notepaper
Avery designs on some
very attractive notepaper.
The first year's sales were around $5,500; the second, $7,500; the third, over $10,000.
In 1957, Avery hired his first employee, Fred Garcia. "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for Fred and the wonderful people who have helped me these past almost 55 years," Avery remarked in 2007.
The first store outside of Kerrville opened in Dallas in 1973. Today there are around 80 stores across the United States, and over 3,500 employees.
Not too many years ago I stopped by Mr. Avery's office in Kerrville. It turned out to be the last time I saw him there. He was in his nineties at the time.
I stepped into his office and did not see him, but I heard a quiet tapping in a small adjoining room. There I found him at his workbench, a small hammer in hand, working on a piece of silver jewelry in a vise. Hand tools and a small saw were on the worktable. Before him there was a piece of paper with a pencil-drawn design. A bright light shone on the piece, and was reflected on Avery's face. He was smiling.
That's how I'll remember him: At work, alone, at his workbench, quietly making jewelry.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who tries each week to tell the story of our community  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 5, 2018.

Joe has published two books about Kerrville and Kerr County.  The first is sold out, but a few copies of the second book are still available.  CLICK HERE for more information.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

At least one of the tunnels in downtown Kerrville

Kerrville Texas Ice Plant
The tunnel in the basement of the old Kerrville Ice Plant.
Click on any image to enlarge.
If you were to drive down Washington Street, toward the river, cross Water street, enter the parking area of One Schreiner Center, and walk to the edge of the bluff, you'd find a little deck-like area, overlooking the river. My long-time friend Ed Hamilton owns the property and has spruced up the deck, adding a wall and a guardrail several years ago. It offers a good view of the dam in Louise Hays Park, of the Sidney Baker Street bridge, and, if you're not too afraid of heights, a glimpse of the crumbling old millworks below.
Kerrville Texas Ice Plant
Kerrville Ice Plant
note boy on
window ledge.
The deck-like structure is all that remains of the Kerrville Ice Plant, which was originally a three-story building. What most don't realize as they stand there: the building's old basement is directly beneath them.
Further, a 75-foot long tunnel extends from the basement toward Washington Street, and along the tunnel, to the left, is a 600 square foot room, far beneath the surface.
Recently Mr. Hamilton had a team of engineers check out the old structure, and they took a lot of photos of the basement, the tunnel, and the hidden room. Mr. Hamilton was kind enough to share them with all of us.
Just a note, adventure seekers: the basement has been sealed up, again, after these photos were taken. Those seeking to climb around down there should probably call 911 before starting. I think the only people who could rescue you from the old basement today are members of the Kerrville Fire Department.
Kerrville Texas Ice Plant by Bryden
Mill Dam and Ice Plant
In the mid-1970s, when I was a middle-school student, there was a fairly safe way to get into the building, and I've been inside the basement more than once, most recently in the 1990s. That (kind of) safe entrance was sealed up many years ago.
The recent photos show the building as I remember it, with debris and dirt scattered on the floor, and with bare concrete walls and columns. There's a lot more graffiti than I remember, but it's been decades since I was down there.
According to an article by Michael Bowlin, published in the February 10th, 1991 edition of this newspaper, the ice plant building was constructed during the time Seaborn Eastland owned the mill. In the early 1920s, Eastland bought the mill and tore down most of the buildings, except the ice plant, which was a three-story red brick building atop the basement still standing today. The Eastlands leased or sold the building to a San Antonio firm in the late 1950s, and operations continued as a cold storage facility until 1965. The building was abandoned in 1965 and ordered torn down in 1968 by order of the fire marshal.
Kerrville Texas Ice Plant
The basement today
While the upper stories were torn down, the basement, tunnel and inner room remained.
In the 1980s a historical marker was dedicated near the site, to commemorate the old Dietert Mill, traces of which can still be seen below the ice plant basement.
Kerrville Texas Ice Plant
Another view of the basement
In the days before most homes had a refrigerator, ice was an important commodity. Homes displayed a blue diamond in their front window, to indicate to the ice company how much ice they needed.  The ice was delivered and placed in the icebox by men with strong backs.
The ice plant also did a brisk business during hot Texas summers selling chilled watermelons.
While I don't have a clear memory of the old Kerrville Ice Plant, I do have a childhood memory of exploring its basement with other free-range kids my age. I'm thankful to Ed Hamilton for sharing these photographs with us, and for the memories the photographs brought to me.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who spent a lot of his childhood in the downtown area of Kerrville. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 28, 2018.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The F5 Tornado that hit Kerrville's neighbor, Rocksprings, Texas, in 1927

Rocksprings Texas F5 Tornado April 1927
Rocksprings, Texas, after the F5 Tornado crashed through town on April 12, 1927
Ninety-one years ago, on Tuesday, April 12, 1927, a huge F5 tornado struck Rocksprings, Texas, killing over 70 people, and injuring more than 200, casualties totaling roughly 1/3 of the population of Rocksprings at the time. The number of fatalities make it the third deadliest tornado in Texas.
Of the community's roughly 247 buildings, only a dozen remained standing after the storm hit.
Rocksprings, for those who might not know, is the county seat of Edwards County, which borders Kerr County to the west; it's about 77 miles by car from Kerrville to Rocksprings.
I'm thankful to my business neighbor and fellow history enthusiast Dayton Baublit for reminding me of the anniversary of the Rocksprings disaster, and for loaning me photographs of its aftermath.
April 12, 1927 started out as a normal Texas hill country day, though a storm was building on the horizon. That evening, at dusk, as families gathered around their dinner tables, the skies turned dark and the electricity went out. Several of the surviving families mentioned the lights going out as the storm hit. In five minutes the tornado had leveled most of Rocksprings.
The tornado touched down northwest of Rocksprings and traveled toward the southeast. When it crossed Rocksprings, it was nearly one mile wide, according to the National Weather Service website. It tore through the town, and continued on for at least 35 miles, and perhaps as far as 65.
Getting help to Rocksprings was difficult because the roads were not like our modern highways. Traveling to Rocksprings in those days was a difficult journey over rough roads, in vehicles not noted for their smooth rides.
Rocksprings Texas F5 Tornado April 1927
Another view of the destruction
Neighboring communities responded to the tragedy. According to the San Antonio Express of April 14, 1927, "Uvalde, Del Rio, San Antonio and Kerrville citizens organized relief parties upon receipt of news of the disaster and started out over almost impassable roads, under most unfavorable weather conditions, to reach the stricken village. It was necessary to cross and re-cross the Nueces River which winds its way through the mountains, and absence of bridges on the rocky, mountainous road, made fording the stream extremely hazardous."
With so many of the buildings destroyed, it was imperative to get the injured to hospitals, many of them to hospitals in San Antonio.
Most of the injured were carried to nearby Camp Wood, about 30 miles south, because it had the nearest railroad, the Uvalde and Northern Railroad, and sent by train first to Uvalde, and then to hospitals in San Antonio. Others were flown to San Antonio via the Kelly Field aerial ambulance service, which provided 10 relief planes. Other planes from Fort Sam Houston and Brooks Field were involved in relief work, as well.
The dead were buried in the local cemetery, their graves blasted out of the stony site with dynamite. Families were buried together, but family lots could not be designated. There was no local undertaker, and coffins had to be brought in from other communities.
Sixteen bodies buried in the cemetery were never identified, and rest under a marker which reads "Unknown/16 Graves."
The San Antonio Express of April 14, 1927, tells of the survivors:
"Not only do they have no homes to go to, but survivors of the cyclone are without [a change of] clothes. Nearly every man and woman has blood on his or her clothes.
"Having partially completed their humanitarian work, after 24 hours ministering to the dead and dying, the residents too tired to further carry on stood in the streets and cried Wednesday night as darkness settled over the stricken town."
The story of the Rocksprings tornado is a story of tragedy, but also a story of bravery and hope. Countless acts of bravery and charity were freely given in the days following the disaster. Rocksprings rebuilt after the tornado, and while that day cannot be forgotten, the history of the community since then has been one of families helping families, of economic growth, and of service to others.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys visiting with his friends from Rocksprings.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 21, 2018.



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