New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, March 3, 2024

A walking tour of downtown Kerrville -- from 1956

Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital, around 1956.
Note the gas station on the ground floor
-- and the heights of the two different wings of the hospital.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Schreiner Company
How about a bit of time travel?

Last week, we had a walking tour of Kerrville in 1907, thanks to some postcards published that year by Charles Apelt, of Comfort, Texas.

This week we time travel to downtown Kerrville in 1956 – courtesy of Starr Bryden, a pioneer Kerr County photographer. He was active here for almost 40 years, arriving before World War I, and working in photography until the late 1950s.

700 Block of Water Street
In 1956, Kerr County celebrated its centennial. Bryden took photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County that year, and offered them for sale. Many of the photographs were paired with historical images, some of which Bryden had taken himself, decades earlier.

Though the 1956 images were taken 5 years before I was born (at the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital), I recognize most of the buildings and many of the businesses in the photos. The downtown Kerrville I remember from my childhood is shown in this series of images.

from atop the Blue Bonnet
There are two ‘birds-eye views’ in the series, both taken from atop the two tallest buildings downtown. The Blue Bonnet Hotel, at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets stood eight stories tall; the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital, at the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets, had two different levels in 1956; one section of the building was six stories tall; the other was only five. Bryden took his photograph from the five-story part of the building.

from atop the SPMH
There are two clues to help determine when these photographs were taken. First, over the 700 block of Water Street, a banner can be seen which advertises the 1956 Kerr County centennial celebrations. This banner can be seen in both of the ‘birds-eye’ views of downtown Kerrville.

What both of these ‘birds-eye’ photos show is an incredibly busy downtown area. In those days, most of the offices and stores serving our community were located in a several-block radius from the Kerr County courthouse. The ‘downtown’ area was formed by the ‘T’ intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets, and extended up Sidney Baker and Earl Garrett streets to about North/Schreiner Street.

(Our print shop, in the 600 block of Water Street, in those days, was not considered to be in ‘downtown,’ separated from that fabled area, as it remains today, by Sidney Baker Street.)

800 block of Water St
Included in the series is a photo of the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital. In it, you can see the gas station that was on the bottom floor, at the corner of the building. The idea behind this, and other commercial ventures in the building, was to help offset the costs of running a rural hospital. One feature of that gas station many people remember: it had long, flexible ducts that would pump air conditioning into your car while the service station attendant filled up your car.

The photograph of the Schreiner Company, which was at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets, includes a photograph of a Kerrville police car.

Thompson Drive
I suppose my favorite photograph from this series is taken on Thompson Drive looking east toward the downtown area. Three major structures are shown in the photograph: the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital (built in 1949); the Blue Bonnet Hotel (1927); and the Charles Schreiner Bridge (1935), with its steel trusses above the roadway. None of these important structures exist today.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who, like Starr Bryden, has been on top of the roofs of many of the buildings in downtown Kerrville, though not with permission. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead  February 29, 2024.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Postcards of downtown Kerrville -- from 1907

The Charles Schreiner Mansion, 1907.
Click on any image below to enlarge.

In 1907, Charles Apelt, of Comfort, Texas, published a series of postcards featuring buildings from downtown Kerrville.

They’re interesting because they show Kerrville as it was just before automobiles became common here, in 1908, and because they have been ‘colorized,’ making black and white photographs look like full color images. The postcards were printed in Germany.

I suppose Mr. Apelt hoped to sell these postcards locally, though the ‘printed in Germany’ part of the postcard annoyed at least one local printer. J. E. Grinstead, who had a print shop in conjunction with his newspaper, the Kerrville Mountain Sun, published a series of postcards about the same time. These were labeled ‘NOT printed in Germany.’

Regardless of that little controversy, these postcards offer a small walking tour of downtown Kerrville as it appeared 117 years ago, though it’s a walking tour with a few hiccups.

Two of the postcards feature the ‘Charles Schreiner Residence,’ known as the Charles Schreiner Mansion today, and can be found in the 200 block of Earl Garrett Street. Charles Schreiner’s wife, Magdalena, had passed away in 1905, and Capt. Schreiner never remarried. By 1907, the big house must have seemed awfully empty.

The colorized postcards give a few hints about the home, including the color of the window blinds in the right-hand tower, and the landscaping in the small front yard. 

A closer look at the two picture postcards of the residence shows changes, too, aside from the snowfall – the trees and shrubs in the front yard have changed, and the power line pole is missing. More on that, later.

At the end of Earl Garrett Street, where the pavilion overlooking Louise Hays Park stands today, and just downstream, once stood a mill. It milled grains, sawed lumber, and even generated electricity. Originally built by Christian Dietert, by 1907 it was owned by Charles Schreiner. Some of the original mill structure along the river is still down there – and might be the oldest man-made structure in downtown Kerrville.

At the corner of Water and Sidney Baker Street once stood the St. Charles Hotel, which was still a two-story frame building in 1907. (It would later be renovated and enlarged.) This postcard shows an electric power pole right in front of the hotel – which may have been added to the photograph, later, to demonstrate how modern downtown Kerrville was at the time. I say this because there are no wires shown on this electric power pole – or the one shown in front of the Schreiner home.

The 1907 Kerr County Courthouse was the third courthouse built for our county. It stood in front of the present-day courthouse, in the lawn area, and wasn’t replaced until the late 1920s by the present building. One reliable source says this courthouse was infested with bats – and could be smelled from blocks away.

The postcard showing the wool wagon at ‘Chas. Schreiners warehouses’ was likely taken about where the Arcadia Live! Theater stands today, looking toward Sidney Baker Street. I think it’s mislabeled. The wool warehouse was actually across the street, in the parking lot next to today’s city hall.

Lastly, there’s a 1907 postcard showing a game being played at the West Texas Fairgrounds, which stood between today’s Guadalupe Street and Junction Highway. The caption reads “Foot Ball Game…” But given the two backboards and the basketball hoops, I’m pretty sure the teams are playing basketball. In 1907, basketball would have been less than 20 years old, but the game was already popular in Texas.

The haste with which these postcards were published – and the mistakes in grammar, spelling, and even descriptions – suggest, at least to me, something was lost in translation when they were produced in Germany.

Another good reason to shop locally.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who still mails postcards to friends when he travels. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead February 22, 2023.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)

Sunday, February 18, 2024

The men who built the Kerrville State Park in 1936

Company 1823, Civilian Conservation Corps, the men who
built the Kerrville State Park in 1936.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Recently, my friend Linda Stone created a display at the Kerr County courthouse telling the story of the Kerrville State Park. It is inside the old portion of the courthouse, just past the front doors.

The park is known today as the Kerrville-Schreiner Park; it’s no longer a state park, but is owned and operated by the City of Kerrville.  Not many people know its story, so I’m thankful to Ms. Stone for making such an attractive display at the courthouse.

Many of the state parks in Texas were created, in part, by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), including nearby parks such as Garner State Park, Blanco State Park, and others, more distant from us, like Indian Lodge at Fort Davis State Park and the giant swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park.

Did you know that the Kerrville State Park was also created by the CCC?

Created during the Great Depression, the CCC provided employment when few jobs were available.  Over 50,000 Texans joined the CCC, and constructed many of the parks we know today.

As early as 1934, Kerrville was hoping to have a park built here. A committee made up of Kerrville mayor Richard Holdsworth, W. A. Fawcett, Hal Peterson, E. H. Prescott, and J. L. Pampell began work.  They met with the chairman of the State Parks Board, D. E. Colp, in the summer of 1934.

The plan for the park

They also had a task: find a tract of 500 acres or more, lying on both sides of a stream, and easily accessible by a state highway. 

A suitable location was identified and approved by State and Federal government representatives, yet a challenge emerged: negotiations with the landowner for the purchase of the property, situated near Kerrville with a half-mile stretch along the Guadalupe River, reached an impasse. The property owner would not agree to sell.

By October 1934, this issue had been resolved, although specifics remain vague. The property in question was the James Holloman homestead, found on the opposite side of the river from the Veterans Administration hospital. Its acquisition was made possible through a community fundraising effort with a goal of $8,000. Additionally, the City of Kerrville contributed $2,500 in cash, and Kerr County raised $5,000 through bond issuance.

By December 1934, the tract had been surveyed, and plans were submitted to Washington for approval. This step was necessary to allocate a workforce of 200 Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) members to undertake the project.

By April 1935, Kerrville had successfully secured the backing of both Texas senators and its representative in Congress.

The efforts to garner political support evidently paid off; in December 1935 it was reported that 225 CCC members were set to begin work on the park. They would be accommodated in pre-built cabins and barracks upon their arrival.

Company 1823 of the CCC, established on June 28, 1933, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, was initially sent to Abilene, Texas, that December to work on the Abilene State Park at Buffalo Gap near Lake Abilene. Subsequently, the company underwent reorganization to become an all African-American unit, composed entirely of World War I veterans.

This company made its way to Kerrville on December 1, 1935.

"After a period of camp on the park area began. The entire park area was cleared of undergrowth, details were assigned to moving and planting trees and shrubs, the entire park area was fenced, and a beautiful entrance to the park built of stone pillars and native wood logs was completed." The company also constructed a caretaker's house, a stone water tower, a stone amphitheater, roadways, and made various other enhancements.

Educational courses were made available to the members of the company, and religious services took place every Sunday. Reports detail the company's involvement in community activities, including performances for the public both in the town and at the camp.

Some of the work completed by Company 1823 remains visible at what is now known as Kerrville-Schreiner Municipal Park. This park continues to attract thousands of visitors annually.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys walks with his family at Kerrville-Schreiner Park. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead February 15, 2024.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)

Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Kerrville photography of A. E. Self -- from the early 1900s.

Mountain Street (now Earl Garrett Street), November 1908,
by Alonzo E. Self.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County make up an important part of my collection of historical items from our area, and they’re probably the items I most like to receive and study.

I’ve written elsewhere about early photographers here. It turns out, though, I’ve never written about one early photographer, though several of his images are important parts of my collection.

A. E. Self storefront, Mountain Street
There were many photographers working here at the turn of the last century, including Ellen O’Neal, who had a portrait studio at the turn of the century on Kerrville’s Main Street. Mrs. O’Neal also ventured beyond her studio and took images of the countryside, some at considerable effort, climbing hills to take photos of remote places, like Bandera Pass and Camp Verde.

Spencer Hinsdale Huntington was also had a photography studio here around 1901, at the intersection of Water and Sidney Baker, where the municipal parking building stands today. In addition to portraits, he also took shots outdoors, often along the river.

Interior, Self's Jewelry
Jesse Edward Grinstead, the publisher of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, also produced a significant number of early Kerr County photographs. Arriving here in 1899, he published many of his photographs in his newspaper, and also as postcards.

Eugene Thornton Butt, the middle son of Florence and Charles Butt, was an amateur photographer, and several of his early photographs document his family and the start of what is now H-E-B Grocery Company. His family arrived here around 1905.

Starr Bryden, of course, has received attention in many of my columns, for his photography work from around 1915 to 1956. 

But the photographer I’d like to focus upon this week is Alonzo E. Self.

Emma and Lon Self
Mr. Self was a jeweler, who also sold and repaired watches, sold musical instruments, and offered film developing services. He and his family arrived in Kerrville around 1903.

That many of these photographers were working at about the same time is interesting. Photography was becoming more mainstream and popular here, and several of the photographers offered film developing as a side business, like Mr. Self, Gene Butt and Starr Bryden.

Of course, at the turn of the last century, the photos show a very different Kerrville than what we see today. There are no automobiles in these images – those really didn’t arrive here until around 1908 – so there are many photos of horses and various wagons, buggies, and buckboards. 

Self was born in Indiana in 1865. Around 1889, he married Emma Teaford. 

800 Block of Water Street, ca. 1908
In 1903, Mr. Self placed an advertisement in the “Keystone’ magazine, a trade magazine, looking for a jewelry business in the “South or West.” A jeweler from Kerrville, Charles S. Kyle, responded with details about his business, which was for sale, and information about Kerrville.

Mr. Self and his family moved to Kerrville and purchased Kyle’s store, which was housed in a small frame building on Earl Garrett Street, between the Masonic Building (now home to Turtle Creek Olives and Vines) and the Weston Building (now home to Francisco’s Restaurant).

He moved his business later, in the 1920s, into a new building near today’s Arcadia Live! Theater on Water Street. For more than 45 years he and his family operated that business here.

Self served on the Kerrville city council, and also on the Kerrville school board. He was active in the Methodist Church here, and also was a long-time Mason, and took leadership positions in both organizations.

Of the photographs in my collection taken by Mr. Self which I most admire are an image of an incredibly busy Earl Garrett Street (then called Mountain Street), a photograph of his first business building, and various photos of downtown Kerrville.

A. E. Self was a good photographer, and I’m thankful to the many different folks who’ve shared his images with me. They tell an important part of our story here.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native whose first camera was a 127 Kodak Hawkeye Flashfun, which was manufactured from 1961 to 1967. Of course, he still has it. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead February 8, 2024.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)

Sunday, February 4, 2024

The Living Messenger for Kerr County Heroes

Close-up image of the Kerr County War Memorial, 2024.

Mistakes happen, but sometimes a mistake becomes a remarkable thing, especially when combined with grace and humor.

As a separate project, I’ve been studying the men from Kerr County who gave their lives for our country. Most of the stories are very sad, mainly because the men who died were so very young. They were sons, some were husbands, and some were fathers. They left behind families who carried their grief for their fallen hero for the rest of their lives.

There is one name on the Kerr County War Memorial which was added in error. Dempsey E. Ballard, the second name listed among the men from here who died in World War II, did not die in that war. In fact, he attended the dedication ceremony of the war memorial here, May 1992.

I was at that dedication ceremony. I remember Ballard speaking to the crowd.

He opened with a touch of humor: “It’s a pleasure to be here – and that should really have a ring of sincerity.” This brought laughter from the crowd.

But then he continued, saying it was fortunate that his name accidentally ended up on the memorial.

“These heroes have a messenger to relay their story,” he said. He added that he remembered many of the men listed on the monument. “Let us not be lulled by current events. Those who would be conquerors respect only superior strength.”

A search through old newspapers finds many mentions of Dempsey Ballard’s name. He wrote for the Tivy Tatler, the student newspaper of Tivy High School. In addition to his bylines there, he was often mentioned in stories about student life at the high school. He was apparently a popular and serious student. He attended Texas A&M after graduation, though his time there was interrupted by the war.

Dempsey Ballard was an aviator in World War II, eventually reaching the rank of Captain. News stories from February, 1945 relay this story:

“Relatives of Dempsey Ballard have received this letter from his commanding officer:

“By now the War Department will have informed you that Dempsey is missing in action. On Christmas Day [1944], Dempsey led a mission to dive bomb and strafe enemy targets. The mission was very successful as are all of his missions, but as he headed for home base, he began to have trouble with his propeller. Because of the difficulty, he was forced to land his pane behind enemy lines. The rest of his flight had radio communications with him all the time. He landed safely and told the rest of the flight he had not been injured and was alright.

“A member of the flight, and a friend of his described him as ‘cool as a cucumber.’ It is my feeling and the feeling of the entire squadron that if anyone can make it OK while in enemy territory, Dempsey is the person who can. Because of his past performances, we all have a great faith in him.

“Dempsey is the type of person who inspires others to have confidence in him. That is why he became a flight leader, and a Captain so soon. Although he doesn’t know it – he became a Captain on December 26 for demonstrating outstanding leadership in combat. He has been awarded the Air Medal and four Oak Leaf Clusters for Meritorious Achievement while in aerial flight. His extraordinary achievements merit even higher awards.

“He was dressed warmly, and will not suffer from adverse weather conditions, if any. It is difficult to write of Dempsey’s misfortune, but we are still hopeful and have faith as to the favorable outcome. The high regard with which the squadron and I hold Dempsey cannot be properly described. We respect him and like him an know that he is one of the most outstanding pilots and officers in this theatre of operations.”

Ballard was captured by the Germans, and held prisoner for the duration of the war. He survived and came back home.

Years later, in 1992, when he was told his name had been added to the memorial by mistake, he was asked about the error.

“Well, by golly,” he is reported to have said. “I guess it will be applicable someday.”

Ballard’s talk at the dedication ceremony is one I still remember almost 32 years later. In so many words, he said: If these men could speak, this is what they might say. I am their messenger. 

Dempsey Ballard is still with us – still a messenger for Kerr County’s fallen heroes – and residing in San Antonio at an assisted living facility.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who studies Kerr County history.  This column originally appeared on the Kerr County Lead February 1, 2024.

Thanks for reading. This newsletter is free, but not cheap to send. To show your support, forward it to someone who’d like it, or buy one of my books.  Thanks so much. (And thanks to all of you who bought books this week!)



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