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Sunday, November 17, 2019

A huge hotel in downtown Kerrville

Kerrville's Blue Bonnet Hotel, at the south corner of Water and Earl Garrett Streets,
as it appeared in 1927, when it only had five stories.
Click on any image below to enlarge.
I read a news item here this week which mentioned a proposed hotel in the downtown area, near Spring Street, opposite Water Street from the Notre Dame Catholic Church campus.
It’s hard to believe today, but there was once an eight-story hotel overlooking the Guadalupe River in downtown Kerrville, the Blue Bonnet Hotel. It stood at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets; the site is a parking lot today, just across the street from the Weston Building, home of Francisco’s Restaurant.
Schreiner Bank, right;
Blue Bonnet Hotel, left, 1927
The Blue Bonnet Hotel opened to much fanfare in on April 2, 1927, with music during the afternoon, and a dance from 9 pm until midnight.
When it opened, it had five stories and 80 rooms. “Eighty rooms,” an advertisement read, “each with a private bath. A telephone in every room. Rates: $2.00, $2.50, $3.00 and $4.00.” Every room was an “outside room,” with views of downtown Kerrville and the hills beyond. Each room also had a shower, tub, fan, and “circulating ice water.”
Building the new hotel cost $250,000 according to news reports. It was designed by Paul G. Silber & Co., architects, of San Antonio. “In designing the Kerrville Blue Bonnet, the architects have incorporated all of the modern features of hotel construction combined with the beautiful design of Mediterranean architecture. Being strictly fire-proof, the building has been designed to carry three additional stories, thus increasing its room capacity eventually to 140 rooms.”
As it appeared in the 1950s,
with eight stories
That eventuality occurred within one year, when an additional three stories were added to the building, growing from the original five stories to eight.
“In addition to the spacious, bright, well-ventilated lobby, there will be installed a garden terrace, connection with both the lobby and dining room, for the convenience of guests. From the terrace, steps will lead to the garden, which, with its delightful walks, bridges, cascades, rustic arbors and seats, will form an ideal playground for tourists.”
The hotel from south of the
Guadalupe River
The construction firm of Walsh & Burney, under the leadership of local building superintendent P. L. Ragsdale, built the hotel in about seven months, breaking ground on August 25, 1926. Several local subcontractors worked on the building, including W. B. Brown of Kerrville, who installed the plumbing, and Ally Beitel, with Kerrville Lumber Company, “who furnished every foot of lumber used in the construction of this premier hostelery.”
The president and general manager of the Blue Bonnet Hotel Company was Floyd Singleton. The company hoped to build Blue Bonnet Hotels in other cities, including San Antonio. By 1928 it hoped to have six or seven new hostelries open and operating across Texas.
From the area that would later
become Louise Hays Park
The Kerrville Blue Bonnet Hotel, when it opened, had two suites; on the fifth floor was the Governor’s Suite; on the fourth, the Blue Bonnet Suite. Both “exquisite suites, in which no detail of high class hotel facilities and service has been overlooked.”
The street level of the building had a coffee shop, barber shop, beauty parlor, and drug store, complete with soda fountain. Adjacent to the hotel lobby was a writing room, telephone booths, and two high-speed elevators (which had elevator operators, not buttons).
For all its self-proclaimed attention to detail and the comfort of its guests, the hotel lacked an important feature: air-conditioning. That absence, coupled with newer hotels, lead to the end of the Blue Bonnet Hotel.
I remember the Blue Bonnet Hotel from my childhood, when I attended Kiwanis Club meetings there with my father. Over the years I’ve collected items from the old hotel – its telephone switchboard, room keys, doors to rooms, a towel, and even a wrapped bar of soap.
In 1971, when I was about 10 years old, the building was torn down to make room for a drive-through bank for the Charles Schreiner Bank. That bank and the drive-through building are both gone today.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who visited the Blue Bonnet Hotel frequently in its final years. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 16, 2019.

I have two books available, both filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

History at the corner of Kerrville's Main and Sidney Baker streets

The Barker Building, 1950s.  Later this building was called the Kellogg Building.
This corner is currently being worked by earth-moving machines.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Several kind readers, including one who is celebrating a birthday Saturday, asked this week about the lots at the corner of Main and Sidney Baker Street, where crews recently demolished the National Car dealership buildings and began excavating for a new bank building. The sights and sounds of heavy equipment made people wonder about the history of that part of downtown.
It turns out that little corner has been the site of many important parts of our community's story.
Lots 136-143, Block 2, J. D. Brown Addition, all face Sidney Baker Street and the courthouse square across the street, and are part of the earliest map of Kerrville.
When the very first commissioners court decided to place the county seat on land owned by Joshua Brown, they specified he provide a public square of four acres, with streets leading out from the public square to be 80 feet wide.  Sidney Baker Street (then called Tchoupitoulas Street), was one of those 80 feet wide streets.
Secor Hospital, after 
1911 renovations
The lots at the corner of Sidney Baker and Main Street faced the "public square" Joshua D. Brown conveyed to the county government.  The "public square" is the courthouse square today.
The earliest use I can find for the corner of Main and Sidney Baker streets dates from the 1870s, when it was the site for one of the first public schools in our community.
J. J. Starkey, writing in the October 29, 1931 issue of the Kerrville Times, tells this story:
"Sometime in the seventies the school headquarters was located in the stone building...erected, I think by John Ochse, and continued to be used as a school house until the school term of 1882-83."
Starkey was himself a student in that school building, "under the teaching of Mrs. Retta Pottinger, an aunt of Bert C. Parsons. A brother of Mrs. Pottinger, Emerson Parsons, was principal of the school, and taught the higher grades while Mrs. Pottinger taught the beginners.
"One summer, while Mrs. Pottinger was teaching...a bolt of lightning struck the building. It came into the southeast end of the building, ran down the stove pipe, struck the floor which it tore up for a space, and threw the little school into confusion.
"It was raining hard and the doors were closed.  Bert Parsons, who was one of those attending, says the room became dark and smelled like exploded gun powder.
Secor Hospital, 1940s
"In the confusion the doors could not be found and Marion Bess, a big red-headed boy, butted out the lower sash of a window, and the school children escaped, led by Joe Spray."  The children ran toward a house across Main Street in the midst of a downpour and lightning storm.  Two girls whose desks were next to the stove were absent that day, and were thus spared. No one was hurt in the incident.
On the 1898 Sanborn map of downtown Kerrville, the rock school house building which stood right on the corner of the intersection, is marked vacant. Beside it, toward Jefferson Street, is a building marked the Hutchison House hotel, which was run by a E. B. Elam.  A newspaper ad for the hotel says "Nice cool rooms and clean comfortable beds. Table supplied with the best the market affords.  Positively no Consumptives Taken."
Secor Hospital after a snowfall
Later, in 1911, a doctor approached Captain Charles Schreiner with an idea to put a hospital in the vacant rock building.  The doctor offered to "match him dollar for dollar in the expense necessary to establish such an institution.
"Captain Schreiner was skeptical and frankly advised the doctor that he did not think such an institution could be made to pay in this out of the way place... He agreed, however, to spend $200 in improving an old stone building that had been an eye-sore to the town for years and the doctor put in upwards of five thousand in building and equipment and evolved a fairly decent little hospital. The local physicians cooperated and the institution was a success."
About 18 months after the hospital opened a fire broke out in the building, and it looked like there would be no hospital in Kerrville.  The founding doctor thought about leaving town and starting a new hospital in San Antonio.
Schreiner, by this time, had realized how important the hospital was to the community. He worked with several community business leaders and they agreed to build a modern hospital building for the doctor and renting it back to him. The first 20-room wing was completed soon after, and about a decade later the hospital expanded again.  That hospital, the Secor Sanitarium Hospital, named for Dr. William Lee Secor, operated on the corner of Main and Sidney Baker Street until Dr. Secor's death in 1937.
The Kellogg Building, 1980s
In 1920, Schreiner bought out the other investors and deeded the hospital to the City of Kerrville, while providing an endowment to help fund  health care for the "poor and unfortunate."
In October 1937, Dr. J. D. Jackson bought the building and renamed the hospital the Kerrville General Hospital; after Dr. Jackson's death, the hospital was leased by Dr. D. R. Knapp, and operated until the opening of the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital in 1949.
From 1949 until 1987 the building housed a variety of offices, and was known first as the Barker Building, and later as the Kellogg Building, and went through a number of owners.  It was torn down in May, 1987.
The lots were most recently the home of John Miller's National Car operations.  A bank building is currently under construction on part of the site.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who wishes Mary Ellen Summerlin a very happy birthday. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 9, 2019.

I have two books available, both filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Florence Butt tells her story: the very first H-E-B

Drawing of the new H-E-B grocery store being built in Kerrville, to be completed in 2020.
Something special is highlighted above: the facade of the first store building.
Click on any image below to enlarge.
This week an image of H-E-B’s new Kerrville store was published in this newspaper; the building is scheduled to be completed late next year. The drawing showed something interesting in the fa├žade of the building: there, in the middle of the new structure, was a tiny grocery store building, its outline similar to the Kerrville building in which Florence Butt opened her grocery store in 1905.
Building on Main Street
in downtown Kerrville
which housed Florence Butt's
tiny grocery store in 1905
A few years ago I happened across a remarkable newspaper story titled "True Fairy Story," published in the Kerrville Times of July 30, 1936, on page 4, and written by Mrs. Florence Butt. If anyone knows the story of how H-E-B began, it's Florence Butt; she was its founder.
The story appeared in a special section of that week's issue, celebrating the opening of a new store by the "C. C. Butt Piggly Wiggly Grocery Company." The new 1936 store was to be housed in a new building in the 800 block of Water Street, roughly where One Schreiner Center stands today. Given another new H-E-B store opening in Kerrville soon, her story seemed timely.
Here is Mrs. Butt’s story, in her own words:
Florence Butt
"Once upon a time," Florence Butt writes, "as all fairy stories begin, a woman with a sick husband, three boys, 10, 12, 14-years-old, came to Kerrville to make their home. This was 31 years ago [in 1905]. Our capital to start with was approximately $60.
"Then, the place on Main Street, where the Star Cleaners are now, was rented."
(The building which housed that first store was moved from the site decades ago, but stood about where the Hill Country Cafe is today, in the 800 block of Main Street. It is this two-story building memorialized in the plans for the new grocery store under construction.)
Mrs. Butt in her first store
"It had rooms above to live in," she continues, "and the store room, all for $9 a month. In preparing the little grocery store, a small Bible was found on a shelf. A good omen, it was kept there. So, on the morning of November 26, 1905, 31 years ago [in 1936], the store opened. Before the front door was opened, the little Bible was read. Then a prayer for the Great Father and Giver of all things to be the Partner to lead and guide: then the front door was opened.
"The first month we sold $56 worth. One day, not a penny's worth was sold. Several days, only 5 and 10 cents worth of merchandise was sold. But the responsibility was there, and it had to make good.
Leland Richeson in the store's
delivery wagon, around 1915
"You can see the stock $60 would place on your shelves, but I had such good friends to advise and help me out. Our first delivery was a baby buggy with top taken off, and a box placed on the wheels. Then it was run over by a wagon, and we had to get a child's play wagon, costing $3.00, which was much for our limited capital. Then the rains came in the winter, the little wagon wheels would fill with mud and it could not be pulled any longer. So we bought a horse that cost $20, a wagon costing $5, a harness $2.50 -- $27.50 total cost for the first delivery wagon. But to the mother and boys that pulled the delivery wagon in the mud, it is to be remembered as one of the bright spots of growth in business. Every month was growth, but hard work.
Kerrville, 1903
"Hence, the continued work of the son, H. E. Butt, who never knew anything from 10 years old except work, has come this chain of 31 stores [in July, 1936], and has made it possible have our pretty [new] store in Kerrville.
The early employees of
the C C Butt Grocery Co.
around 1915
"With our many friends here, the Greatest Partner has truly been with us. So we thank Him and the many, many lovely friends who have helped in so many ways to bring success. We hope that in our new store, we will all be close together, and all go on to promote success and happiness to all. I want to thank my friends and tell them I love them. Everyone has been so nice to me. So we hope all will enjoy the new store with us -- Mrs. Butt."
The new store for Kerrville, hopefully completed in 2020, will be a giant compared to that first store. I’m happy the company chose to honor its beginnings, and its determined founder, Florence Butt, with a facsimile of their very first store.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is a frequent shopper at Kerrville's H-E-B. It seems like he’s there almost every day. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 2, 2019.

I have two books available, both filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Ghost Stories of Kerr County

Ghostly shingle maker, splitting a cypress log.
Click on any image below to enlarge.
Since next Thursday is Halloween, I thought I'd share some ghost stories from my files:
Over the years I have heard numerous Kerr County tales of haunted mansions, scary cellars, and walking spirits. And once, when I was in middle school, a friend and I thought we saw a ghost downtown.
For many years residents of Delaney Hall at Schreiner University have reported seeing a young cadet, in military uniform, who appears, salutes, and then disappears. He's been known to open doors for students, as well.
Nearby, between Delaney Hall and the creek, are the seven grave markers of the Harris family who once lived on a farm there. The stones are flush to the ground, so they're hard to find, but stories are told about the air temperature being oddly colder at that spot. The grave monuments are not the originals – and the location of the actual graves may not be known. Perhaps Delaney Hall is the actual spot?
Several sites in downtown Kerrville have ghost stories attached to them.
Arcadia Theater, 1931
The old Arcadia Theater building once housed offices and shops on its second floor, including a jeweler who died in his little shop there. Some have claimed to hear the tapping of a small jeweler's hammer near the spot his workbench stood on the second floor.
The Kerr County courthouse is the spot of two separate stories:
The first involves a young couple who argued on the courthouse square, back in the late 1800s. Their disagreement turned deadly when the jealous young man shot and killed the woman, then later turned the gun on himself, right there in front of the old courthouse. Some people say, on moonless nights, you can see the pair in the shadows, and hear them bickering with each other, their argument never ending.
Haunted Kerr County Courthouse
The second story involves what was, for a while, the county jail. Looking at the front of the current courthouse, you'll notice a basement, two stories, and then a smaller third story at the top of the older part of the building. That third story was the county jail at one time. I've been up there -- it's creepy even in the daylight. County employees felt the old jail was haunted by an inmate who died in custody years ago. Some report the room has many strange noises, like keys turning a lock, or metal banging against the old steel bars.
Camp Verde Store
Camp Verde, south of Kerrville, is also a spot with many ghost stories. Some have seen a ghostly line of camels, walking in line, passing through the trees and shrubs near the old fort. Others have seen troops running across the bridge there.
Workers at the Camp Verde Store used to have stories of a ghost in the basement, an apparition they called Ruthie. She was a Civil War-era spirit who was a regular customer of the store when she was alive; the old stories say, when she's agitated, Ruthie moves pictures on the wall, rearranges cash drawers, throws merchandise across the room. I read about Ruthie in an article published here fifteen years ago -- I'm not sure if she's still active there.
Charles Schreiner Mansion
I remember as a boy being convinced that the Charles Schreiner Mansion on Earl Garrett Street was haunted.
In those days it wasn't a museum. It was just a big vacant mystery, filled with cobwebs and the stale smell of an abandoned building.
Many years ago, on a blustery October night, a friend and I saw the flickering light of a candle moving from the second story windows of the turret room and heading slowly toward the store; the light moving steadily through the big ballroom on the upper floor. As it approached the last window, half-hidden by the bent pinion pine, it stopped and moved closer to the window pane. The oval of a face was faintly illuminated, a small man with a silver mustache. It peered through the window, out toward the street, and looked at us, two boys scared to death, as we stared from the little alley next to the old Masonic Building.
Our faces must have been white with fear. The eyes looked calmly at us. The lips moved slightly, forming a hint of a smile. And then suddenly the candle went out, and the window was black. My friend and I understood instinctively we needed to be moving along, with haste, so I don't know what became of the old kind face in the window. Maybe it's there tonight, looking out across Earl Garrett Street, waiting for those two boys to come back.
Ghosts -- do you believe in them? I know some folks who do, who've seen and heard some strange things. One thing is for sure: ghosts sure make a good story.
Happy Halloween to everyone.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has heard some strange things at the print shop after dark, a sure signal it’s time to go home for the night. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 26, 2019.

I have two books available, both filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Kerrville's Tulahteka: Just a simple starter home

Tulahteka, a Schreiner home in Kerrville, Texas
Tulahteka, built in the early 1920s as a home for Louis and Mae Schreiner.  Photo from 2018.
Until recently it was a corporate headquarters.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Several kind readers have forwarded me the real estate listing for what was until recently the headquarters building of the LDBrinkman Corporation. The building is for sale, though quite out of the price range of this rural printer.
Tulahteka, a Schreiner home in Kerrville, Texas
Tulahteka, probably in the 1930s
Few people have had the opportunity to travel up the hill and see the building there, catching only glimpses of a large cream-colored building from a distance. It sits on a hill just south of the river, above Sidney Baker South, roughly across the street from the entrance to Rio Robles Mobile Home and RV Park, behind an imposing steel gate and curving driveway.
While having lunch with my son this week in downtown Kerrville, I looked up the hill toward the old building and realized I'd never told its story here. I'll try to remedy this today.
What most of us know as a corporate headquarters building started out life as a family's home. It was built for Louis and Mae Schreiner, with construction starting in 1920. It took about 2 years to build.
The house was designed by Atlee B. Ayres, of San Antonio, and constructed by McCreary & Schott of Kerrville.
Tulahteka, a Schreiner home in Kerrville, Texas
Tulahteka during construction
The house itself had a name: "Tulahteka," which means "on the outer edge of town," though sources conflict from what language that word comes from. It's supposedly an Indian phrase, though there were hundreds of languages and dialects spoken by tribes of Native Americans; it might be a word from the subcontinent of India. I doubt anyone knows.
It is a big building: around 10,000 square feet, with two floors and a basement. The 800 square foot basement was blasted out of the limestone hill. The lower floor included a 21 by 40 foot ballroom, and a 21 by 64 foot grand hall. The grand hall featured Italian marble flooring and a large carved fireplace.
Three people lived in the five-bedroom house when it was built: Mr. and Mrs. Schreiner, and their daughter, Mae Louise.
Tulahteka, a Schreiner home in Kerrville, Texas
Tulahteka stairway, 2018
Louis Schreiner was the third child of Charles and Magdalena Schreiner; while his inheritance from them included many assets, most people remember Louis Schreiner as the son who ran the Charles Schreiner Bank.
Tulahteka is a grand home, a mansion built in the "Georgian" style. It features a palatial porch with Corinthian columns, facing roughly east, toward the rising sun. The grounds included gardens and other buildings. It was built by craftsmen, and it appears no expense was spared.
I have often wondered why this house seemed so much more grand than other houses built for the Schreiner family. I jumped to the conclusion it was because Louis was the banker.
That may be true, at least in part. But there may be another reason: Louis Schreiner's wife, Mae, was also from a prominent family. Her parents were Henry and Louise Shiner, who donated 250 acres of land in Lavaca County to the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad for right of way and a depot. A town soon grew up around the new transportation facilities, and became what is now Shiner, Texas. I'm guessing most of the town lots were sold by the Shiner family.
Tulahteka, a Schreiner home in Kerrville, Texas
Tulahteka, 2018
Mae Shiner Schreiner passed away in 1932, just 12 years after Tulahteka was started. Louis Schreiner remarried in 1936. In 1940, Louis Schreiner sold Tulahteka to a Houston oilman, William Morgan.
According to an excellent news story by my friend Michael Bowlin, published in this newspaper in 1991, other owners of the house include John Sullivan, who owned the house from 1946 to 1949; Robert and Louise Hays (1949-54); Maxine and James Short (1954-58); V.P. and Ergeal Tippett (1958-62); Clyde McMahon, W. D. Caldwell, Herman Swan and Lowell Renfro (1962-66); G. E. Lehmann and Gordon Monroe (1966-67); and C. F. Biggerstaff (1967-78).
L. D. Brinkman purchased the property in 1978 and spent years restoring and renovating the property, using it as headquarters for his company, and housing his extensive collection of American Western art.
In August, 2018, Mrs. Brinkman was kind enough to let my son and me take photographs of the house and its interior. We were fortunate to see the interior while the artwork collection was still on the walls.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys exploring historic sites in Kerr County. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 18, 2019.

I have two books available, both filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.



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