New Kerr County History Book Available!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Review: "Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas," by Stephen Harrigan

Reading "Big Wonderful Thing," a new history of Texas by Stephen Harrigan,
at my favorite lunchtime reading spot, the downtown pavilion
overlooking Louise Hays Park and the Guadalupe River.
If you accepted the task of writing a history of Texas, a book telling the story of our state, what writing tool would be most helpful? Would it be a complete research library, a quiet room in which to work, or a trusty IBM Selectric typewriter?
Stephen Harrigan
will be at Wolfmueller's Books
Thursday, December 5, from 4 - 6 pm
Stephen Harrigan, who recently completed a new book on the history of Texas, has a reply which might surprise you.
Speaking at the LBJ Library in Austin last month, Harrigan said “My most important tool in writing this book was my car. If I’m writing about, say, the pictographs along the Rio Grande – you know, they’re three or four thousand years old – I had to see that.”
And so Harrigan put thousands of miles on his car, visiting sites all over Texas, gathering information for his new book “Big Wonderful Thing: a History of Texas,” published this autumn by the University of Texas Press.
The result is a comprehensive look at the history of our state, beginning with shipwrecked Spaniards who washed ashore near Galveston Island in the late 1520s, and continuing to the early days of George W. Bush’s first term as president, when the World Trade Center buildings fell. Quite a few things happened in Texas between those two events.
Harrigan brings special talents to the project. As a writer he may be best known for his novels, though he’s spent decades reporting on Texas and Texans for magazines, and most of his published work is non-fiction. His novelist’s eye is evident in this history of Texas: he shares the important characters and scenes from our history as a story, not as a dry recitation of facts, dates, and names. Meanwhile, his experience as a reporter is evident in the depth of his research. He gets his facts right.
There are so many characters, scenes, and facts in our state’s history, which itself can be a daunting problem. How to winnow between the wheat and the chaff? This well-written (and well-edited) book weighs just shy of four pounds, a detailed history of Texas in a mere 945 pages. It takes at least that many pages to tell the story well. I was thankful Harrigan chose not to chase too many rabbits. This is a focused telling of the story of Texas
This history of Texas is told from a present-day viewpoint, which sings praises when appropriate and discusses follies and sins when necessary. Harrigan doesn’t burnish the heights or ignore the depths of Texas history; his book reflects both the bright and the dark, like a piece of photographic film, recording light and shadow as it makes an image.
I am happy to recommend this book to you – for yourself, or as a gift to a history-loving friend.
This Thursday, December 5, from 4-6 p.m. Stephen Harrigan will be at Wolfmueller’s Books, 229 Earl Garrett, to discuss “Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas” at a book signing event hosted by my friends Jon and Sandy Wolfmueller. The event is free and open to the public.
Near the front of the book, an 1835 quote from Stephen F. Austin is printed on a page by itself: “I hope that a dead calm will reign all over Texas for many years to come – and that there will be no more excitements of any kind whatever.”
That did not happen, Mr. Austin. Not by a long shot.

This review originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 5, 2019.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Native American Pictographs in Kerr County

A portion of the Native American Pictographs at the
Hatfield Pictograph Shelter, Kerr County.
Click on image to enlarge.
There are faint red, black and yellow marks on a limestone bluff in the western part of Kerr County, markings which have been there, exposed to rain and sun, possibly for hundreds of years. They are at the only recorded archaeological site in Kerr County which includes pictographs, the Hatfield Pictographic Shelter, designated 41KR493. When the pictographs were drawn and painted is not known, but there is evidence from artifacts found at the site that rock shelter was in use from the Late to Transitional Archaic period, roughly between 1,500 to 5,000 years ago.
Pictographs are images or designs which were painted or drawn, usually on stone; petroglyphs were carved or chipped into stone. This site is called a rock shelter because a portion of the bluff above the pictographs extends slightly outward and above the pictographs, like a visor on a cap. It is at best an imperfect ‘shelter,’ but may have served as a place to escape weather and direct sun.
My friend Bryant Saner, Jr., an archeologist, showed me the site more than a decade ago. He’s also published papers on what is found there.
Other pictographs in Kerr County have been reported, most many decades ago. A. T. Jackson, in his book “Picture Writing of the Texas Indians,” first published in the 1930s, notes two sites in Kerr County. His reporting of those two sites does not include illustrations or photographs, and neither site was documented or recorded by archeologists from the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory. Today no one is completely sure where the sites Jackson mentioned might be located, or even if the images reported there over 80 years ago are even visible today. In his reports he notes the pictographs at the two sites were faded and hard to see.
Saner, in a paper published in “La Tierra,” the Journal of the Southern Texas Archaeological Association, in July 1996, suggests the Hatfield Shelter is not one of the two sites mentioned in Jackson’s book, but a third Kerr County site with pictographs. It is the only one to be documented and recorded.
The site was named for the person who discovered and reported it, Vicki Hatfield, in a site survey report on file at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory, in 1992.
In the few times I’ve been to the site, I’ve noticed a fading of the images there. Some of the photographs I took on early visits show images much sharper and clearer than more recent photographs.
I’m sad to say the site has suffered from vandalism, mostly in the form of people digging for artifacts and disturbing the archeological record there. This destruction is against the law, and also robs future generations of the knowledge which could be gained from scientific study of the site.
A full-scale study has not been conducted at the Hatfield Shelter, as far as I know, with archeological investigations to determine and record more of the information hidden there. The site still holds a secret or two about life in the Texas hill country many generations ago. I’ve been told a lack of funding prevents that work.
The site itself is quite lovely, a rock shelter just above the river, hidden and protected by trees. It’s easy to imagine how it must have been, an unknown number of years ago, when a pigment, made from materials found in nature, was carefully applied to its rock walls.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who often wonders about those who lived here very long ago.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 30, 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 24, 2019

Five fun activities to do with the kids this Thanksgiving holiday

Stonehenge at Hill Country Arts Foundation Ingram Texas
Stonehenge at the Hill Country Arts Foundation in Ingram, Texas.
Children will love it, as a place to play hide-and-seek.
Click any image below to enlarge.
Thanksgiving – my favorite holiday, a holiday that doesn’t require gifts, cards, or costumes, just a thankful heart and a hearty appetite. After the last bite has been eaten, though, and you look around at your sated dinner guests and think – ‘what now?’
Here you've got a house full of relatives, some of whom are children. Gentle Reader, children have a lot of energy, and it’s good to keep them busy.
Welcome to my updated "Free Things You Can Do with the Kids Until They Go Back Home" column. Hopefully there'll be an idea or two in the following paragraphs that will help you with your younger visitors this coming week. These ideas have two criteria: they must get the kiddos out of the house, and they must tire the children out a bit, so when you bring them home, they might (just might) be tired and want to be still and rest.
1. Play Hide and Seek at Stonehenge. Years ago, the late Al Shepperd constructed a huge replica of Stonehenge -- the ancient structure in England -- in a field in front of his house near Hunt. After Shepperd's death, the monument was moved to the grounds of the Hill Country Arts Foundation. While it is interesting to visit the replica and wonder about the purpose of the original, we discovered long ago it makes a perfect place to play Hide and Seek. The children in your life will love visiting the place, and there are thousands of potential places to hide. Each stone column will hide a child quite effectively. To get to Stonehenge, travel to Ingram, and take Highway 39 toward Hunt. Just past the Johnson Creek Bridge, you’ll see the structure in a field on your left, on the campus of the Hill Country Arts Foundation, near the Little League fields. Tip to the adult players: the shadows are an important tool in this game. Pro tip to adult players: you can take your time looking for the hiding children.
Kerrville's River Trail,
below Guadalupe Street
2. Go for a Nice Long Walk on the River Trail, which follows the Guadalupe River through the heart of Kerrville. There are several places where you can park, including the Dietert Center, on Guadalupe Street; Riverside Nature Center, on Lemos Street; Louise Hays Park, off of Thompson Drive; at the G Street crossing; and off of Loop 534, near the bridge. The trail is a concrete sidewalk with gentle grades, suitable for most walkers. Be sure to stay on the right side of the sidewalk, as there are many bicyclists also enjoying the path.
Tranquility Island, taken from
the Francisco Lemos Bridge
3. Learn to Skip Rocks at Tranquility Island. There is a beach of smooth stones near the far upriver point of the island, to the right hand side, just downstream from the footbridge below Francisco Lemos Street. The river forms a pool there, where water is still, usually without a lot of breeze. Teach the rugrats to throw a skimmer. (Instructions are available on YouTube.)
Footbridge connecting downtown
and Louise Hays Park
4. Find the Fisherman below the Louise Hays Footbridge. Not everyone knows there’s a footbridge connecting Louise Hays Park to the downtown area. From the pavilion at the end of Earl Garrett Street, overlooking the Guadalupe River, you can see the footbridge just downstream from the Louise Hays Park dam. I think it’s easier to access the footbridge from Louise Hays Park, since the stairway down from the pavilion is rather steep. Tell the young ones you're looking for a fisherman. You might run across a human fisherman or two -- but they're not the ones you're looking for. As you approach the footbridge, look downstream. A great blue heron usually stalks small fish there; I’ve also seen a white great egret there, too. You can tell the kids it's a "professional" fisherman -- it fishes for a living. Bonus: a pair of Egyptian geese have a new gaggle of baby goslings in the park.  Look for them in the grass, near the riverbank, staying close together.
Fossils found near
downtown Kerrville
5. Hunt for Fossils. Fossils are everywhere in Kerr County, usually on the hillsides, one strata down from the crest of the hill. I’ve seen a lot of fossils by the footbridge described in No. 4 above, in the chalky conglomerate of the steep riverbank. While Texas Hearts and bivalve shells are easiest to find, you’d be surprised at the variety of fossils scattered all over Kerr County.
We are lucky to live in a place of such natural beauty, and we have so much to be thankful for. I hope your time with young relatives is blessed with safety, fun, and warmth.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who will be enjoying Thanksgiving Dinner at home with family, after trying to help Ms. Carolyn get everything ready. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 23, 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 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.






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