New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Passenger rail service between Kerrville and San Antonio, 1923

Passenger rail service between Kerrville and San Antonio, 1923.
This rail car was self-propelled, like a bus.  The bridge still stands downstream from Comfort.
Click any image to enlarge.

In October, 1923, the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad introduced a new service for passengers traveling between San Antonio and Kerrville, a small self-propelled passenger vehicle called the '500' motor railroad car. J. E. Grinstead, who published "Grinstead's Graphic," featured the new service in his November 1923 issue, complete with numerous photographs of the little car traveling the route.
This motorized car ran on the railroad tracks and was about the size of a small school bus. It was operated by a 'competent railway engineer,' and featured 'modern air-braking aparatus.' By counting the benches through the windows of the car, I'm guessing it could carry around 24 passengers.
The '500' car at the Kerrville depot
"The latest effort of the Aransas Pass," Grinstead wrote, "to aid in the development of the Hill Country, and provide for the comfort and convenience of the people is the installation of a railway motor service between Kerrville and San Antonio. The first of these motor cars was put in service in October, as an experiment. That is, it was not known at the time whether the modern motor car could negotiate the stiff mountain grades, and make the time. A two hour and fifty minute schedule was planned. The '500,' a motor car of the most modern type was tried out on the run. It was found that it could make the schedule without difficulty, and during its first month has never failed to make the run on time. This gives a double daily passenger service between Kerrville and San Antonio. The motor car leaves Kerrville at 6:50 in the morning, while the steam train leaves San Antonio at 8:37. In the afternoon the steam train leaves Kerrville at two o'clock, and the motor car leaves San Antonio at four."
Crossing Cibolo Creek
Even at nearly three hours this connection between San Antonio and Kerrville was a big improvement, certainly over transportation by wagon or horseback, but likely better even than travel by automobile in the early 1920s. In those days most of the roads were not paved, threaded their way through hills on a meandering path, and went through the middle of each town on the route. (The '500' likely made stops at each station, too, between the two points, which added to the time required.)
This 'motor car' service lasted less than a year, and was discontinued August 15, 1924.
Can you spot the '500?'
I'm old enough to remember when trains came to Kerrville, but not passenger trains. Competition for passengers came from the Kerrville Bus Company and private automobiles, and slowly the number of passengers taking the train diminished. By 1940 there was only one train a day between San Antonio and Kerrville, "with a few [passenger] cars at the rear of the daily freight train," according to the Texas Transportation Museum website. Regularly scheduled passenger service ended in 1947.
My own memories of the train are from the late 1960s. I remember its low rumbling, even at a distance, and the clacking of its wheels as they passed gaps in the rails; the rail line was next to the playing field beside First Baptist Church, running along North Street. As children, many of us (who should have been inside the church instead of playing baseball outside it) would run alongside the train as it passed, begging the engineer to blow the whistle.
At 'Spanish Pass'
On those evenings when we were actually sitting inside the church we’d listen for the train. In those days, before air-conditioning was considered such a necessity, the big blue stained glass windows of the church would often be left open. In addition to the occasional bird (or bat) that flew into the sanctuary, the rumbling of the train was always a welcome distraction. Again from our pews we children would silently urge the engineer to blow the train’s whistle, and when he did, the preacher would pause, look out the southwest windows, and wait.
The very last train to Kerrville, carrying gravel, ran on May 15, 1970, about 83 years after the first train arrived here, carrying over 500 passengers, in 1887. Here and there one can still find evidence of the rail line that once ran inside the city limits of Kerrville.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who would have benefited from more time spent in church and less time playing baseball beside the railroad tracks. This column originally appeared in Kerrville Daily Times October 12, 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 6, 2019

Mystery Kerrville photo: What's missing in this aerial photograph?

Aerial photograph of Kerrville Texas 1960s
What's missing in this photo?
Photo by Francis "Fuzzy" Swayze, probably in the 1960s.
Click on any image to enlarge.
A photograph loaned to me this week by the Lehmann family was intriguing for what it did not show. There was something missing in the image, something I assumed would be there.
Looking at the photograph reminded me how memory can fool you, and, if possible, it’s best to rely on the written or photographic record. My memory of a place did not correspond to the evidence in the photograph.
The Lehmanns let me copy a batch of photographs of Louise Hays Park; most were taken on April 26, 1950, when the park was built in a single day. (The images the Lehmanns shared with me are different from the ones shown here last week, which were collected by the Hays family.)
Among the photos was one taken later, possibly in the 1960s, by Francis "Fuzzy" Swayze, my friend who recently turned 100. It's an aerial photo showing what is now Tranquility Island and most of the original part of Louise Hays Park, from upstream on the Guadalupe River, looking downstream.
When I first looked at the image I thought I recognized the river and the streets, but one landmark was missing: the Francisco Lemos Street Bridge.
Detail, 1934 map of Kerrville, Texas
Detail, 1934 Map of Kerrville
Had you asked, I would have told you with great certainty Francisco Lemos Street crossed the river when I was a boy. A map of Kerrville from 1934 shows a crossing, labeled “to Thompson Sanatorium” extending from Francisco Lemos Street, which in those days was connected to Guadalupe Street by a street named Pecan Street. The crossing to Thompson Sanatorium looks like a spur from Pecan, and the map shows a small bridge.
Given the bridge’s existence in 1934, I assumed the crossing had been open since that time. I was wrong.
The 1960s photograph shows a concrete span over the Guadalupe, the ruins of which I remember seeing just downstream from the old low-water Francisco Lemos crossing. (Those ruins and the former low-water Lemos Street Bridge were replaced the current bridge in late 2009.)
What the 1960s photo does not show is a connection between the concrete span and the end of Francisco Lemos Street. At the end of the pavement a pair of dirt tracks head down toward the river bank, but these dissolve into what appears to be a game trail, and then, unexpectedly, just end, shy of the concrete span.
Aerial photograph of Kerrville Texas 1960s
A different view, with labels.
A separate photograph in the packet has hand-lettered labels showing street names and a circle around Tranquility Island; from this photo the concrete span across the Guadalupe looks accessible from the south side of the river, connecting to Thompson Drive by a dirt road.
The bridge on Francisco Lemos Street, connecting to Thompson Drive, which I thought had been there when I was born, was simply not there. I learned from old newspapers the low-water bridge was not completed until 1971, a full decade after I arrived on the scene.
I have a feeling the photographs were taken to help plan for the expansion of Louise Hays Park, and to suggest improvements there. However, they may have been taken to help build the case for the state to construct the Francisco Lemos Street bridge, as Spur 98.
Regardless, they show a portion of town which has changed a lot in the last few decades, with the taming of Tranquility Island and the recent construction of the River Trail. The area, which was a nearly impassable wilderness, is now visited by hundreds of folks every day.
I’m grateful to the Lehmanns for their generosity in sharing these photographs with me, and I’m happy I get to share them with you here.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers exploring a very wild Tranquility Island as a kid. Watch out for that snake! This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 5, 2019.

Did you know 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, September 29, 2019

Kerrville's Louise Hays Park: Built in One Day

Louise Hays Park site Kerrville Texas 1950
Site of Louise Hays Park, Kerrville, 1950, before construction.
Images courtesy Hays family and the City of Kerrville.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Louise Hays Park built in a day Kerrville Texas 1950Louise Hays Park built in a day Kerrville Texas 1950Louise Hays Park built in a day Kerrville Texas 1950Louise Hays Park built in a day Kerrville Texas 1950Louise Hays Park built in a day Kerrville Texas 1950Louise Hays Park built in a day Kerrville Texas 1950Louise Hays Park built in a day Kerrville Texas 1950I received a nice letter last week from the daughter-in-law of Louise Hays, telling me about some photographs of the building of the Louise Hays Park in a single day. The letter told how the images had been copied and given to the City of Kerrville, and the folks at the city were kind enough to share them with me; now I can share them here with you.
Included with the photos were newspaper clippings about the park’s big day.
“Some 600 men, using machines in a race against time,” the Dallas Morning News reported on April 23, 1950, “will attempt to turn thirty-five timbered acres into a finished playground park between dawn and dusk.
“An Army of men, manning more than 100 trucks, tractors, bulldozers and rollers, will rumble into the river-bank acreage at 7 a.m.
“Twelve hours later Louise Hays Park should be finished, even to its name cut into the native stone entrance archway.”
The date for work to begin (and be finished) was April 26, 1950, which happened to be the 94th anniversary of the founding of Kerr County.
On March 16, 1950, the Houston Post reported “Folks of this picturesque Texas Hill Country town are going to be as busy as honey bees on April 26.
“They are going to build a million dollar park in one day.
“That’s right: a million dollar park from sun-up to sun-down.”
What they built that day was only a fraction of what the park is today; more acres have been added, most recently from a gift from the Lehmann and Monroe. Yet what they accomplished in that first day is truly amazing.
“By nightfall Wednesday,” the Dallas Morning News continued, “the area will boast a concrete square dancing slab 100 by 150 feet, a picnic area of thirty concrete tables and benches, sixteen smaller picnic units, twenty barbecue pits, riverside benches, restrooms, a cold drink shop and a full-blown playground complete with swings, slides and merry-go-round.
“Electricity will have been connected and the lights will be burning. The plumbing will be installed and working. The paint might not be dry, but the job will be completed.”
The volunteers made the ‘park in a day’ happen. The Houston Chronicle called the completed park the “Miracle on the Guadalupe,” in an April 27, 1950 story:
“A thousand men have made a gift grow into a lovely park in a day…. The gift was a tract of 35 acres along the river from Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Hays. Their only stipulation was that the city beautify and make it a public park and that it be named the Louise Hays Park in honor of the wife of the donor.”
One of the unsung heroes of the building of the park was Mrs. W. A. Salter, publisher of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, who “from the day that Mr. and Mrs. Hays announced their gift, she has plugged hard day in and day out for the realization of the park project.”
The Dallas Morning News story had this quote from Mrs. Salter: “We didn’t have enough money in town to build the kind of park we wanted, but we decided we could if we could get everybody to donate one day’s work – get every an to give one day’s time.
“Money was still needed, an estimated $20,000, and plans were made for raising that.”
The building of Louise Hays Park was a true community effort, set in motion by the gift of 35 acres by Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Hays. I’m thankful for the family’s continued generosity in sharing these photographs with all of us.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thought a story about community spirit might be a useful reminder about what happens when we work together.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times September 28, 2019.

Did you know 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, September 22, 2019

Exploring Center Point

postcard from Center Point Texas
Center Point Postcard, probably from the turn of the last century.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Last weekend I hopped in my truck to explore parts of the county I don't get to visit very often, traveling along Wharton Road, crossing the Guadalupe, continuing on to Center Point, and then around several sites in that city.
It was a hot day, and when I stopped at the Wharton Cemetery I made sure I stayed in the shade.
Several of the tombstones there have been replaced with newer monuments, with the old crumbling headstones resting against a giant live oak. I looked specifically for the memorial for Thankful Wharton, who passed away in 1885.  She and her husband William came here by wagon in 1857 from Tennessee, with their three sons John, William, and David, to settle 640 acres. I've always thought Thankful was a good name, though I'm sure it wasn't always easy to live up to.  Nearby I found the grave of Thankful's granddaughter, Pherby Thankful, who was only an infant when she died in 1883.
Bill Wharton from Kerrville Texas
Bill Wharton portrait
The Whartons lived near the route taken by camels from Camp Verde to points west, and David Wharton was among the last to remember seeing them pass by his family's farm. A news story from 1936, published in the San Antonio Express told of his recollections of the camels. "Horses, according to the 90-year-old pioneer, could smell camels a long distance away, and frequently showed signs of alarm at the approach of the tawny, lumbering humpback animals." Standing at the cemetery, I tried to imagine camels passing by.
Farther downstream I crossed the Guadalupe at what's now called Monkey Island, which was crowded with bathers.  I remember shooting through the rapids there decades ago in a canoe with my friend David Scottow, the day we paddled from Hunt to Center Point.  In those days the spot was not a popular river access point.
Wharton Road and the River Road into Center Point have seen many changes since our river trip, with structures and fences sprouting up everywhere. I was surprised how many places offered lodging along the road, including several which appeared to be purpose-built to house paying guests.
Center Point Roller Mill
and Cotton Gin, 1920s
Pulling into Center Point, I found the low bridge just below the dam was closed for repairs, so I crossed the high-water bridge and backtracked to the park beside the dam.  It was as I remembered: a lovely and well-used park.
Although I'm not sure of the exact location, there was once a roller mill and cotton gin nearby, and I looked at the hillside for a long time trying to imagine if this was the site.
Center Point has a long and rich history. It was founded in November, 1859, by Dr. Charles de Ganahl, who named the place Zanzenburg. In 1872, Zanzenburg's postmaster, Dr. G. W. Harwell, moved the post office south of the river and renamed the community Centre Point. He chose the name, supposedly, because the town was midway between Kerrville and Comfort, and halfway between Bandera and Fredericksburg.
In the June 19, 1878, issue of the Centre Point Excelsior notes two water-powered flouring mills, run by Lowrance & Rees, which also pumped water to the various homes in town. "The people of Centre Point are a high toned, kind and intelligent class of people, they are not divided like in most towns on the frontier, but to the contrary they are united generally on points pertaining to the interest and welfare of the country."
In the late 1880s, Center Point found itself served by the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad; its old depot is behind the Methodist Church, in another park.
I traveled from the riverside park to Swayze Street, thinking about my friend Francis "Fuzzy" Swayze, who turned 100 years old recently, and wondered if his family had a connection to that street.
Center Point
Methodist Church
Next, I stopped by the impressive Center Point Methodist Church, on Church Street, which was built in 1911.  I had seen photographs of the building but had never visited. Its tall, square steeple, punctuated with crenels, looks like the battlements of a castle.  The arched doorway and stained glass windows add to this impression. I would have liked to see inside the sanctuary, but I'll have to make another trip during worship hours.
Lastly, I visited the Center Point Cemetery, and saw a lot of names I recognized, and the graves of many folks I remembered from years ago. I found the graves of two Kerrville men, an uncle and nephew, who died young from muscular dystrophy, and remembered how they both fought to retain their independence for as long as they could. I visited the grave of one of my former teachers, from my junior high days, and stopped by the grave of her son, a musician, which was nearby. Visitors to the musician's grave left guitar picks wedged between the plinth and column of the memorial, a testament to the young man's talents. Among the many members of the Mosty family buried there, I found the graves of several folks I remembered from their visits to our print shop, from when we printed items for their nursery business.
The Center Point cemetery is also the final resting place of over 30 Texas Rangers, including Andrew Jackson Sowell, who wrote "Early Settlers and Indian Fighters of Southwest Texas" and other books about the history of our area.
In all, it's good to get out and explore -- even if it's to see how much has changed.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who needs to wander more, without getting lost. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times September 21, 2019.

Did you know I have two books about Kerr County history available?  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

See some of the historic Kerr photos found in an old Army foot locker.

New Pop Up Museum Display at Pint & Plow Brewing Company
332 Clay Street, Kerrville
My patient friends at Pint & Plow let me install a new display as part of my "Pop Up Museum" series, which is now up and ready to view at their coffee shop, 332 Clay Street, Kerrville.
This display shows some of the photographs taken by Starr Bryden, a local professional photographer who was working from about 1918 through 1959. There is no admission to see the display, but while you're there, why not try a hot cup of coffee, or one of the beers they brew on site?  Tell them "Joe sent me."

Here's the story behind the photographs on display:

In late 2012 a young woman made an amazing discovery while visiting her family's place in Kerrville: a foot locker filled with historic Kerr County photographic negatives.
The photographs were taken between the 1890s until the late 1950s, and most of the photos were taken by one person, Starr Bryden.
Starr Bryden's foot locker, filled with
historic negatives
In late 2012 a young woman made an amazing discovery while visiting her family's place in Kerrville: a foot locker filled with historic Kerr County photographic negatives.
The photographs were taken between the 1890s until the late 1950s, and most of the photos were taken by one person, Starr Bryden.
Raymond Starr Bryden was a professional photographer in Kerr County from around 1915 until his death in 1959.
He arrived in Kerr County as a young man, fighting for his life: he was ill with tuberculosis.
Born in Illinois in 1892, he was the youngest of six children. Around 1912, while living in Tennessee, he was diagnosed with "galloping consumption," a term then used for an especially virulent form of tuberculosis.
In those days the climate of Kerrville and Kerr County were considered helpful to TB patients; many came here, starting in the 1860s. A surprising number of the patients recovered and went on to live long lives here.
In 1912 Starr Bryden's father, Elisha Porter Bryden, brought his son to San Antonio, where they lived for a year; Starr didn't improve. They moved to Kerr County in 1913.
They didn't move into a house or tent -- they built a small cabin, about the size of a chicken coop -- on the Tom Myers Ranch, which was about 12 miles south of Kerrville, near Medina Mountain.
That's where Harry Williams found Starr and his father.
Harry and Ella Williams ranched on Turtle Creek, and in 1913 some of their goats escaped their pen. Harry went out in search of the missing goats.
At the Tom Myers Ranch, Harry was told about an old gentleman and his sick son, living out in the woods, and went out to meet them.
When he got home, he told his wife, Ella Denton Williams, about the sick young man, and she did something quite amazing: she told her husband to go back and get Starr and bring him to their home. She had a portion of their porch enclosed for a room for Starr, and she took care of him.
When he arrived, Starr Bryden was so sick he couldn't walk. Ella Williams nursed him back to life, making him walk back and forth across the porch, singing with him as they walked. After several weeks, Starr was strong enough he could walk on his own.
Eventually Starr's father returned to Tennessee while Starr stayed in Kerr County, where he lived until his death in early 1959, 46 years after being saved by the Williams family.
By 1922 Starr Bryden was strong enough to travel by bicycle to visit his family in Tennessee, a trip which made the newspaper, with updates about his progress along his route. I think many folks here were worried about him.
The foot locker found in 2012 has photographs taken by Starr over those years, but also includes photos of Kerr County taken before Starr Bryden was in Kerr County. Those photos are a mystery, but may have been taken by J. E. Grinstead or a local photographer named Huntington. Many of those earlier photos, some from the 1890s, are on glass negatives, which were pieces of glass coated with photosensitive materials; basically, film before film substrate was acetate or plastic.
Many of Starr Bryden's photographs are quite good, both technically and visually. He was a gifted photographer.
Since 2013 several of us here at the print shop have been scanning the photographs in the foot locker, both the negatives and the prints. Our earliest scans were not as good as recent scans; new technology and better techniques are getting some great images from those old negatives, many of which are browned with age.
It's been exciting being a part of the story of the foot locker and the treasures inside. So much of our local history is found in the same way: stored in a garage, found decades later, and then brought by the print shop. I'm thankful for the generosity of the Meeker family, and their kindness about the images in the old foot locker.
Our community needs a museum where items like the photographs in Starr Bryden's foot locker can be preserved, studied, and displayed for the public.

I'm thankful for the generosity of the fine folks at Pint & Plow Brewing Company, and I hope you'll stop by to see the display.  I have no idea how long the display will be up.

Did you know I have two books about Kerr County history available?  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.



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