New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Kerr County History 101: How to make cypress shingles

Making cypress shingles: using a maul and froe to split
shingles from a block of cypress.
Click on any image to enlarge.

In 1940, when he was a student at the University of Texas at Austin, Forrest Salter wrote a story about the shingle makers who founded Kerr County. The story was for an English class, "Life and Literature of the Southwest," taught by J. Frank Dobie.

The Salter family published the Kerrville Mountain Sun for three generations, and Forrest Salter placed an ad in his family's newspaper seeking "information on shingle making and the names of any pioneer resident of this section who has seen shingles made in the camps along the Guadalupe River. Please send name or information to The Mountain Sun office."

The resulting story is fascinating and provides details about shingle making I've never seen anywhere else.

One of the individuals Salter interviewed was A. P. "Potter" Brown, the youngest son of Joshua and Sarah Brown. Joshua Brown was the founder of Kerrville, and gave the land for the first county seat in 1856. He came to Kerr County in the late 1840s to harvest the cypress trees along the river and make shingles from them.

Potter Brown described how shingles were made:

"One of the first things the men had to have was a good shingle knife, which was hand-made of iron. The blade was about one quarter inch thick and about twelve inches long. You see, the width of the shingle depended upon the length of the shingle knife. At one end was a loop or ring in the iron, and in this was put a round handle, smoothed down so the palm of the hand would not blister. The handle was about six to nine inches long, and about an inch through, just big enough for a man to get a good 'hand holt' as he used it. The knife was held in the left hand while a wooden mallet, used to hammer the knife down on the block of wood, was wielded with the right.

"Groups of two men would use a big cross-cut saw, or sometimes a good sharp axe, to cut the cypress trees, and then when the logs had been trimmed, they would be cut into convenient sized chunks and hauled or dragged to the camp. The trees were so big that sometimes men could work a whole season on the timber in their neighborhood, and feel free, because the Indians did not come around so often when a settlement had been established.

"Some of the men had shingle horses, a contraption made of a few poles and slabs. It had a mouth where the shingle slab fitted, and when the slab had been placed in the mouth, the 'draw knife' was pulled across the length, giving the shingle the sloping sides which made it possible for them to overlap on a roof. These 'draw knives' were kept razor-sharp, and unlucky was the inquisitive visitor whose hand happened to touch one of their sharp blades. Mud, leaves, or sometimes sawdust was used to stop the blood when such a hand was badly cut.

"The camp was usually under a brush arbor, where the limbs from the Spanish oak, the sycamore, or some other brushy-topped tree was used as protection from the sun. The shingles were put in bundles and tied together with rawhide most of the time, as nails for crating were too precious for use.

"You know, son," Potter Brown concluded, "some of these old abandoned farm houses in the Turtle Creek section still have these hand-made shingles on their roofs."

Forrest Salter interviewed others, too, in addition to Potter Brown. His story includes quotes from Mollie Goss, Mrs. L. C. Watkins, Mr. and Mrs. Dan Rees, Mrs. Fritz Schmidt, and Sarah Surber. Each contributed interesting facts to Salter's story.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks shingle making would be a lot of hard work. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead April 18, 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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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Kerr History 101: The Shingle Maker who founded Kerrville

Sarah, Joshua and Alonzo Potter Brown, 1873, courtesy of Jan Wilkinson.
(Author's note: they're holding hands.)
Click on any image to enlarge.

Years ago, my friends Sandy and Jon Wolfmueller, of Wolfmueller's Books, gave me a booklet which included a story by Kerrville's Forrest Salter called "The Saga of the Shingle Camp."

Forrest Salter's family published the Kerrville Mountain Sun for three generations, and the shingle camp story was written in 1940 when Salter was a student in J. Frank Dobie's English 342 class at the University of Texas at Austin. The booklet is a collection of student writing from that course, and is titled "Lazy E 342."

Shingle making was the first industry in what is now Kerrville, begun in the mid-1840s when Joshua Brown and a group of men came here to harvest cypress trees and use them to make shingles. 

I've written elsewhere about the shingle makers and the process used to make shingles, relying mostly on Bob Bennett's thorough history of Kerr County. What makes Forrest Salter's story unique are the interviews with local people who actually remembered shingles being made here. He placed an ad in his family's newspaper, asking to interview people with firsthand knowledge of shingle making.

Finding those people in 1940, when he wrote the story, was difficult, I'm sure. Today it would be impossible, because too much time has passed.

The first interview in the story was with A. P. Brown, the youngest son of Kerrville's founder, Joshua D. Brown.

"My father," Brown told Salter, "was one of the first settlers of this country, and he came here to go into the shingle making business.

"A small colony of soldiers of fortune from Tennessee and Mississippi had travelled through this section of the west and had been amazed at the huge trees and dense growth of cypress along the banks of the Guadalupe River and its tributary creeks. They returned to the fort in San Antonio and reported this veritable find. They realized the scarcity of building material in the land of the mesquite, and planned to colonize the river banks for the purpose of making shingles.

Forrest Salter (far right)
and friends at Criders
"Some of the German immigrants, eager for a sight of crystal waters and fertile valleys, a few Tennesseans in search of adventure, and some businessmen of San Antonio came to Kerrville and pitched their tents near one of the larger springs on the river. One spring is where the ice plant now stands in the city of Kerrville, and the Dietert homestead is the site of the first mill."

Gentle reader, the old ice plant is no longer there, but a remnant remains. It stood behind today's One Schreiner Center, in the 800 block of Water Street in downtown Kerrville, and its basement is still there, its old brick walls jutting from the bluff over the river. Ed Hamilton has made the top of the old basement a nice place to view the river below.

"The land was at that time owned by my father," continued A. P. Brown, "who had come from Virginia to Texas and settled in Gonzales County, or DeWitt's Colony as was then called, and over which James Kerr was the overseer. My father moved to this section in 1846, and named the settlement 'Brownsboro.' Later it was called 'Kerrsville' in honor of James Kerr.

"In the party half of the men were put to making shingles, and the other half were on the lookout for Indians. When the shingles were finished, they were taken to San Antonio by oxcart, and traded for supplies. It was a perilous journey, taking five or six days, and as money was scarce, the shingles were bartered for supplies for the camp."

Next week we'll hear again from A. P. "Potter" Brown, as he describes how shingles were made.

Until then, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks making shingles would be a tough way to make a living. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead April 11, 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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Sunday, April 7, 2024

What was the biggest crowd to visit Kerrville – before this year’s eclipse?

The Kerrville depot of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad.
probably around 1900. Click on any image to enlarge.

Morgan Chesky, news correspondent at NBC News (and Tivy graduate!), asked me a question the other day for which I didn’t have a good answer.

Prior to next week’s total solar eclipse, what previous event brought the largest number of people to Kerrville?

Although it’s not a direct answer to that question, I think I know the event which brought the most people as a percentage of Kerrville’s population – in other words, the event which brought the largest multiple of Kerrville residents here.

One event stands out, and possibly brought as many as five times the then-population of Kerrville to our city.

Kerrville Eye, Sep 29 1887
Kerrville had an estimated population of 400 people in 1887; when the railroad terminus was opened here, as many as 2,000 people showed up. Multiplying our current population of about 25,000 times five – Monday’s eclipse would have to see 125,000 visitors to our city to match the festivities in 1887.

The coming of the railroad in 1887 changed everything for Kerrville -- because it allowed commerce with the world beyond our hills.

Until that time all freight came to Kerrville by wagons. Every nail, piece of paper, shoe, piano, and most of the cloth and lumber was hauled over the hills by oxen, with most of the freight coming to us from San Antonio.

In 1887, no other community in the Texas Hill Country was served by a railroad. Fredericksburg didn't get her railroad until November 1, 1913, twenty-six years after Kerrville, and that line was never really profitable. Other nearby communities, like Junction or Rocksprings, never saw a train arrive. Kerrville's trains ran until the 1970s.

I have a copy of the October 6, 1887 "Kerrville Eye," a newspaper of the era. The publisher printed 2,000 copies of the edition -- a huge number, considering Kerrville probably had less than 400 residents.

In the issue several other newspapers' reports of the railway's arrival in Kerrville was reprinted. "Plucky little Kerrville," the San Angelo Standard reported, "has obtained her railroad, and if ever a town and county deserve the iron horse, Kerrville and Kerr County did. A bonus of $50,000 was raised in the middle of the drouth and $46,000 of that bonus has been raised in cash; a few more thousand had to be raised to buy the right of way over land belonging to fossils of the tertiary period, a few of which are settled in that county. We hope the boon for which Kerr County has worked so strenuously will prove an even greater blessing than they anticipate."

Map of SAAP routes
The Burnet Hero declared "The Aransas Pass Road has reached Kerrville. The 'Eye' therefore excusable for being jubilant and winking many triumphant winks, as it worked hard to bring that town and section to the front of the railroad men. We know how it is ourselves and don't blame the 'Eye' for feeling proud. The 'Hero' got out an extra to celebrate the completion of the Dallas, Granite and Gulf road to Burnet, as it was the first air line to the point from the north -- but alas it was an air line with a vengeance. It was built of air, by air, through air."

According to the Texas Transportation Museum website, “at 11:45 AM on October 6, 1887, the first train arrived in Kerrville. On board the six Pullmans were 502 passengers, 200 from San Antonio, 131 from Boerne, 141 from Comfort and 30 from Center Point. Altogether this was 200 more people than actually lived in Kerrville. It was a banner day for the town, with parades and speeches.”

There were more than speeches and parades that day: there was also business to be transacted.

According to the 'Eye,' "A large lot sale will take place here about the 22nd of October. The magnificent ground near the depot has been laid off in lots by Capt. Schreiner, and will be sold that day. This is going to be a town. Don't miss the sale. Come and bid on a few lots."

Then later, a few inches down, the 'Eye' continues: "Visitors to Kerrville, did you ever see a prettier site for a town? Kerrville has the prettiest depot grounds of any town on the Aransas Pass [railway]. Capt. Schreiner has cut this fine plot of ground up into lots... You will regret to the end of your days if you fail to attend the sale, and purchase a lot." 

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers the freight trains rolling into Kerrville when he was a boy. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead  April 4, 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!)

Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Centennial of Kerrville’s Methodist Encampment

Hand-drawn map of Mount Wesley, by Viola Kellun Redmond, possibly 1960s.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Summer camps have played a huge role in the history and economy of our community. The first summer camp here, in my opinion, was the Westminster Presbyterian Encampment, which was along Quinlan Creek in what is now part of the Schreiner University campus. Westminster provided a place for rest, recreation, and spiritual training. It operated from 1906 to 1950, and today only two of its original buildings remain.

By the mid-1920s businesses in Kerrville noticed the positive cash flow the many summer camps in our area were providing local establishments and hotels, and when a new group wanted to establish a camp here, community leaders made them quite an attractive offer.

The Methodist “Epworth League” of Texas, a Methodist youth organization started in Dallas in 1892, established a statewide meeting in Corpus Christi from 1906 until 1915, known as “Epworth-by-the-Sea.” The meeting moved to Port O’Connor until 1919, when a severe storm wrecked the property, which was then abandoned.

According to research provided to me by Linda Stone, “The leaders of West Texas Methodists wanted to have a new place for spiritual and intellectual training, as well as for social and recreational facilities for children, youth, and adults. This vision came to a climax in the fall of 1923, at the West Texas Annual Conference, when the following resolution was presented and adopted: "Resolution for the establishment of the West Texas Encampment Association under the direction and supervision of the West Texas Conference of the Methodist Church South." The first task of this Board was to find a suitable location for such an Encampment. A number of locations were offered throughout the conference, but Kerrville was considered by the Board as the most logical. In 1926, it was written ‘The trustees were fortunate beyond their fondest dreams in accepting this particular body of land. It fronts on the Guadalupe River, affording an ideal place for boating, swimming and fishing, and rises gradually to the back line more than a mile distant. ... The 200 acres with the improvements, private and public, are now conservatively valued at 100,000 dollars and could not be duplicated for that amount.’”

The front page of the February 7, 1924 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun carried the bold headline “Kerrville Lands Methodist Encampment.” The story details the gift of 200 acres “from the Bud Porter and Starkey places west of city.” It was noted the site was within three miles of Kerrville and on the Old Spanish Trail highway. $11,500 needed to be raised to purchase the land for the encampment, and the Chamber of Commerce met at the St. Charles Hotel to plan a subscription drive. These funds were quickly raised by the Kerrville community.

“The encampment will also mean much to the moral and religious development as well as to the commercial interests of the city,” the article reported.

In the March 27, 1924 issue, a big “lot sale” and barbecue were announced in another front-page story in the Kerrville Mountain Sun. “About 150 choice lots, ranging in price from $100 to $1000 each were to be offered for sale the opening day.” Between 500 and 600 people attended, and 91 of the 130 lots were sold for $150 per lot. Those first lot sales were the beginning of the unique and iconic neighborhood on the hillside of what became known as “Mount Wesley.”

Remarkably, the same article says “work is being rushed in order to have everything in readiness for the program to begin July 8 and last until August 3.”

Many of the folks who purchased lots and built bungalows in the Methodist Encampment did so to have a place for their families to stay during the summer months of the camp. Though originally for summer use, today many are occupied year-round.

Those first houses had wonderful names, often relating to the family which built them: such as James Perry of San Antonio -“Perry-Winkle”; W. R. Perkins of Alice - “Perk Inn”; Elsie Peace - “House of Peace”; J. F. Duke of Forney – “The Duchess.” Others depicted the environment such as David T. Peel of Corpus Christi - “Restholme”, Rev. H. E. Draper of San Angelo - “Loma Vista.” Even the cafeteria had a name, “Eatmor!”

Today what was originally called Methodist Encampment is called “Light on the Hill at Mount Wesley,” a ministry of Kerrville’s First United Methodist Church.

For a century, the encampment has enriched lives, and made Kerrville a better place.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who grew up a few blocks from Methodist Encampment. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead  March 28, 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, March 24, 2024

Louise Hays Park was built in a single day -- April 26, 1950

Just a few of the workers who built Louise Hays Park in a single day,
April 26, 1950.
Click on any imate to enlarge

As I walked on the Kerrville River Trail through Louise Hays Park recently, I remembered its fantastic origin story.

Louise Hays Park was built in a single day.

Here is that story:

“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.”

Mrs. Louise Hays rides on
bulldozer that day
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 concrete dance floor
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.” 

Louise Hays, with shovel
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 everyone to give one day’s time.

“Money was still needed, an estimated $20,000, and plans were made for raising that.”

The money was raised, the labor was donated, and the park was built in a single day.

Louise Hays turns first
shovel of dirt
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 generosity to our community every time I visit the park. 

Until next week, all the best.

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 Kerr County Lead March 21, 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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