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Sunday, May 9, 2021

The first "aeroplane" in Kerrville

'Captain' Charles Theodore (at controls) of what might be
the first airplane to land in Kerrville.
Click on any image to enlarge.

My long-time friend and classmate Carol Neely dropped by two very interesting photographs this week, and they inspired me to investigate the story they depicted. The photos were part of her late father’s collection, and I was very thankful to receive them.
The two photos show an early biplane: one showing a closeup of the pilot, and then another showing the entire plane along with the pilot and another young man. Calvin Neely had labeled the photos “First Aeroplane in Kerrville….”
As you know, I love a mystery, so I decided to investigate.
Here are the clues I saw in the photographs:
The young pilot,
Charles Theodore
First, I think the “aeroplane” was photographed at the West Texas Fairgrounds, which once stood between Guadalupe Street and Junction Highway, and bordered, roughly, by Hugo Street and Lewis Avenue. The big clue as to the location of the airplane in the photographs is just behind the men and the machine: you can make out the inner and outer fences of the fairground’s racetrack.
The West Texas Fair was a big deal. Not only was it a place to show off agricultural, livestock, and homemade items, it also offered horse racing and other entertainments. Those entertainments changed from year to year, but they were designed to bring in the crowds.
The July 29, 1916 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun has an article headlined “Airship to Fly Over Kerrville.”
In 1916 airplanes were a rare thing here. I checked the local newspapers for the years 1914 and 1915; there were no reports of “aeroplanes” coming to Kerrville. The U.S. Army had an airbase at Fort Sam Houston, testing a Wright Brothers plane in 1911, and accepting a Curtiss Model D Type IV in April of 1911. I’m not sure those planes had a very great range, but it’s conceivable an airplane could have come close to Kerrville sometime between 1911 and 1916.
“The West Texas Fair,” the article reports, “will offer the people of this section a new thriller this year…. The people will be able to witness a thing of which we have all heard and read, and which few of us have seen – a birdman in the air demonstrating the manner in which aeroplanes are handled in the great European war.”

Kerrville's 'West Texas Fairgrounds'

Captain Charles Theodore flew an aircraft during Kerrville’s West Texas Fair in mid-August, 1916. I believe the young man in the photograph is Charles Theodore.
Theodore was a popular aviator in Texas, and often appeared and performed at fairs and public gatherings. In an advertisement for a show in McKinney, Texas in 1917, he is headlined as “Captain Charles Theodore and his Curtiss Airplane,” and a photograph shows such an airplane in flight.
Looking closely at the two photographs of the aeroplane in Kerrville, it appears to be a modified Curtiss Model D Headless Pusher. The pusher part of the name comes from the propeller positioned at the back of the aircraft, pushing air away from the front of the plane for power; the headless part comes from the absence of a canard in front of the pilot.  It was made of wood and cloth and looks terrifying to fly.
I believe the aeroplane photographed in Kerrville matches the photographs of the plane in the advertisements elsewhere.
Waco was, for a while, Theodore’s home base. In 1916, the local Young Men’s Business League had collected $1000 for him to “establish a flying field” on land donated by “one of Waco’s “most prominent citizens.” Theodore stayed there for a year or so, and it was during this time he put on a show in Kerrville. Later he moved up to Dallas, to a new airfield opening there.
I found two news articles describing separate crashes Capt. Theodore survived while performing. Flying was especially dangerous in those days, but he kept flying.
He continued to fly and perform until October, 1919. While doing stunts for a show in Dallas, in a more modern and powerful Curtiss JN-4 Canadian, and after walking along the wings of the aircraft while a fellow pilot was at the controls, he attempted to hang on to the landing frame while the plane did a loop. This crazy stunt was not successful, and he fell to earth.
He was clear-eyed about the risks of aviation, if not about evaluating extra risks. In an interview he once said “Yes. I guess I will get mine some day – they nearly all do – but in the meantime it is a fascinating game – and well, I am in that business, and do not have any intention of getting into anything else.”
He was only 37 when he died, and had been flying for about 10 years. He was probably the first person to fly an airplane here in Kerrville.
I’m thankful Ms. Neely shared these wonderful photographs with all of us.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who often flew with his mother when she had her private pilot’s license. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom! This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 8, 2021

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Sunday, May 2, 2021

Amazing Aerial Photos from 1972

Kerrville, 1972
Click on any image to enlarge

Kerrville's Antler Stadium
When it comes to old photographs of Kerr County, I have a pretty good mental inventory of what images I have in my collection. I was surprised, however, when I was moving a box of photographs into a new container and found a bulky sleeve of negatives I’d never seen before.
The sleeve is marked 1972, and it contains aerial images of several hill country towns, including Hunt, Ingram, Center Point and Kerrville. In my defense, they were hidden beneath a box within the container. I never knew they were there.
I’m not completely sure why the aerial photographs were taken, but I’m happy they were. The images brought back lots of memories, and I hope they do for you, too.
In the early 1970s, when I was still in elementary school, my mother had her private pilot’s license, and we often flew together. Those hours with her in a small rented Cessna were happy ones. One of the jobs she gave me was to help keep track of where we were, a job she undoubtably gave me to keep me busy and occupied.
From those experiences, I learned to look at familiar places from a different perspective, a lesson which helped me with these old photographs, too. I spent several happy hours on a recent weekend attempting to identify the places shown in the aerial photographs – and there were over 100 images to go through. Some were of country places, so I couldn’t figure out their location. Most of the towns I finally identified. Using the satellite view on Google maps helped, too.
Camp Verde Store
A lot has changed in the almost 50 years since these photographs were taken. Progress has a way of doing that. Old buildings are torn down, or reconfigured, while new buildings pop up everywhere. 
The Kerrville photos included views of Antler Stadium, Gibson’s Discount, Schreiner Institute, and the downtown area.
The shot of Gibson’s shows the Five Points area behind the store. In 1972, there was no bank building at Five Points; Mamacita’s was more than a decade away. I noticed the Alton James used car lot in the photo, as well as the grocery store building where my father worked when we first moved to Kerrville. A building I remember as a milk distribution facility, which I think was called the American Pure Milk Company, can be seen next to the Five Points CafĂ©.
Center Point
Antler Stadium appears to be in the midst of a renovation project; perhaps it was about this time when the track was added around the field. I can see heavy equipment at work on the site.
Downtown Kerrville looks busy and prosperous. I don’t remember what appears to be a parking lot (or a car dealership) on the empty site of the old Blue Bonnet Hotel, at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets – but it’s in the photograph. Louise Hays Park is not very busy; I only see one automobile, and it’s parked near the dam. On a personal note, I think I can see my father’s car parked behind our print shop building, shown to the left of the old Rialto Theater. 
Outside of Kerrville, it was good to see the Hill Country Arts Foundation site as it appeared in 1972. So many worthy additions have been made there. I have happy memories of that place.
The old Camp Verde Store looks lonely at its crossroads site, without a single car out front.
Center Point and Ingram look busy, but each looks very different than they do today. Hunt looks quiet, with only a single car approaching the bridge.
The photos make me feel like I’m checking in on a very different time – removed, looking from above – and remembering, as best I can, the places in the images. Since the photos were taken at a time when I was a child, the photos bring back memories of being with my parents, riding in the car, or, on lucky occasions, sitting beside my mother as she flew an airplane.
Hill Country Arts Foundation
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerr County historical items. If you have anything you’d care to share with him, it would make him very happy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 1, 2021.

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Schreiner Institute

Sunday, April 25, 2021

A letter returns to Kerrville -- over 100 years after it was mailed

Elizabeth Baker wrote her son the day she learned
World War I was over -- though he never saw the letter.
Click on any image to enlarge.

This week I received two boxes of Kerr County historical items from a kind woman in Lubbock. Mostly the boxes contained old war-time letters from over 100 years ago.
One of the letters was especially poignant, from a mother to her son during World War I. Written in a clear hand on now-yellowed paper, the letter was dated November 11, 1918, the day the ‘War to End All Wars’ was finally over; a second sheet in the envelope is dated the next day, November 12th, an addendum to the other page. The envelope is postmarked November 12, 1918. 
The mother’s name was Elizabeth Baker; her soldier son was named Sidney Baker. When she wrote the letter she did not know Sidney Baker had been killed in battle on October 15, 1918, only a few weeks before the end of the war. She received a telegram on November 13th informing her of Sidney Baker’s death. By then, though, her letter was already in the mail.
“Kerrville, November 11th” she writes.
Sidney Baker, 1917
“Mr Walter Sidney Baker, Dear Son, I write to you to let you know we have received the news we have peace and I never was as happy in my life. Oh if I could just be with you all to rejoice, but have the pleasure of thinking you won’t be killed now, and unless you sicken and die, you will be home in honors some day.”
Her concern was valid: the world was in the midst of an influenza pandemic, and many of her letters to Sidney included the news of a local person passing away from the Spanish Flu.
“I was woke up this morning at 5 o’clock by the ringing of the school bells and then the fire bells and then the shooting of guns and blowing the train whistle and it has been going on all day and crowded auto parading the streets with flying flags and ringing cow bells. Oh I wish you all could see but no doubt you are seeing a great deal more.
“Mr. Taylor and Mr. Tarver and Schwethelm and another old gentleman I did not know came down and congratulated me over my boys and had whiskey and wine and had me to drink with them over our victory. God bless you all. You don’t know how I feel now when I look at your pictures….”
The Baker Brothers in uniform:
Sidney, Leroy, Claude, Frank and Iva Baker
The other sheet in the envelope begins “Nov 12th, well as I did not get to mail my letter yesterday, will write more.”
She relates news about Sidney’s brothers, ‘Fat,’ and Claude: “I feel sorry for [them]…all they hate is they never got go across [to France]…I guess you have the honor of being the only one out of the 5 that got to be in Battle.”
Her son Sidney never saw the letter.
Five of Elizabeth Baker’s sons were in the Army during World War I: Sidney, Leroy, Claude, Frank, and Iva. She and her husband, B. F. Baker, had 12 children.
So far I’ve found three letters in the boxes which Elizabeth Baker wrote her son after his death, without knowing he’d died in mid-October. Each contains touching concerns over Sidney’s health and safety, and news of folks from home.
In the boxes I’ve also found what might be the last letter Sidney wrote his mother. It is dated September 7, 1918, from “Somewhere in France.”
Elizabeth Baker, 1931,
visiting Sidney's grave
“Dear Mother, I guess you think I’m not going to write anymore but this is the first time I have had time to write. ‘Lump’ [Sidney’s brother, Iva Baker] and I have been separated and I don’t know where he is, but I know he is farther away from the front than I am. I guess I will be up to the hunting ground in a few days….
“This sure is some country. You can walk all day and never get any place. I haven’t saw a girl that could talk the English language since I’ve been over here….
“Don’t worry about me at all for I’m doing fine. Now you may not hear from me very often but if anything goes wrong you will be notified at once.
“You write to Sister for me and tell her I’m alright and that I will eat X-mas dinner with her….
“Tell all of the boys hello for me and write as often as you can. With lots of love….”
Sidney Baker was killed October 15, 1918, during the bloody fighting near Hill 288 in the Argonne. He is buried in France. Years after the war, Elizabeth Baker went to France to visit her son’s grave.
I’m grateful to the kind woman in Lubbock who shared these priceless artifacts with all of us.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerr County historical items. If you have an item you’d care to share with him, please let him know. It will make him very happy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 24, 2021

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Sunday, April 18, 2021

The 1968 Grand Opening of Gibson's Discount Center in Kerrville

Gibson's Discount Center, Kerrville, May 1968.
Click on any image to enlarge

This week I came across a few photographs of the grand opening of Gibson’s Discount Center, which were taken in May, 1968.
A free string of pearls
Gibson’s Discount Center, as everyone knows, has been an important part of Kerr County since it opened. A frequent quote here for the past five decades: “if you can’t find it at Gibson’s, you probably don’t need it.” Most of the time they have what you are looking for, even if what you’re looking for is not easy to find anywhere else. And there are plenty of people there to help you find that obscure item, even when you’re not sure what it’s called.
Walking into Gibson’s is like walking into the past – a general store filled with everything from plumbing supplies to toys, sporting goods to garden tools.
Shopping for bargains
The Kerrville Gibson’s franchise was originally owned by Morris and Gloria Harris, who also owned Gibson’s franchise stores in Fredericksburg, Brady, Junction and Pleasanton at one time, according to a 2018 news article in this newspaper. Today, the Kerrville store is owned by the Kemp and Wilks families, I believe.
I’m old enough to remember when the Gibson’s building was under construction, and I’m old enough to remember when the store opened.
First Ad
According to a “Grand Opening” advertisement in the May 1, 1968 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, a three-day celebration was planned for the weekend of May 2-4, at “our new store, 99 W. Main.”
The first 500 ladies to visit the store in 1968 received a “free string of pearls.”
Other specials included 9 cent hand lotion, $1.77 garden hoses, $4.88 Zebco Spin-Cast rod and reel, 44 cent cans of Aqua Net hair spray, and $1.33 men’s putter pants (“Girls like ‘em too”).
Many more grand-opening specials were offered. “Shop thru-out the store…you’ll find many special values that are not advertised. Look for new special values arriving daily. Many items that had not arrived in time for our opening ad are coming daily, and will be put on special.”
The familiar sign
Herbert “Herb” R. and Belva Gibson opened Gibson Novelty Company in Abilene, Texas in 1936. By 1978, when the Gibson’s Discount Centers chain was at its largest, 684 stores could be found across the country, including stores in Hawaii and Guam.
Changing times, and competition from other national discount chains eventually ended the Gibson’s national chain; today the Kerrville store and a “Gibson’s Ace Hardware” store in Weatherford, Texas still carry the Gibson’s name. Both are independently owned. 
My late father loved shopping at Gibson’s, in part because one of his best friends, the late David McCutchen, managed the Kerrville store for many years.
Gibson's as it appeared in 2018
One Saturday, years ago, I told Ms. Carolyn I needed to go grab something at Gibson’s.
“Tell your father hello,” she replied. We both laughed, and I headed to the store.
While there, of course, I ran into my dad.
“Carolyn says hi,” I told him, as I headed to the plumbing supplies aisle. He had a puzzled look on his face, but was happy to receive the greeting.
Even though Dad’s been gone since 2012, I still look around for him whenever I’m shopping at Gibson’s.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects historical items from Kerr County and Kerrville. If you have something you’d care to share with him, it would make him very happy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 17, 2021

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Sunday, April 11, 2021

A carriage, a banner, and a crown: a puzzle on Kerrville's Main Street, around 1900

This photo, taken on Main Street in downtown Kerrville, contains several puzzles.
Click on any image to enlarge.

This week a treasure trove of historic photos of Kerrville and Kerr County crossed my desk, and I spent several happy hours studying them. While a good amount of reading is required for this column, my favorite part of this hobby is seeing old photographs of our home county – especially images I’ve never seen before.
While going through these photographs, I saw several hundred which were new to me. Gentle Reader: this makes me very happy. Each image adds to our understanding of local history, adding another tile to a grand mosaic.
The photos came from my friends Sandy and Jon Wolfmueller, of Wolfmueller’s Books on Earl Garrett Street, and were in a box of other historic items. I’m very grateful for their generosity.

Here are some of my favorites:
A woman, three children, and a driver in a fancy carriage are pictured in front of the second Kerr County Courthouse, which stood near the corner of Main and Sidney Baker streets. That courthouse was built in 1875, and served our community from 1876 until 1885, only 9 years. I don’t think this photograph was taken during that period. When the third Kerr County Courthouse was built, this building was ‘recycled,’ becoming the county jail. Both of those courthouses were torn down when the present courthouse was built in 1926. 
The entrance gate to 
Methodist Encampment
Automobiles weren’t common in Kerr County until around 1908, and I think the photo was taken before they arrived. My best guess is the photo was taken around the turn of the last century.
There are some interesting details in the photograph. One of the children is holding up a banner, though he has it facing backward, and we cannot read it. He only had one job to do! The driver is wearing a very nice set of clothes. The girls are well-dressed.
The biggest mystery in the photograph: the woman under the parasol is wearing a crown. Evidently this photograph commemorated some social event – though I have not been able to determine what that event might have been. There is one small clue on the back of the photograph: “H. Mosel, at the Depot” ordered a 5x7 print of the image, and was charged 50 cents.
A revival on Clay Street
Another of the photos shows the entrance to the Methodist Kerrville Assembly – which we know as Methodist Encampment. A pretty young woman and a Schreiner student are posing in front of a classic car – I’m guessing sometime in the 1930s. Someone who knows cars better than I will probably have a better guess.
I was interested in the sign hanging beneath entrance gate. It reads “Cottages for Rent/ No Sick/ Also Tourist Camp/ Water & Lights/ Prices O.K.”
Another image shows congregants of the First Christian Church attending a revival meeting. First Christian Church met in what was originally the Union Church; looking up the names of the evangelist and musician, Fox and Jackson, I learned this photograph was taken in September, 1929. The church building was on Clay Street at that time; today it’s been restored and stands on the edge of the Schreiner University campus.
A fly fisherman
Lastly, a fishing photograph, where a fellow in a Stetson and waders has just landed a nice bass. I notice he has his box of tied flies tucked in his back pocket, and his net is attached to a string looped over his shoulder. I chose this photograph because of his tackle – he caught that fish with a fly rod. I always thought I was one of the early fly fishermen in Kerr County, but this old photograph proves me wrong. Though I don’t know who this fisherman was, or when this photograph was taken, I’m pretty sure it predates me by many decades.
Thanks again to the Wolfmuellers for sharing this photograph with me, and with all of us.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who should go fly fishing more often. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 10, 2021. 

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