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Sunday, September 8, 2019

The last 19th-century church building leaves Kerrville's Jefferson Street.

First Presbyterian Church, as it appeared in 1918, at the corner
of Earl Garrett and Jefferson Streets.
Click on any image below to enlarge.
There was a time when Kerrville's Jefferson Street had a nickname: Church Street.
Methodist Church
This week the demolition and salvaging of Kerrville's original First Presbyterian Church building was front-page news. The old building has served many years as a family's home, and that family is dismantling the structure for use elsewhere.
I'm glad the materials will find new use. It's true the building started out as a church, but in truth it served as a home much longer than as a church sanctuary. And the family who owns the structure made an honest effort to have the building moved and restored; in fact, I contacted several organizations on their behalf to see if anyone had an interest in restoring the building as it originally appeared. None did.
The old building had to come down: the property has been purchased by the H. E. Butt Grocery Company for expansion of their store here.
Our Lady of Guadalupe
Here's a list of the wooden churches which stood along Jefferson Street during the decades of the first half of the last century, going from west to east: Our Lady of the Guadalupe, at Francisco Lemos Street, which was also a school; the Mexican Baptist Church, at Houston Street (later Rodriguez Street), which later became Calvary Baptist Church; the First Methodist Church, at Sidney Baker Street; First Presbyterian Church, at Mountain Street (later Earl Garrett Street); First Baptist Church at Washington Street; and St. Mary's Catholic Church, between Washington and Tivy streets, which moved and later became Notre Dame Catholic Church. You can see why Jefferson Street had the nickname.
St Mary's Catholic
Today, only one of these congregations remains on Jefferson Street: First Presbyterian Church. The site of the Baptist church is now the home of the First Assembly of God. All of the other places of worship have either moved to new locations or have been torn down.
Baptist Church
The Presbyterians had their start here with four other congregations which shared the Union Church in 1885. (The Presbyterians had use of the Union Church on the second Sunday of each month.)
In 1888 the group began raising funds for their own church building. According to the Kerr County Album, "the Reverend William B. Buchanan, an evangelist of the Austin Presbytery of the Northern Presbyterian Church assisted the small congregation of less than a dozen in their efforts to build their first church."
The church they built on Jefferson Street was moved down the street in the early 1920s and for more than nine decades has served as the home to several families.
First Presbyterian, 1923
In 1923 a new church building was constructed for the First Presbyterian Church, a gift of A. C. and Myrta Schreiner, for a congregation of about 160. This building is now called the Schreiner Chapel and stands at the corner of Earl Garrett and Jefferson. Additions over the years have grown to a campus which covers most of that block, including a former 'manse,' or pastor's home, an educational and office wing, a gymnasium/ multi-purpose building, and most recently a new sanctuary with beautiful stained glass, exposed beams, and an outstanding pipe organ.
Now all of the wooden churches of Jefferson Street are gone. One was repurposed as a church, and one was repurposed as a home, and the rest were torn down, moved, or salvaged. The congregations simply outgrew the older buildings.
I'm thankful to the Garcia family who are moving the materials of their home to a new site, and who made a good effort to have the building preserved and restored as a historic building. I'm thankful, too, for the dozen Presbyterians here who built their first church building in the late 1880s, having faith their flock would grow.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who was predestined to write this particular story, though the paradox of free will was quite confusing. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times September 6, 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.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A journey to Texas in the mid-1850s

Frederick Law Olmsted.  Together with his brother John Hull Olmsted, he explored Texas
in the years just before the Civil War, including a visit to
nearby Sisterdale, Texas, in today's Kendall County.
Image from the National Park Service.
Click on any image below to enlarge.
On Christmas Day, 1853, a pair of young New Englanders, Frederick Law Olmsted and his younger brother John Hull Olmsted, entered Texas on horseback to explore and record their impressions of our state. Frederick Olmsted was the writer of the two, and was filing dispatches with the newspaper which would become the New York Times. Their travels here were the source for his book, “A Journey through Texas; or, a Saddle-Trip on the Southwestern Frontier.” 2ds
The brothers traveled about 2,000 miles in Texas over the next five months.
Their travels here took them from the Piney Woods of East Texas, through the plains, into our hill country, and on to San Antonio, south Texas, and bottomlands near Houston and Galveston.
They even visited our neck of the woods, stopping by the homes of German settlers in New Braunfels and Sisterdale.
Ottomar von Behr,
who settled at Sisterdale.
Image from UTSA
Special Collections
Frederick Olmsted was impressed by the German immigrants, and not only because most of them shared his anti-slavery views. They were industrious, clean, and humble.
After a visit to San Antonio, of which Olmsted had a very favorable view, he and his brother returned to the German settlements in the hill country, including Sisterdale.
“Sisterdale,” Frederick Olmsted writes in his book, “is a settlement of eight or ten farms, about forty miles from San Antonio, upon the Guadalupe, at the junction of the Sister Creek and the crossing of the Fredericksburg road. The farmers are all men of education, and have chosen their residences, the first by chance, the latter by choice, within social distance of one another. Up and down the Guadalupe, within long walking range, are a dozen or twenty more, single men, living in huts or caves, earning a tough livelihood chiefly by splitting shinges.”
(Shingle making was one of the first hill country industries; Kerrville was founded by Joshua Brown, who had a shingle-making camp about where One Schreiner Center stands today, near the intersection of Water and Washington streets.)
Frederick Olmsted was enchanted by the Guadalupe River at Sisterdale.
von Behr's Sisterdale cabin.
Image from UTSA 

Special Collections
“The Guadalupe was even more beautiful here than below, quick and perfectly transparent. I have rarely seen any resort of wood-nymphs more perfect than the bower of cypress branches and vines that overhand the mouth of Sister Creek at the ford near the house. You want a silent canoe to penetrate it; yet would be loth to desecrate its deep beauty. The water of both has a delicate, cool, blue-green color; the rocky banks are clean and inviting; the cypresses rise superbly from the very edge, like ornamental columns. We found, while shooting in the river bottoms, some real monarchs of this species. One of them, which had fallen, was at least fourteen feet in diameter. Its heart, as is frequently the case, was unsound. It is one of the most common trees along the creeks of this region. The wood is similar to that of the pine, but less valuable for the purposes of the lumberman. The trunks of the older trees rise branchless to a great height, having a bark remarkably clean and bright, and a foliage feeble and quivering, like that of the larch.”
Frederick Law Olmsted,
late in life.
From Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps some of the beauty Olmsted saw in Sisterdale informed his later works, including the design for which he’s most famous: Central Park in New York.
Having traveled through rougher sections of Texas, the Olmsted brothers are surprised by the refinement of the German homes, even the rough log cabins. Frederick Olmsted often remarks of meals served on clean table cloths, glass windows, fitted doors that latched, and ample libraries, features he had not found in other parts of our state.
At the home of Ottomar von Behr, in Sisterdale, the brothers observed a Justice Court session, in which the value of dog which had been shot was settled, and all parties reconciled.
In addition to being the justice at the court, von Behr was also a meteorologist and naturalist. He was the second settler at Sisterdale, and gave the community its name. He also established a lending library for his community.
Von Behr’s house was “the very picture of good-nature, science, and back-woods. Romances and philosophies were piled in heaps in a corner of the logs. A dozen guns and rifles, and a Madonna, in oil, after Murillo, filled a blank on the wall. Deer-skins covered the bed, clothes hung about on antlers, snake-skins were stretched to dry upon the bedstead, barometer, whisky, powder-horns, and specimens of Saxony wool occupied the table.
“The dinner was Texan, of corn-bread and frijoles, with coffee, served in tin cups, but the salt was Attic, and the talk was worthy of golden goblets.”
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has passed through Sisterdale frequently, but who needs to slow down and take a good look someday. This column appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 30, 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.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Marrying JP, and the Kerr County Election of 1900

Portrait of man on Main Street, Kerrville, around 1905, by J. E. Grinstead.
I believe he is Hugh Turner, Justice of the Peace, Kerrville precinct.
Click on any image to enlarge.
At the turn of the last century, Kerr County held an election. In one of the races, something very interesting happened.
Here's the story, as told by Merrill Doyle in his Kerrville memoir "Reminiscences of My Youth, and Other Catastrophes," which was printed by my father in 1975.
In the election of 1900, the incumbent justice of the peace was held by an over-confident fellow who believed the office was his for as long as he cared to serve.
"The idea that he could be defeated," writes Doyle, "was so remote as to be inconceivable."
Such an attitude, especially when so obviously expressed by the incumbent, demanded action.
"So the 'boys' about town decided to play a joke on him. They would find an opponent for him. Give him a race."
"I have a suit for every day
of the week...."
It was a matchup Aesop would appreciate: the incumbent was the hare. Now to find the tortoise.
"After much discussion and looking over the field of rather unlikely candidates it was decided to place the name of Hugh Turner upon the slate as the people's choice. A more unpromising person could have hardly been found. This newcomer to the field of politics was of rather short stature and while not being given to obesity, was the possessor of what was then tactfully described as a 'pot belly.' His clothes, in keeping with the custom of the day, were worn casually and unpressed, reminding one of the old saw that states 'I have a suit for every day of the week and this is it.' There was the usual evidence of soup and gravy upon his necktie and upon the upper reaches of the aforementioned pot belly."
Hugh Turner, of course, will be the tortoise in our story.
"Upon hearing that his name had been placed in nomination as a challenger to the formidable incumbent, he immediately took stock of himself. I do not know what he came up with, but it was apparently enough, as he took the campaign in dead seriousness. His adversary, on the other hand, accepted it as a great joke and continued along his merry way.
"While the current office holder was spending his time in quaffing a cold beer ... with his cronies, Mr. Turner was out bruising his knuckles upon the doors of prospective voters and lining up their support.
"Election Day rolled around and the faithful flocked to the polls. The friends and consorts of the incumbent rallied to his support with much back slapping and assurances of an easy victory. But to their amazement and chagrin, the doors that bore the imprint of Mr. Turner's knuckles spewed out voters by the gross. When the ballots were tallied it was found that Mr. Turner was the winner by a couple of lengths."
Merrill Doyle concludes his story with this assessment: "The joke paid off and Judge Turner was regarded as one of the best J.P.'s we ever had."
This opinion was widely held, and reported in several of the other articles about Hugh Turner I found in the newspaper archives. He served our community well for over 35 years.
In addition to the other duties of his office, Judge Turner was often called upon to perform marriage ceremonies, sometimes in the middle of the night. One account tells of an ardent couple who awakened Judge Turner, standing at the foot of his bed, before he had the advantage of putting on his clothes. Undeterred, the Judge wrapped himself in his quilt, put on his glasses, performed the ceremony, collected his fee, and went right back to sleep.
My favorite wedding story, though, was reported in the Kerrville Mountain Sun on December 6, 1928, in an article recounting Judge Turner's many years of service.
"It seems that a certain young swain without much experience in the marrying business was made the butt of a joke by his friends, who told him it was necessary to get the endorsement of certain officials before the splicing could be legally accomplished. After he had secured the license, the young man was sent to the mayor, who in turn sent him to some others being in on the joke.
"The couple finally landed in the chambers of Judge Turner, who was busily engaged and had not been tipped off. He forthwith and without further ado stood the bride and bridegroom up and made them man and wife. When he announced that they were married, both were highly indignant and protested vigorously that they were to have a brilliant church wedding the next day and merely wanted a permit to get married.
"The big church wedding came off the following day, but Judge Turner was unsuccessful in his efforts to have the Methodist pastor split the fee with him."
Though he performed hundreds of weddings in Kerrville and Kerr County, Hugh Turner was a bachelor until he was 55, marrying Verda Cowden in 1926.
Judge Turner passed away in 1944, and is buried next to his wife in Center Point.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who once secured a marriage license in Kerr County for a ceremony performed in Austin. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times, August 24, 2019.

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

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The story of Kerrville's Arcadia Theater

The Arcadia Theater, 1920s, in the 700 block of Water Street, downtown Kerrville.
With the Arcadia Theater in the news recently, I thought it might be useful to share the old girl's history. Here's the story of the Arcadia from my files:
On the warm Tuesday evening of June 29, 1926, folks crowded into a newly built theater to watch the comedy film “Irene,” starring Colleen Moore. They were greeted with “cooled” air and a film about the life of a poor, beautiful Irish lass whose dire economic circumstances obscure her royal lineage. She worked as a shopkeeper’s assistant, selling dresses. A local grandee had obtained the job for her there as a model; the villainous shopkeeper had demoted her to lowly clerk. During a grand fashion show, the grandee notes the absence of his protégé, storms to the dimly lit store, costumes the girl and returns with her to triumph, and eventually love.
"Irene" poster on display
at our print shop.
The scenes of the fashion show were “registered in subdued tones of the Techni-color process, a new idea which has recently been discovered by those who invented the method of color photography.” This probably explains the choice of this movie, a First National release, as the film for the Arcadia's first evening: "Irene" was in color.
The town was very proud of their new theater. There was an older movie house, the Dixie, near the corner of Washington and Water streets, on the northern corner. The Dixie is remembered for its wooden bleachers, where patrons tucked their feet up to avoid the rats that ran along the floor eating popcorn and nibbling on shoelaces. The Arcadia, by contrast, was a movie palace.
Built at a cost of $90,000, the new theater featured high-tech (for 1926) projection equipment (a pair of Powers projectors), a ‘Gardner Velvet Gold Fibre Screen,’ a Hillgren-Lane pipe organ, and seating capacity for 1,000 -- approximately a quarter of the population of Kerrville at the time. (A theater built today, designed to hold a quarter of today's population, would seat 5,900 people!)
The building looked very different then: it featured a Spanish mission façade, and the 16x40 foot ‘arcade’ was accented with rough plaster and hand-hewn beams. In the ‘arcade’ was seven display cases.
Seating was also arranged differently than the seating many of us remember. In addition to the ‘orchestra’ and balcony seats, there were also eight loges with five chairs each. Smoking was allowed in the balcony seats only.
The Arcadia Theater, 1980s,
with old marquee.
The small stage (8 x 15 feet) was furnished with scenery from Volland Scenic Company of St. Louis, and included a “beautiful mountain and river scene, typical of the country surrounding Kerrville. It is a remarkable reproduction of nature, done in oil.” There was also an orchestra pit measuring 7 ½ x 25 feet; this was the home of the pipe organ.
The neon sign we see frantically flashing in the night sky is not the original sign for the theater. The first was about 15 feet high and extended six feet above the building, with 16” letters. The lighting flashed on and off at intervals, but was not neon; the coloring of the letters was done by placing ‘glass color hoods’ over the lamps, and red and green and amber were the predominate colors. There was a twinkling torch and a ‘flowing’ border driven by an electric motor.
The Bart Moore Construction Company built the building. Mr. Moore was also the president of the Kerrville Amusement Company, which owned the Arcadia and Dixie Theaters, and he would serve as the Arcadia’s first general manager.
Admission prices that first week of performances were 25 and 50 cents.
The Arcadia Theater showed movies until 1988; since then the building has been dark and empty. Several local groups have tried to restore the building and make it a public entertainment space, starting in the 1990s. I'm hoping the current group attempting to revive the Arcadia has great success and support.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who owns a copy of the movie "Irene," and has a poster advertising the movie on display in his family's print shop offices. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 17, 2019.

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

Sunday, August 11, 2019

80 year old Kerr scrapbook comes back home

Schreiner Institute Kerrville Texas 1938
Pages from Loretta Stehling's 1938-39 Schreiner Institute scrapbook.
Click on any image to enlarge.
Several weeks ago a kind person in Oakland, California, contacted me via email, saying he’d purchased an old scrapbook from 1938-39, which contained photographs, news clippings, and football programs from Schreiner Institute.
Schreiner Institute Kerrville Texas 1938
Schreiner Institute parade grounds, 1938
He’d run across my name online, finding my website,, which is the home of my Kerr County history blog.  I’m always thankful when someone finds me this way, because it often means something relating to our community’s history will find its way home.
The scrapbook was kept by Loretta Stehling when she was in her early twenties. Ms. Stehling was a 1933 Tivy High School graduate, and obviously had an interest in football and Schreiner Institute. When she passed away in 1998, her obituary mentioned she’d worked at the college at some point; perhaps this scrapbook was kept during her time there.
I remember Ms. Stehling’s brother, Martin, and two of her nephews, Scott and James.  She was quite a musician, and served her church, Notre Dame Catholic Church, for many years as church organist.
Mary Jane Garrett, Schreiner Institute Kerrville Texas 1938
Mary Jane Garrett and cadets, 1938
The scrapbook is in good shape, considering its age, and the distance it traveled from home (almost 1,700 miles).  It contains four football programs for Schreiner, one or two from Tivy, lots of newspaper clippings, and several pages of Christmas cards Ms. Stehling received.
It also contains photographs of Schreiner students, both cadets there and “day students,” as the young women were called.  Schreiner started out as a military school for young men; women students were allowed but did not live on campus.
The quality of the student portraits makes me guess they were taken for the school’s yearbook or other publications.
Schreiner cadets running for rifles and sabers.
The second fellow from right, John Heard, is listed on
the Kerr County War Memorial, lost in WWII.
There are three photographs of the campus itself, taken in the school’s sixteenth year.  All show young men in uniform, and two include young women.
J. J. Delaney, who served as Schreiner’s first president, wrote a greeting to students in the campus newspaper in the fall of 1938, of which a clipping is included in the scrapbook.
“By now,” Delaney wrote, “the many details incident to the opening of school are past. Your courses have been given you, and the way is mapped out for you to the best interests of your individual plan, and I want to urge each of you to attack your studies with a determination to stick it out through the entire year and WIN. Just as you back your athletic teams to “Fight for Schreiner,” do some fighting on your own, for yourself, and when the end of the school year comes you will be proud, and those who are making the financial sacrifice to help you do something worthwhile in life will be proud that you made the greatest effort of your whole career in this, your 1938-39 school year at Schreiner.”
Scrapbooks like this one tell many stories.  Of course, the items included in its pages each tell a story, and the photographs tell a different kind of story.  The biggest story, of course, is of the person who collected the items and carefully arranged them on the pages, preserving them for her own enjoyment – and, in this case, for the rest of our community.
I’m especially thankful to the kind resident of Oakland, California, who sent the scrapbook back home.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is thankful so many folks are very generous, sharing their Kerrville and Kerr County historical items with him. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 10, 2019.

If you enjoyed this column, you'll enjoy my two books, which are collections of my columns from 1994 to 2018.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.



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