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Sunday, April 21, 2019

1865 Petition: Comfort asks to return to Kerr County

Driving from Kerrville to Comfort takes about 25 minutes -- even if you hit a red light or two leaving Kerrville -- and both major routes, taking either IH 10 or State Highway 27, are smooth and easy drives.
It's hard to imagine, then, how far apart the two communities were in the early 1860s, during the Civil War era. The gap between them was not measured in miles; neither community has moved locations since those days. The gap between them then was measured by politics.
Recently I found a copy of an 1865 petition in my files, where the leaders of Comfort asked the provisional governor of Texas for help. The original petition is in the state archives in Austin.
When Kerr County was created by the Texas legislature in 1856, Comfort was in Kerr County. According to the 1860 census, there were actually more people living in Comfort than in Kerrville, though both communities were small. Comfort had a population of 91; Kerrville, 68. There were also more voters in Comfort than in Kerrville: In Comfort, there were 37 men of voting age, and in Kerrville, 15.
The two communities were very different from each other. Comfort was settled by German immigrants; Kerrville, by other groups, but mainly by folks born in the United States. Most Comfort citizens spoke German; most Kerrville citizens spoke English.
On the big political question of 1860 the two communities were polar opposites: Kerrville mostly supported secession from the United States; Comfort mostly supported staying in the Union.
When Kerr County voted whether Texas should secede, the vote was 76 to 57 in favor of secession. However, there is some evidence to suggest Kerr County would have voted not to secede had the votes of Precinct 2 (near Comfort, in the German-speaking portion of the county) been counted fully.
The other local political contest asked which community should be the county seat. Kerrville was initially chosen because it met the requirements of the 1856 legislation creating Kerr County: it was in the center of the new county. Comfort, however, had more people, was an older, more established community, and it had the votes. In 1860, the voters of Kerr County voted to move the county seat from Kerrville to Comfort, though not all of the votes of the county were counted; in this election some of the votes in Kerrville were thrown out on a technicality.
Comfort might yet be the county seat of Kerr County except for another act of the Texas legislature: in 1862, when Kendall County was created, Comfort found itself just over the Kendall County line. At that moment, the county seat moved back to Kerrville, since Comfort was no longer in Kerr County.
Kendall County was created during the Civil War and there were bigger problems for Comfort during those years. The county was created in January, 1862; in August, 1862, at the Battle of the Nueces, Confederate forces defeated a group of Unionists who were heading to the Mexican border. Many of the Unionists were German-speaking men from local communities, including Comfort, who did not want to join the Confederate army.
Theodore Wiedenfeld
Henry Schwethelm
Henry Heinen
After the Civil War ended, the leaders of Comfort made a new attempt to change the history of Kerr County when they petitioned the provisional governor of Texas, Andrew Jackson Hamilton. They wanted the legislation which created Kendall County altered where Comfort once again was part of Kerr County. If the old boundary lines of Kerr County would be valid, Comfort would have a chance to once again reclaim the county seat of Kerr County.
"...after a rebellious Convention and a party of men styling themselves a Legislature of this State had torn asunder our connections with the national Government, the said so-called Legislature in the year 1862 then in rebellion against and hostile to the only legitimate Goverment, made and created another County, 'the county of Kendall,' for no other purpose than to hold and keep down a strong Union sentiment prevailing in Kerr County...."
August Faltin
Heinrich Allerkamp
The new county line cutting Comfort from Kerr County ridded "Kerr of a strong but troublesome Union party."
The act creating Kendall County "was done by a rebel act to serve their rebel purposes."
The petition is signed by the prominent men of Comfort, with names still found in that community: Faltin, Schellhase, Schwethelm, Wiedenfeld, Heinen, Herbst.
A few signatures appear in pencil, and among them is a name I was surprised to find among the other petitioners: Charles Schreiner.
Andrew Jackson Hamilton was provisional governor of Texas from the summer of 1865 until the summer of 1866. During the Civil War he had been appointed military governor of Texas by Lincoln, though he never was able to enter Texas and govern; he spent most of the war in New Orleans.
Hamilton may have been sympathetic to the arguments of the petitioners from Comfort, but there is no evidence he ever acted upon their request.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks local politics is a lot less divisive than it once was. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 20, 2019.
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Sunday, April 14, 2019

Found in a Garage: Hundreds of Historic Photographs

Starr Bryden's Foot Locker, found in Kerrville in 2012.
Click on any image to enlarge.
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,
the "Kodak Chap."
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.
Apelt Armadillo Farm, from
glass negative in foot locker
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.
Workmen, Schreiner
Wool Warehouse
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.
Louise Hays at the
cornerstone dedication of
the park named for her.
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.
Water Street, 1940s
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.
Solving World Problems,
Pampell's, 1950s
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.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerrville and Kerr County photographs. If you have something you'd allow him to scan for his collection, please bring it by the print shop at 615 Water Street in beautiful downtown Kerrville.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 13, 2019.

If you liked this column, you'll like my two books of collected columns. You can get yours at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

The Mystery of Kerrville's Airdome Theater

Detail of Sanborn Map of Kerrville, November 1916.
Click on any image to enlarge.
It all began with a curious notation on a Kerrville map. It ended with an accidental discovery of something in an old photograph.
The November 1916 Sanborn map of downtown Kerrville shows an "Open Air Theatre" in the 200 block of what is now called Sidney Baker Street. Today a portion of the downtown parking building stands on the site.
There is something charming about the idea of watching a movie under the stars, especially if you cancel thoughts of insects, poor weather, and the occasional rodent. Entertainments from outside our community were few in those days, and motion pictures were modern and new.
I wanted to know more about the little theater shown on the map.
It wasn't a big facility, basically a fenced area roughly 16 feet along Sidney Baker Street, stretching back about 25 feet. One small building stands in the corner.
The "Open Air Theatre" doesn't show up on other Sanborn maps; I checked the 1904 and 1924 maps of that block, and the theater is not shown on either one.
Years ago I found a description of the open-air theater in some of the writings of Anna Belle Council Roland. "About 1913," she wrote, "there was an airdome in the middle of the block on Sidney Baker, about where the hospital parking lot is now located. Admission was 5 cents."
I always thought an outdoor movie theater made a lot of sense -- when the weather was pleasant. In those days, before air-conditioning, being inside a stuffy building to watch a movie would have been unpleasant for most of the year.
I looked up "Airdome Theater" in old Kerrville newspapers, and found mentions in several issues. There was a problem, though. That "Airdome Theater" was on Water Street, and it operated in the mid-1920s, well after Mrs. Roland's account.
I find several ads for the Water Street "Airdome Theater" in 1925 newspapers, including one which promised a "Wedding Gift of $20 in Gold" to the "first couple that will get married in our theater during the month of June." The newlyweds would also receive a 30 day movie pass, though I'm sure other entertainments might've occupied their attentions during their first month of marriage.
Despite this extraordinary offer, and others like it, the Water Street "Airdome Theater" did not last very long. In July, the theater suffered a fire, caused by someone placing "copper coins in the fuse box after the fuses had been burned out, thus destroying the protection the fuse box is supposed to give the building."
By November 1925 the Water Street "Airdome Theater" was being dismantled for its materials, "having been closed for months."
An ad for the Airdome, from the July 29, 1916
issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun
I thought I'd found the Sidney Baker Street airdome when I found several references to the "People's Theater," but that turned out to be a group that rented Pampell's Opera House to show motion pictures and other entertainments during the time around World War I. Previously, Pampell had rented out his opera house to the "Gayety Theatre," which also showed movies.
Pampell's Opera House, which was basically the upper floor of Pampell's, at the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets, began showing movies on weekends in 1909, "with a complete change of program every night." Today the building is the home of the Humble Fork, a new restaurant.
An ad for the Secret of the Submarine, 1915
There is a brief mention of the "Airdome" in the August 12, 1916 edition of the Kerrville Mountain Sun. Of all of the various theaters mentioned, I believe this is the one shown on the 1916 map, and mentioned by Mrs. Roland. The story mentions moving pictures and "home talent of songs and music, the proceeds going for the benefit of the High School Library."
The Airdome showed serials, like the "Secret of the Submarine," which had 20 episodes, shown in installments every Tuesday night.
The last mention of the Airdome was published in the summer of 1918, and noted admission included "war tax."
To the right of the Citizen's Auto Company, in the 200 block
of what is now Sidney Baker, the hint of a movie screen can be seen.
Click to enlarge.
By accident, I may have found a partial photograph of the old theater.
In 1914 the Citizen's Auto Company stood on Sidney Baker Street, just to the left of the "Open Air Theatre." I have two photos of the old auto company, and I noticed something interesting in one of them.
To the right of the auto company is a high fence, solid, so you can't peek through. And standing above the fence you can see the upper part of what appears to be a movie screen.
Around a century ago, folks gathered in that little fenced area, and a flickering light projected stories onto a screen. Together they suspended disbelief. A few held hands.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who watched movies with Ms. Carolyn at the Arcadia Theater in downtown Kerrville, years ago. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 6, 2019.

If you like these columns, you'll like my two books of collected columns. You can get yours at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

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Sunday, March 31, 2019

1967 Kerrville Fishing Rodeo: how many of these kids do you recognize?

Winners, Kerrville Fishing Rodeo, September 1967
sponsored by the Hill Country Bass Club
How many kids do you recognize?
Click on any image to enlarge.
"Kids who like to fish don't end up in prison" was the premise behind an annual Kid's Fishing Rodeo held late each summer in Louise Hays Park, back in the 1960s. The contest was sponsored by the Hill Country Bass Club.
This week I ran across two photos of the contest from September, 1967, which brought back lots of memories, not only because I recognized a few of the prize winners, but also because I can remember the contest and how much excitement it generated among students my age. (In 1967 I was a first-grader at Starkey Elementary.)
Given the tone of the news lately, I though a bit of nostalgia might be nice.  Besides, I think many readers will recognize the names of some of the winners.
In 1967, 55 local boys and girls competed on the banks of the Guadalupe River for prizes ranging from lifejackets, tackle boxes, and fishing poles.
Club members weighing the kids' stringers
"Members of the Hill Country Bass Club were as busy as beavers weighing the stringers and providing bait," the news report said.  I can imagine.  55 children competing in one event on a hot day would be enough to wear out most fishermen.
Those children fishing were divided by age, and competed in the following categories: heaviest fish and heaviest stringer.
See if you recognize some of the names among the winners:
In the 5 and 6 year old group, Russell Morgan and Debbie Chipmann had the heaviest fish; Rodney Baumann and Jane Hopkins had the heaviest stringers.  Gerry Stoepel and Janie Schilling had the second heaviest.
The winners in the 7 and 8 year old group: Kenneth Williams and Lynn Byrd, for heaviest fish; Danny Ayala and Beth Hopkins had the heaviest stringers.  James Thurman and Jeff Goldman had the second heaviest.
In the 9 and 10 year old group, Danny Virgen and Phillys Williams had the heaviest fish; Bobby Kaiser and Holly Byrd, the heaviest stringer. Thomas Bridges and Barbara Zassette had the second place stringers.   Holly Byrd is the sister of Lynn Byrd; something tells me they had been fishing as a family before the contest.
In the 11 and 12 year old group, Gene Schilling and Martha Piaz had the heaviest fish; Freddie Pieper and Dick Hopkins had the heaviest stringers.  Preston Jones and Steve Griffin came in second place.
The grand prize fisherman was Thomas Sheppard.
The last mention of the Hill Country Bass Club I found in my index of old newspapers was back in February, 2010; I did not find the group among those listed on the Convention and Visitors Bureau's website.  I'm not sure if the club still meets.
Here's something I do know: the group instilled the love of fishing in a lot of children.  I'm not sure fishing will keep you out of prison, but it is certainly a nice way to spend a day at the river.
Until next week, all the best.

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Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys fishing trips with his son. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 30, 2019

If you like these columns, you'll like my two books of collected columns. You can get yours at Wolfmueller's Books, Herring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Voelkel's triangle-shaped building in downtown Kerrville

The Voelkel Engineering Building, 500 block of Water Street, Kerrville;
photo taken last year.  Click on any image below to enlarge.
One of the more interesting buildings in town is owned by the Voelkel family, and is the home of their company, Voelkel Engineering.
The building is located at the intersection of Water and Clay streets, just across Clay Street from the city's parking building, and what makes it interesting is its shape: when looked at from above, the building is the shape of a right triangle, snugly fitting onto its uniquely-shaped lot.
We don't have a lot of buildings with a triangle-shaped footprint in Kerrville.
Kerrville Mountain Sun,
June 20, 1926
A close look at the building reveals its many special features, from the Spanish-style tiles along its roof and above its windows, to the little plaster finials at each angle of the triangle, to the decorative reliefs above the windows and doorways.
Years ago I wrote a story about the building, identifying it as the showroom of the Cone Car Company, which was the Ford dealer years ago.
Not so, said several readers; in their memory the building was Cone's service department or gas station. The Cone showroom was on Water Street they told me, opposite the parking lot between our print shop and the A. C. and Myrtle Schreiner home next to the library.
I deferred to those readers since several were around when the building was built, in 1926. My earliest memories of the building date from the mid-1960s, when the building housed the Sweatt Cleaners, a dry cleaning company.
Besides, photographic evidence suggested those readers were correct. I have a 1950s photo of the building when it housed the Rhodes Service Station, which sold Magnolia products. The photo shows a big neon sign for "Mobilgas," complete with a flying Pegasus.
Jimmie Rodgers and new car, 1929,
taken in front of Cone Car Company,
600 block of Water Street
Another photo, showing Jimmie Rodgers standing next to a new car, appears to be taken on Water Street, implying the showroom was there, and not on the corner.
Michael Bowlin, my friend and fellow history detective, recently found a news item in the June 10, 1926 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, which shows the Voelkel's building, and which helps solve the mystery.
"New Buildings of Lee Mason & Son Latest Word in Auto Salesrooms," the headline reads, over a cut of photographs labeled "Staff Photo, San Antonio Express."
The Voelkel's building is shown in two of the five photographs; one, with a group of men standing at the building's sharpest corner, facing Water Street; the other was taken across Water Street facing the building.
Rhodes Service Station,
"Exterior view of the new display room and offices of Lee Mason & Son," the caption reads.
A close look at the grainy photograph shows the building lacked the large drive-through openings featured on the building today. A long row of windows lines the Water Street and the Clay Street sides of the building.
The building was designed by Adams & Adams, architects from San Antonio, the same firm which designed the 1919 facade of the Schreiner Building.
Lee Mason & Son were dealers for several lines of automobiles, including Ford automobiles and tractors, Nash automobiles, and later Chrysler products. Founded in 1915, Lee Mason and his son Charles were successful in their several businesses, which included the dealership, a garage, and a filling station, which was across Clay Street, where the corner of the parking building stands today. The business continued during World War I, while Charles Mason fought in France.
In 1925, they sold their Ford dealership to G. S. Cone, who had been in Kerrville for sixteen months, having moved here "seeking health." Cone had previously had a Ford dealership in San Augustine.
The Masons built the triangle-shaped building in 1926 for their Chrysler dealership.
So my readers were correct: the Cone Car Company showroom was on Water Street, where Cone sold Fords; the Lee Mason & Son showroom was at the corner of Water and Clay streets where the Masons sold Chryslers.
Later, by the 1950s, the triangle-shaped building was remodeled into a gas station, with the wide drive-through openings replacing the series of windows and doors. In the 1960s the building was a dry-cleaners, and most recently has been a part of Voelkel Engineering.  It's served many businesses in its 93 year history.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who walks by the Voelkel's building most weekday mornings with his sister and son. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 23, 2019.
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