New Kerr County History Book Available!

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Aerial photos of Kerrville -- when were they taken?

Downtown Kerrville, an image from the estate of Dash Peterson.
When was this photo taken?
Click on any image to enlarge.

Last week, Nathan Fitch and his mother, Rachel Fitch, were kind enough to share some photographs with me – and with all of us.

Mrs. Fitch’s company, Fitch Estate Sales, conducted a sale at the home of the late Dash Peterson last weekend. Nathan Fitch owns Mr. Peterson’s old house. They were kind enough to let me see some of the historic photographs Peterson left behind.

There were some truly historical photos in the boxes they loaned me, and I’m still processing them, hoping to write about them here later. This week, however, I wanted to share some images from the Peterson house that might spark a few memories from people around my age.

Among the items in the house, I found a box of color slides, and it contained aerial images of Kerrville I’d never seen before. The box didn’t identify the photographer.

Kerrville State Park
Looking at the images, I recognized the Kerrville of my childhood. One photo shows both the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital and the Blue Bonnet Hotel in the downtown area. Another shows what was then the Kerrville State Park, now the municipal Kerrville Schreiner Park. Another shows Louise Hays Park as I remember it from the late 1960s – early 1970s.

Are there are enough clues in these photographs to guess the date of when they were taken?

Let’s see.

On the aerial image of downtown, the two big clues are the hospital and the hotel. The hospital was built in 1949; the hotel was torn down in 1971.

That gives us 22-year gap to work with.

Louise Hays Park
Beside the hospital is the old J. C. Penney store, and next to it, a stone building that was originally Charles Schreiner’s Wool Warehouse. Later this building was used as a retail space, first by Lehmann’s, then as a Winn’s variety store. Looking closely at the sign in front of that building, it says Winn’s. The Winn’s store opened on Water Street in April, 1964; that means our gap is now seven years.

I noticed the hospital has seven stories in this photo; the seventh floor (and part of the sixth) was added after 1949. You can tell, because the seventh floor was clad in a light blue material. A quick bit of research shows that work was completed in 1965.

Now we’ve narrowed the gap to just six years. Can we close the gap further?

I notice the old First United Methodist Church above the Blue Bonnet Hotel, but its construction and demolition are outside the limits we’ve already set. Walgreen’s sits on that spot now.

Above the hospital, almost to the edge of the image is the freight station for the railroad; this is a different building than the passenger depot which is now the home of Rails, A Café at the Depot. Again, outside of our 1965-1971 time gap.

Finally I noticed, just to the right of the Blue Bonnet Hotel, the vertical decorative stripes of the Kerrville Telephone Company switching office in the 800 block of Water Street. That building was finished in 1969 – and built on the site of the old Henke’s Meat Market.

So, I feel confident these photographs were taken between 1969 and 1971 – so, about 1970.

What do you think?

I’m grateful to the Rachel Fitch and her son Nathan Fitch for their generosity.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects historical photographs and other items from Kerrville and Kerr County. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 1, 2023.

You can help by sharing this story with someone, by forwarding it by email, or sharing it on Facebook. Sharing is certainly caring. (I also have two Kerr County history books available online, with free shipping!)

Sunday, March 26, 2023

Found in my Kerr County files: a document signed by the first governor of the State of Texas

Texas granted Thornton F. Hollis 640 acres in 1847.
Click on any image to enlarge.

I found something interesting in my files this week.

It’s an original Texas land grant (or patent) bearing the seal of the General Land Office, and signed by J. Pinckney Henderson in 1847. 

Henderson was the first governor of the State of Texas; he served less than two years. For a portion of his term of office, he took a leave of absence to take personal command of troops in the field during the Mexican War; after the war he resumed his duties as governor but refused to run for a second term. Later, he represented Texas in the U.S. Senate.

James Pinckney Henderson
The land document is in very good shape for something signed 176 years ago. It measures 13.5 x 15.5 inches, and was printed on a very thick parchment stock. It was basically a form, where handwritten details were added to a printed sheet of paper.

There were many reasons for the new state government of Texas to offer land to its citizens and others. Land grants were a key instrument for encouraging settlement and development in the state. The purpose of land grants was to provide incentives for individuals and families to establish homes and businesses on the frontier.

At the time, much of Texas was still a relatively undeveloped frontier region, and the government hoped to encourage settlement and development by offering land grants to settlers.

The field notes for this particular land grant were written by the deputy surveyor for the Bexar District of Texas, Joseph A. Tivy. Many years later, Tivy lived in Kerrville, and gave land to establish Kerrville’s public schools. He was also the first mayor of Kerrville. 

He wrote these field notes on December 7, 1846:

“Said survey No. 143 in Section 2. Situated on the Guadalupe River, about 55 miles northwest of San Antonio in Bexar County.

“Beginning at an Elm tree 3 inches in diameter on the bank of the river….”

Another corner of the tract is marked by “a Cypress tree 7 inches in diameter,” while another corner is marked by a cypress 14 inches in diameter. A cottonwood tree is also referenced in the field notes.

If those trees still exist, after over 175 years of floods and the many other calamities to which a tree might fall victim, they’d likely be slightly larger.

The original grant was for 640 acres.

Governor Henderson granted the land to Thornton F. Hollis, his heirs and assigns FOREVER. That word is capitalized on the document.

Hollis had previously appeared before the Board of Land Commissioners for the County of Galveston on July 6, 1846, where he certified he came to Texas in 1838, he was married and had never obtained a certificate or headright of land. These facts meant he was entitled to 640 acres of land in Texas, due to an “act of Congress approved 16 January 1843.” This was an act approved before Texas was a state in the Union.

Hollis had no intention of settling the land granted to him by the state government of Texas. Once he had obtained the necessary paperwork from the Galveston land commissioners, he sold his land grant to John S. Snyder and Alfred F. James for $50. He did not delay: he sold it the very same day the Galveston officials certified his qualifications for the land grant.

It’s likely Hollis was recruited to apply. It was an easy way to earn $50. It’s unlikely he ever saw the land patented in his name.

I doubt Snyder or James held on to the property for very long, either. I’m not sure the intended effects of the land grant program, which was the settlement of the frontier, were often achieved. I am sure the program encouraged speculation in land.

The land patent document for Thornton F. Hollis was signed by Governor Henderson on January 29, 1847. It went through a number of hands before landing in my files. There is a notation on the back of the document of its being recorded in Kerr County’s land records by an assistant Kerr County Clerk, R. L. Bacon, in 1872. He affixed the gold seal of Kerr County to the back of the document.

The patent itself does not mention Kerr County or Kerrville, because in 1847 neither existed; they were created in 1856.

Where exactly was this land, which was given by the state of Texas to Mr. Hollis?

Thompson's Sanatorium, Kerrville
Here’s the story:

Years later, in 1936, Texas bought most of the 640 acres back from one of its many subsequent owners, Dr. Sam Thompson. The State of Texas paid him $80,000 for the land and its improvements, a hospital called Thompson Sanatorium. 

In 1935, the Forty-fourth Texas Legislature had appropriated $200,000 for the establishment of a tuberculosis hospital for Black patients. On June 1, 1937, the facility opened as the ‘Kerrville State Sanatorium;’ it was under the direction of Dr. H. Y. Swayze. 

Today the hospital has a different mission and is called the Kerrville State Hospital.

Trees may still mark the corners of the original property.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is sometimes surprised by what he finds in his files. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 25, 2023.

You can help by sharing this story with someone, by forwarding it by email, or sharing it on Facebook. Sharing is certainly caring. (Christmas gift idea: I also have two Kerr County history books available online, with free shipping!)

Sunday, March 12, 2023

The very first workshop of James Avery in 1954 -- a Kerrville success story

The garage of James Avery's in-laws in 1954,
where he started making jewelry locally.
Click on any image to enlarge.

I ran across some items from James Avery in my files this week, and it brought back memories of Mr. Avery and the company he founded here in Kerrville in 1954.

James Avery's 95th birthday party
The last time I visited with James Avery was at his 95th birthday party, in late 2016, given by his wife Estela at the Alegria Barn, near their home on the Fredericksburg Highway. It was a fun event, with music, good food, and a crowd of well-wishers. Jim, though frailer than the previous times we'd visited, was kind and thoughtful. I brought him a copy of a late 1960s-era James Avery Craftsman catalog my father had printed.

I first met Mr. Avery at our family's print shop, when I was a boy. He was a focused printing customer, who knew exactly what he wanted, and several generations of my family worked hard to make sure we met his expectations. He was always kind to me, and to everyone at our print shop, and I have fond memories of him.

Homer James Avery first arrived in Texas in 1943, as a 21-year-old Army Air Corps Cadet, when he traveled by train from Illinois to Lackland AFB in San Antonio. As a child, Avery had moved around a lot, between Michigan and Illinois, and after a false start at Michigan State, and a year living with his grandparents in Iowa, he enrolled in the ROTC program at the University of Illinois. He learned of a new department at the University of Illinois, "Industrial Design," and it was Avery's "entrance into the field of design," according to a talk he gave in 2007.

Avery and air crew
During World War II, in March, 1943, Avery was sent to Lackland. Later, he went to Fort Stockton for primary pilot training, San Angelo for basic training, and on to Lubbock, where he earned his wings in January, 1944.

After Lubbock, Avery was sent to Laughlin Field in Del Rio, where he learned to fly the Martin Marauder, the B-26. The B-26 had a bad reputation, since there were a lot of accidents, especially on take-offs and landings.

Avery met his crew in Shreveport, Louisiana, and they were assigned a new B-26, which they flew from Florida to England, by way of the Caribbean, South America, Ascension Island, Liberia, Dakar, Morocco, and then Wales. The trip took nine days.

Together they flew 44 bombing missions in Europe from bases in France.

After the war, Avery returned to the University of Illinois to complete his degree.

Avery designs on
a lovely notepad
After graduation, Avery was offered a position at the University of Iowa to set up a new Industrial Design program in the Fine Arts department. He was only 24 years old.

Two years later, he moved on to the University of Colorado, where he taught in the Fine Arts school for five years.

During this time personal issues caused Avery to become very involved with his church, and with campus youth ministries at the University of Colorado. While in Colorado, he met a young woman from Kerrville, Sally Ranger, who became his second wife in 1953.

Together they moved to Minneapolis, where Avery taught at the University of Minnesota. A very cold winter there helped them decide to move back to Texas.

The couple arrived in Kerrville in June, 1954. In his in-laws' garage, James Avery built a workshop, putting up Celotex on the interior walls, building a workbench, and setting up a polishing lathe. It was there, with a few hand tools, pieces of sterling silver and copper, James Avery started making jewelry.

Page from Avery catalog
my father printed
He'd had some experience making jewelry during his days at the University of Colorado, where some of his students asked if they could design and make jewelry. Avery went to the library, found a book, and he and his students learned how to make jewelry together.

"Designing was not a problem" Avery said, years ago. "Fabricating was."

For the first three years of jewelry making in Kerrville, Avery made every piece himself by hand. He even had a catalog printed, by General Moran, who'd set up a print shop at his house on Jackson Road. Francis "Fuzzy" Swayze took the photos for that first catalog. Prices for the pieces ranged from around $2.50 to $10.00.

"Since I had to make by hand every piece shown in the catalog," Avery said, "I fortunately didn't get swamped with orders."

The first year's sales were around $5,500; the second, $7,500; the third, over $10,000.

In 1957, Avery hired his first employee, Fred Garcia. "I wouldn't be here today if it were not for Fred and the wonderful people who have helped me these past almost 55 years," Avery remarked in 2007.

The first store outside of Kerrville opened in Dallas in 1973. Today there are around 110 stores in four states, James Avery jewelry counters at 240 Dillard’s locations, and at 37 Von Maur locations, and over 3,500 employees. The jewelry is even available at several H-E-B Grocery stores.

Not too many years ago I stopped by Mr. Avery's office in Kerrville. It turned out to be the last time I saw him there. He was in his nineties at the time. 

I stepped into his office and did not see him, but I heard a quiet tapping in a small adjoining room. There I found him at his workbench, a small hammer in hand, working on a piece of silver jewelry in a vise. Hand tools and a small saw were on the worktable. Before him there was a piece of paper with a pencil-drawn design. A bright light shone on the piece, and was reflected on Avery's face. He was smiling.

That's how I'll remember him: At work, alone, at his workbench, quietly making jewelry.

James Avery passed away in 2018, at the age of 96.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who remembers lots of interesting people and their stories. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 11, 2023.

Sunday, March 5, 2023

I've been looking for a Kerr County rock with words scratched on its surface -- from 1856.

Detail, Merrill Doyle mural at the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library:
"Bone Yard Fight 1856."
Click on any image to enlarge.

I have spent the last several weeks looking for a rock, using advanced technology. More specifically, a limestone rock with a name and details scratched on its surface. It’s a grave marker. Possibly.

In a way, I could say my search for this rock began in 1967, when I was six years old.

That’s the year the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library opened. Among the treasures there was a mural painted by Merrill Doyle, an artist I knew through my parents’ print shop, and who patiently gave me an art lesson or two when I was in elementary school.

Looking back, I now realize many of my father’s friends were artists. We often visited with Merrill Doyle at Pampell’s, when we’d walk there most work mornings for a coffee break.

Merrill Doyle at work on the mural, 1967
The mural in the library depicts scenes from Kerr County’s history, in Doyle’s distinctive style. He was an illustrator, and he painted in bright colors. In just a few brushstrokes, our county’s story comes to life.

The mural is still on the walls of the library, upstairs, enclosed in a quiet reading room. Yet one of the scenes depicted there is anything but quiet.

The scene has a title: “Bone Yard Fight 1856.” I remember studying it closely, even as a boy, fascinated by the violence it showed.

Nine men are shown in hand-to-hand combat; four men, who I thought were cowboys, against five Indians. In the mural, it looks like an even fight, that the cowboys might prevail. The image relies on many stereotypes, of course – and the historical details were not exactly correct, either.

I was fascinated by that scene, though. I’m not sure when I realized it represented an actual event, a skirmish which actually took place in western Kerr County in 1856. Once I knew it represented a historical event, I was even more fascinated by the painting.

The details, in brief:

In 1856 (or possibly 1857), a raiding party of Native Americans attacked several settlers’ cabins near Kerrville, and then traveled up the Guadalupe River, past present-day Ingram and Hunt. The raiders were then pursued by seven young men: William Kelso, Spence Goss, Jack Herredge, Tom Wherry, Dan Murphy, Tom McAdams, and Newt Price.

Of the seven, only one had any experience fighting Indians: William Kelso, a former Texas Ranger. As with any group of young men, hindsight says they should have been more cautious.

They made camp in a thicket about “twenty-five miles west of Kerrville,” and staked their horses nearby in a glade. It was a very cold night.

According to Bob Bennett’s history of Kerr County, “the guns of the party were stacked around a tree several yards from the fire. About daybreak, Tom Wherry and Dan Murphy arose and rekindled the fire, and then, taking their guns, went out to hunt a deer. After they left, the other men got up and stood or sat around the fire.”

At that groggy moment, the party was attacked. First, the stacked guns were taken by the Indians and used against the settlers. Those settlers who had handguns returned fire as best they could, at close range, though it’s unclear how effective those shots were.

Hearing the gunfire, Wherry and Murphy hurriedly returned to the campsite. Murphy ran into the middle of the attackers, and fired one shot before “receiving a ball in the breast and [falling] dead on the spot.”

All but one of other settlers were wounded, either by fire from their own guns which were now in the hands of the Indians, or by arrows. 

The settlers scattered into the thicket; their horses, except for two, were taken. They had severe wounds and now they were miles from help.

The Indians did not pursue them. They had the settlers’ guns and their horses – they left with the spoils. It is unknown if any of the Indians were wounded.

Dan Murphy's gravestone
Dan Murphy died on the spot of the fight. Newt Price died trying to get home. The others struggled to get back home, and eventually made it. One, Spence Goss, whose leg was broken by a gunshot wound, spent more than twenty days in the wilderness before he was rescued.

Once news of the fight was known, a party went to search for survivors and information. Dan Murphy was buried where he fell. A flat stone was tilted upright, and his name was scratched on its surface: “D. Murphy/ Killed by Indians 1856.”

That’s the stone I’ve been searching for. I didn’t know it still existed until I found a photograph of it about a month ago, taken, most likely, in the 1990s. The photograph doesn’t give a lot of clues about its location.

However, I know roughly the area where it must be – from descriptions of a trip to the site recorded by John James Starkey in the 1930s in this newspaper.

Though the skirmish has been called the Boneyard Fight, after a pond of water called Boneyard Water Hole at the headwaters of the North Fork of the Guadalupe River, Starkey says the conflict actually took place about two miles from that spot, somewhere between today’s Mo-Ranch and the Boneyard Water Hole.

I’ve spent hours using ‘satellite’ images of that area, looking for the stone and the fence which surrounds it, slowly ‘flying’ over the area on my computer screen. I have not yet found it.

If you have an idea where the old grave marker stands, would you let me know? It would tell me where those men fought, 167 years ago.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys working on history mysteries. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 4, 2023.

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Another way to look at local history: documentary film. The premiere of "Voices of Doyle"

The stars of 'Voices of Doyle,' a new documentary
from the former students of the Doyle School, in Kerrville

There are many ways to tell our community’s history. For many of us scribblers, newspaper writers going several generations back, the way we tell Kerr County’s story is in words printed with ink on paper. 

I’ve been writing this weekly column since 1994. Our community’s story is like a mosaic, and each week I bring one tile and place it carefully here in the newspaper.

Others, though, have a different way to tell our story.

The Kerr County Historical Commission, for example, has a remarkable series of oral histories available online, at the Portal to Texas History, a project of the University of North Texas in Denton. These can be found at and accessed by typing “Kerr County Historical Commission” in the search bar.

This collection of oral histories features local people being interviewed by members of the historical commission. I believe around 97 of the interviews are online, and there is no cost to listen to them.

The interviews range from Kerr County folks who are still with us – like John M. Mosty, or Clifton Fifer, Jr. – to folks who’ve passed away – like Clarabelle Snodgrass or James Avery. These are a valuable historical resource, since each person is telling their own story. And it’s comforting to hear stories told in the voices of those who are no longer with us. 

Quite a few of the interviews were also recorded on videotape, and these videos are also available online at the Portal to Texas History.

I often listen to these interviews, or read the transcripts of the interviews, when I’m researching a topic for this column. Very often I learn something new about the person being interviewed, even after knowing them for many years. I’m happy to recommend these interviews to you – they’re fun and informative.

The Doyle School, as it appeared in the 1980s
Now a new way to tell stories has come to our community. Alyson Amestoy, a recent Baylor University graduate, is telling our town’s story through documentary films. Her production company, Story Garden, has produced a documentary about Kerrville’s Doyle School called “Voices of Doyle.”

This new video features dozens of people offering their memories of the Doyle School. Most of those shown in the video are former students of Doyle.

“Voices of Doyle” will premiere on Tuesday, February 28, at the Arcadia Live Theater, 717 Water Street, in downtown Kerrville. Doors open at 6:00 pm, with music by Clifton Fifer, Kiah Middleton, Konrad Wert, and more. The film will be shown at 7:00 pm. There will be a question-and-answer period with Amestoy around 7:45 pm. The event is free.

I’ve seen an early copy of the film, and it’s impressive. It’s about much more than the school itself. It’s about the community around the school, a community which was made closer and better by the school, and by the couple who taught there, B. T. and Itasco Wilson.

The stories told are poignant, and told by those who lived them. Despite the hardships the students, teachers, and school faced, by hard work and grace something beautiful was created.

Some of the stories are quite humorous, like the time a group of students decided to skip school and go to the movies.

B. T. “Prof” Wilson, the Doyle School principal, showed up at the movie theater and visited with the truant students there. The students didn’t do that again, ever.

I encourage you to go see this wonderful film. It celebrates an important part of our community’s story.  And it’s fun.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerrville and Kerr County historical items. If you have something you’d care to share with him, it would make him happy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 25, 2023.

Though this newsletter is free, it isn't cheap. You can help by sharing it with someone, by forwarding it by email, or sharing it on Facebook. Sharing is certainly caring. (I also have two Kerr County history books available online, with free shipping!)



Related Posts with Thumbnails