Thursday, May 27, 2010

Early Schools in Kerrville

During the past few weeks I've been talking about a part of our community's history which I call the "Golden Era" because so many of our enduring public institutions were founded during this time. This "Golden Era," as I've arbitrarily defined it, started around 1869 and continued through 1927.
Though education was important to the earliest settlers of our community, early schools met infrequently and often had gaps in sessions, largely because of the problems of finding qualified teachers, and partly because of funding problems. The first school was held in the log courthouse, with William E. Pafford as its first teacher, as early as 1857.
In the years up to the Civil War, several names are recorded as teachers in Kerrville's early schools. Bob Bennett, in his "Kerr County" history writes "It is evident that but little schooling was available in Kerrsville for the first several years after the organization of the county. The classroom equipment consisted of a rough table, slab seats, and a plentiful supply of switches."
The school moved from the courthouse to "a frame building on the site now occupied by the [old] Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital," at the corner of what is now Sidney Baker and Water streets. Later the school moved to the John Ochse Store, near the corner of Washington and Main streets.
After the Civil War there was a civic movement in Kerrville to have the school housed in a permanent facility, and classes were held in the bottom floor of a two story rock building at the corner of Main and Sidney Baker streets. But even this solution was temporary.
In 1883 a frame school building was erected on Jefferson Street, and was named the "Guadalupe Institute." Boys enrolled in the school were given training "rudimentary military tactics," and drilled by their instructor Professor J. C. Lord. "The company used wooden lances in place of guns." I imagine they were quite a sight.
Still, even with boys parading with wooden lances, many in Kerrville wanted a more permanent school system. Captain Joseph A. Tivy, Kerrville's first mayor, is really the father of our school system here, because he gave the land for the schools and also tracts that could be sold to help fund construction of a school building.
"Two deeds from Joseph A. Tivy to the City of Kerrville were executed on August 16, 1890, conveying certain properties 'chiefly in consideration of the deep interest I feel in the cause of public education and with a view of promoting and advancing the growth and development thereof in the City of Kerrville."
In those days the schools were run by the city government, a point that was hotly debated after Captain Tivy's gift. The City of Kerrville was organized in 1889, but in early 1890 a petition was given to the council "requesting that an election be held to determine 1) whether or not the town of Kerrville should have exclusive control of the free public schools within its limits; and 2) to determine whether the free public schools should be under the control of the board of aldermen or a board of [school] trustees."
In January 1890 the vote was held and the City retained control of the schools, but also calling for the appointment of a board of trustees. But, this being Kerrville, people were unhappy with this result and a new election was held in April 1890, and the city council was given "complete control of the school property, the hiring of teachers and all other matters pertaining to Kerrville Public Schools."
Tivy School, as seen before 1900
A new school building was designed by B. F. Trester, but the plans exceeded the community's budget of $8000. New plans were drawn by C. C. Williams, and the firm of Davy & Schott and Williams were awarded the contract. The completed building was accepted by the city council in February 1891.
This school building is now home of the Kerrville Independent School District's administrative offices. It was almost torn down in the 1980s, but a group of concerned citizens, including my friend Clarabelle Snodgrass, saved it from the bulldozers.
The first diplomas from Tivy High School were awarded in 1895 to a class of three students; none were awarded the next year, or the next. Three more students graduated in 1898.
It wasn't until 1923 that the Kerrville Independent School District was established by election.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is a graduate of the Kerrville schools.

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