Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Benevolent War Risk Society founded a hospital here.

Since the beginning of the year I've been writing about our community's history, starting with the Prehistoric Era, the Settlers' Era, and now the Golden Era. Of course, I made up the names for these "eras" and arbitrarily set the dates. Others might choose different labels and times. I suppose I was attempting to make patterns and order from the histories I read.
I came across an interesting sentence this week: "Here thousands of soldiers from every war from the Spanish-American on have been attended since the institution was opened as a "Legion Hospital" in 1922." Another source puts the founding date as 1920, and another, 1919. Regardless, what we now know as the Veterans Administration Hospital, just east of Kerrville, had its beginning during the time period I've been calling Kerr County's "Golden Era," from 1869-1927.
For those who don't remember, the Spanish-American War was fought in 1898, a long time ago.
According to the Kerr County Album, "In November, 1919, a group of Kerr County citizens, with the aid of the Benevolent War Risk Society, founded by Texas governor W. P. Hobby, American Legion State Commander Claude Birkhead, and Texas State Health officer Dr. Collins, launced a drive for one half million dollars to construct a hospital in Kerrville for the care of ... veterans. On April 20, 1920, a site consisting of 748 acres was donated by Louis and A. C. Schreiner to the Society. With the aid of this generous donation, construction of the American Legion Tuberculosis Hospital began that same year.
"Before construction was completed, the Society's funds became depleted and the project was sold to the American Legion, Department of Texas, on January 14, 1921 for one dollar. At this time, the name "Legion" was given to the hospital, a name which many Texans call the facility to this day."
In fact, if you look at old maps, there used to be a community name where the hospital stands: between Kerrville and Center Point, you'd find a spot marked "Legion." I vaguely remember the highway signs on Highway 27 giving the distance not only to Center Point, but to Legion as well.
Though it began as a Legion hospital, it was soon operated by the State of Texas, and then by the U. S. Veterans Bureau.
According to Bob Bennett, in his "Kerr County" history, "A site, consisting of several hundred acres of land, was purchased by the Schreiner family from the heirs of Joshua D. Brown and donated for the hospital's establishment. The federal government paid the state $1,052,000 for the property, and the first veteran patients were transferred here from the U. S. Public Health Service Hospital at Houston on July 1, 1923.
"A new building built at a cost of approximately $2 million was dedicated on December 19, 1947. This eight-story structure increased the hospital's capacity from the original 400 beds to approximately 800 beds."
The hospital's mission has changed over the years since its founding, but it remains an important part of our community, and vital to the lives of veterans not only in Kerrville but across the state.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who went swimming in the Guadalupe twice this week.

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