Monday, November 22, 2010

History Detective: why are there two channels leaving the old mill?

Ed Hamilton's recent efforts to spruce up the old mill site are really appreciated. For those that don't know, One Schreiner Center, in the 800 block of Water Street, is built approximately on the site of the old mill, where water power was harnessed to do many tasks in the early part of our community's history.
Ed built a small wall and a viewing area on top of what we used to call the Ice House foundations, and from that vantage point one can really enjoy a good view of the park and points south of the river. It's worth a visit.
Coincidentally, I have been spending a little time on the site as well, though down the bluff nearer the water. I've been trying to figure out a problem down there -- from something I discovered while going through some of the photos in my collection of historic photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County.
The old mill site was a very popular place to take photographs back at the turn of the last century. I have photos of couples down there, ladies with large hats, an entire classroom of students, boys, workers, and even the occasional tourist.
Two of the photographs show water as it's leaving the mill, long troughs of water heading back to the Guadalupe. These show the old wooden dam and then below, even below the apparent bottom of the dam, water in a little canal-like excavation, heading toward the Gulf of Mexico by way of Center Point and Comfort.
Channel Number 2
Channel Number 1
 Up until recently I thought those two images were of the same "trough."  But a closer examination revealed there were two of these watery exits from the mill on Water Street.
I wondered why there were two.
Most mills I've visited elsewhere have a big wheel positioned along the flow of the water; power is captured when the water falls to a lower level. The nearest example is in Gillespie County, between Doss and Hilda, Lange's Mill. It looks a lot like the picture-book mills: a rustic frame and stone structure with a large wheel; a mill pond above, a mill race, and then the spillway to the meandering Threadgill Creek below. (It's worth the drive to see the old mill, but be sure not to trespass.)  Lange's Mill has one of those nice 1936-style historical markers made of carved granite.
Kerrville's mill, on the other hand, didn't have one of those big, picturesque water-wheels, except at the very beginning.
Though it hasn't happened for a while, our section of the Guadalupe is subject to flooding -- sometimes great floods roar through here with the least remorse. A big water wheel would simply wash away, sometimes several times in one season.
Christian Dietert built the mill at the site, according to Bennett's history of our community. "In 1855 or 1856 Christian Dietert moved on up the Guadalupe and built another mill in the center of present day Kerrville. Capt. Charles Schreiner later acquired this mill property and eventually operated a sawmill, grist mill, cotton gin and flour mill."
According to the Kerr County Album, Dietert originally set up a water wheel, but it quickly washed away. "In 1868 Mr. Dietert put in an underwater iron turbine for power...."  That is consistent with the photos I have.
It doesn't, however, explain why there were two hand-dug channels for the water that exited the mill -- though I think I've figured it out. Unfortunately, this column has gotten a little long -- so I'll visit this subject next week, and supply what I think might explain the double channels.
Until then, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is working on a book.  This column was originally published in the Kerrville Daily Times November 20, 2010. 

1 comment:

  1. I found an old red brick in this general area. it has the name seguin in it. does this simply mean the brick was made in seguin? any way of dating it? more than likely its just some construction trash thrown off the bluff, but i though maybe it could be from one of the old mill buildings.


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