Monday, January 31, 2011

A walk through history

I took a break from work this week to take a 15 minute walk along the Guadalupe River in downtown Kerrville. I was surprised how much history I passed in such a short walk.
I went from the print shop to the stairway at the north end of the Sidney Baker Street bridge, a stairway built in the 1990s that provides access to the little river trail on the north bank of the river. Though the City of Kerrville needs to clean up the graffiti along the trail, it is a pleasant place to walk. They used to take care of the graffiti, but they've been slacking lately.
The bridge itself was built in the 1930s, just after the community suffered two enormous floods. It was originally a two-lane bridge with steel superstructure, but in the 1970s it was widened to its present five lanes and the steel arches removed. There is a plaque (damaged when the bridge was widened) dedicating the bridge to Captain Charles Schreiner, who was instrumental in providing good roads for the county. I suppose the bridge is named for him.
My walk took me downstream, past (and beneath) the new pavilion, which, despite the controversy it engendered, is actually quite nice and a great place to eat a sack lunch or just sit and observe the river. Farther downstream, past the pavilion, are the ruins of the old mill, where power from the river was used to saw lumber, grind grain and even generate electricity.
Just before the mill is a footbridge. The bluff near the footbridge is filled with fossils, mostly little button sponges that once lived at the bottom of a shallow sea. I remember taking our children there when they were young to look for fossils.
The footbridge is concrete, and offers a neat way to cross to Louise Hays Park. I think the footbridge was constructed to replace a pontoon bridge which was built when the park was built, in 1950. The pontoon bridge washed away in one of the many floods that sweep through here, but the little concrete footbridge has thusfar survived the floodwaters. I think few people even know the footbridge is there.
Crossing into the park, I was reminded it was constructed in a single day. It was a big community event. The story goes the landowner offered the property to the community on the condition the park be built in a day, and the park be named for his young wife, Louise. I think the landowner was concerned the city would take the property but never get around to constructing the park. There are many still living who recall that day in 1950 when hundreds of people worked to build a park in a single day. The event got lots of national publicity.
Heading upstream now, I pass the little stage built by the Kerrville Centennial committee, when Kerrville celebrated its 100th birthday in 1989.
The river bank near the dam is mostly decked in concrete, and there is a small boat ramp there, too. I remember my parents putting their ski boat in there and skiing in this small stretch of the river. Cotton Eldridge and the Kerrville Jaycees often produced ski shows there, complete with a ski jump, though the little lake formed by the river was no wider then than it is now. I wouldn't believe people water skied down there unless I'd seen it myself.
Farther upstream is the 1980s footbridge built by the GRIP committee, then another bridge built in the last decade which connects Tranquility Island to the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library.
The library itself was quite an historic structure for the community -- I have photographs from its dedication which convey over and over how excited and happy the community was for this wonderful gift to our community.
Heading back toward the print shop I pass the old A. C. Schreiner home, now owned by the Schellhases. When I was a boy my friend Kay Ann Saunders lived there, and we played and played all over that old house. It's a wonderful place and I'm glad it's been preserved.
Then a few more steps, and I was back at the print shop where I started.
If you have the time, take the walk yourself. It's lovely and fun, passes a lot of history, and only takes about 15 minutes.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who could stand to exercise more. This column was originally published in the Kerrville Daily Times January 29, 2010.

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