Monday, February 14, 2011

My Kerrville Daily Times column: Ski Shows at Louise Hays Park in Kerrville

Kerrville Ski Show.  Click to enlarge.
I bought a great old postcard a few days ago, showing Kerrville girls in a ski show. There are three girls, and they're all wearing matching swim suits, complete with matching tulle-looking skirts, and they're all skiing together behind one boat.
Here's the surprising part: they're skiing in the little lake at Louise Hays Park, "Lake Cathorne."   They're headed toward the dam. Between you and me, Gentle Reader, I'm not sure they'll be able to turn around down there. In fact, it's likely they'll fly off the end of the dam, tulle skirts and all.
For those that do not know, Louise Hays Park is below the Sidney Baker Street Bridge in the Old Town area, nestled there on the southern bank of the river, largely in a grid bounded by Water Street, Thompson Drive, Lemos Street and nearly to G Street. Louise Hays Park was built around 1950, and it was built in one day.
Some of the readers of this column probably helped build the park, and I'd love to hear your stories. I have photographs of the work going on, the dam being built and the swimming hole (now filled with debris) under construction. I can recognize some of the faces. If you have memories of the day the park was built, please send them to me here at the Kerrville Daily Times, 429 Jefferson, Kerrville. Please be sure to put my name on the envelope.
I have later photographs of water skiers and ski shows and the old stone bleachers that stood just downstream under the bridge, photographs of Cotton Eldridge and others doing stunts in the water on skis -- I think I remember even seeing photographs of a skiing dog. It's hard to believe that you could get a ski boat down in that narrow part of the river, in the little lake formed there, but I know that you can, because I remember riding in the boat as my parents water-skied there in their little white Lone Star boat with the Mercury outboard engine. In those days, Tranquility Island was a jumble of woods and weed and snakes, and there was no footbridge to it, so the boats would travel down to the Lemos Street end of the island where a small channel was cut, circle the island, and race back toward the dam, towing skiers the whole trip. As they got close to the dam, they'd make a sharp turn back upstream. As a child riding in my father's boat I knew that we were going over the dam, that we were too close. I wonder now how the skier must have felt, gripping the end of that rope, sending spray over the dam, being pulled by the centripetal force of the rope back to safety, a human physics experiment in a swim suit.
The dam that impounds the small lake behind our print shop, the lake in Louise Hays Park, that dam is not the first dam at the site. The first dam was wooden, and cut across the river at a curving angle, forcing the flow of the river into its funnel-like mouth, multiplying in this way the force of the water as it powered the mill works there. Even today, if you could get past the orange barricades that the construction crews have put up for the current project, and stumble down to the old footbridge below the dam, you can still see the square stumps of its wooden posts where they were driven and cemented into the limestone riverbed, dots in the bed that you can still connect in your imagination.
When I was little, this footbridge connected the park to downtown via a stairway at the end of Earl Garrett street. The stairway is still there, but Earl Garrett Street has been truncated, its tip sheared to make a parking lot for a now-gone bank. 
Gone too is the Blue Bonnet Hotel, which, when viewed from the little footbridge, rose like a jewel above the chalky bluff, a place I remember as having a certain worn elegance. From the footbridge it was a tower that climbed eight stories from a berth of trees. It was torn down to become a drive-in bank for a now-gone bank, which later tore down its own drive-in bank to make more parking.
I admire the three skiers, lovely and brave. If anyone recognizes them, please let me know.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who can ski on water and on snow.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 12, 2011.


  1. I've skied in that river many, many times and loved every minute of it. Of course that was long ago when boats were made of wood.

  2. Hi Joe,

    If you have photos of the current dam being constructed would you mind posting them?

    They would be very interesting.

    Also, I would love to see any photos of the Blue Bonnet Hotel being built or demolished.

  3. I am all for progress, but I have never understood why people feel the need to tear down beautiful structures such as the Blue Bonnet Hotel.

    Destroying the hotel was no different than if someone wanted to tear down Schreiner's store, Schreiner's Mansion or the building where Mr. Fuzzy Swayze had his photography studio.

  4. In today's blog you mentioned:

    "Even today, if you could get past the orange barricades that the construction crews have put up for the current project,"

    What is the new project? When will it be completed?


  5. Cotton Eldridge was a wonderful person. He always had a kind word for everyone.

    In addition to giving skiing lessons, he had a repair shop. Any kind of outboard motor you might have, he could repair it or tune it so that it purred like a kitten.


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