Monday, May 9, 2011

Finding the West Texas Fairgrounds

One thing I've learned over and over again as I study Kerr County's history is this: my assumptions are often wrong.
Postcard, West Texas Fair, Kerrville
To be sure, they're assumptions about rather small and dusty details, often so obscure I'm the only one who's even making assumptions about that particular piece of history. Take my recent quest to find "Split Rock," a landmark popular in Kerr County at the turn of the last century. It was featured on postcards and family snapshots from that time, and I often wondered if it was still around or had been washed away in one of the Guadalupe's many floods since then.
The old rock is still there, worn and crumbled, with the iron-hard trunk of a long-dead oak tree still sticking up at its crown. It was the oak tree that split the boulder, or at least it would seem so.
What was once a famous landmark is now forgotten mainly because the roadway which once ran beside the rock was moved years ago, stranding the boulder away from traffic.
Like "Split Rock," I have been looking for the precise location of the "West Texas Fairgrounds" for a long time.
Back in 1997 I reported here about the West Texas Fair, from a letter sent to me by Mr. Warren Klein of Mountain Home:
"The West Texas Fair was held each year around the 4th of July." This fair took place in grand 
buildings built especially for the fair. The site was on the river side of the intersection of Water Street and Junction Highway, called Five Points, about where Norwest [now Wells-Fargo] Bank is today.
"One thing I remember about the fair of 1915: a man had an airplane and he would take people up for a ride. The thing I remembered about the airplane was that it didn't have a self-starter. The propeller was at the back of the plane. In order to start it, a person had to turn the propeller by hand, but he wanted 'back up,' so he joined hands with 6 other men. One thing that still puzzles me today is where my brand new straw hat went when that plane started!"
I have a few photos of the old fairgrounds, and from this letter I assumed the fair was right there where the bank building is today. This was a mistake; I obviously didn't read the letter very closely.
Mr. Klein meant the fair was between Five Points and the river, which is correct. But my assumption all of these years was wrong.
Water Street Bridge over Town Creek, Kerrville
A few weeks ago James Partain, a long-time friend who is a professional photographer, gave me some copies of several historic photographs of Kerrville. One of them is of a bridge on Water Street crossing Town Creek, near the one now connecting Mosty's Garage and Gibsons. This photo differed from the images I have of the old bridge in two ways. First, it was clearly labeled, and for the first time I could be absolutely sure the bridge pictured was on Water Street in Kerrville. Secondly, though, you could see something in the distance, behind the wool wagons. You could see buildings, and upon closer inspection, it became clear those buildings were the "Art Department and Ladies Hall" building and the grandstand.
Being the intrepid reporter, I trooped to the site 
and took a photo from about the place where the old photo was taken. Using a crude form of dead reckoning, I estimated the old photo put the West Texas Fairgrounds buildings nearer the 
Palmer/Starkey/Hamilton Streets area, about where they meet Hugo Street than where I'd assumed (incorrectly) the fair had been.
Detail, Water Street Bridge
Finding old places is fun, but I know it's an odd hobby. If you have any old Kerr County photographs you'd like to share with me, I'd really appreciate it. I'll make copies and give you back the originals.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who delves in the obscure, hunts the forgotten, and quite often learns his assumptions are wrong.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 7, 2010.


  1. has anyone used metal detectors to help establish where the site may have been. Finding old metal, nails, coins could be helpful.

  2. Retired History teacher, Army officer living in Bandera for the past 16 years. Also interested in finding old sites and experienced with metal detectors. Any help I could give you please contact me at My wife and I love discovering history.

  3. I live on Spence Street (behind Wells Fargo Bank). About twenty-four years ago I had a portion of our back yard plowed for a garden. Numerous horseshoes were turned up.


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