Monday, May 28, 2012

The Persistent Millwright

The name Dietert is well known in Kerrville today largely because of the generosity of Harry Dietert in the establishment of the Dietert Center, and because of his gift of a chapel/auditorium on the Schreiner University campus.
Yet few know the story of the first Dieterts in Kerrville, Christian and Rosalie Dietert, who first came to Kerrville in 1856, the same year Kerr County was organized.
I found a nice story about the Dieterts in an old issue of Hunter's "Frontier Times Magazine" written by T. U. Taylor in 1941.
Christian Dietert was a millwright born in Tesen, Germany, in 1827. In 1854 he voyaged to Texas with his brother William on a 4-masted sailing vessel; the trip took five months, and the pair arrived in New Braunfels in July.
The very next month Christian joined a company of 13 men who journeyed to the confluence of the Guadalupe River and Cypress Creek to survey a tract of land and help lay out the town of Comfort.
In 1855 Christian Dietert built a mill on Cypress Creek, but only two months after completion, the little mill had to be abandoned: Cypress Creek ran dry, and the mill was discarded for lack of water power.
That same year he married Miss Rosalie Hess, who had only recently arrived from Jena, Germany. She was nineteen years old, five foot two, and weighed an even 100 pounds. She was tiny.
In 1856 Christian Dietert's parents, two brothers, and a sister joined him in Comfort. Perhaps not surprisingly, Christian Dietert and his new wife moved to Fredericksburg early the next year. Perhaps there was just "too much family" in the little town of Comfort.
While in Fredericksburg, Dietert helped construct the Van der Stucken mill, and toward the end of the year, Christian Dietert and his bride moved to Kerrville.
It was 1857, and the town of "Kerrsville" was still a rough frontier place. The article suggests there were only five one-roomed huts in the entire village.
The Dieterts bought a tract along the river in Kerville -- a tract which stretched from today's Earl Garrett Street to A Street. (What a nice little stretch of the river!)
There he built a shingle mill, using horse power until he could construct a water wheel, "with which he later sawed lumber from the Cypress trees growing along the banks of the river."  The mill stood about where One Schreiner Center is today.
A flood a year or so later washed the first Kerrville mill away. Lacking funds to build anew, the couple moved back to Fredericksburg, where Dietert helped build a grist and saw mill on Live Oak Creek for a Mr. C. H. Guenther.
After only a few months of operation a flood washed away the mill and even the waterwheel.
So back to Kerrville the Dieterts came, building a new mill on the site of the old. No flood destroyed this new Dietert mill, though. It burned down instead.
Offered work building a mill in Comfort, and seeking a school for his children, the Dieterts moved again. During this same time he built a mill for his brother William, who lived in Boerne.
Finally, in 1866, the Dieterts moved back to Kerrville, this time to stay. Although another mill he built washed away in a flood, in 1868 he came up with an "under water iron turbine," and a "old type of flour mill consisting of two large stones, the lower a flat stational stone with a somewhat conical shaped stone above it, which in revolving crushed and ground the grain into flour."
The mill was successful and ground wheat, corn, and also operated a sawmill.
Though Dietert would build more mills, and even freighted for the Confederate government during the Civil War, Kerrville remained his home.
In 1868, Christian Dietert was appointed postmaster at Kerrville, though his wife, as assistant postmistress, fulfilled most (if not all) of his post office duties.
The first post office fixture was a frame made by Christian Dietert out of cypress wood. Four feet high, three wide, and seven inches deep, it contained 12 pigeon holes six inches high, along with three compartments 14 inches wide by 6 high for newspapers and packages. A lower section 17 inches high comprised the entire width of the frame and was used for the general "paraphernalia pertaining to the office."  That little piece of furniture handled the entire volume of mail in Kerrville the twenty years Christian Dietert held the postmastership, until 1888.
The Dietert's post office was on Spring Street, now a forgotten little snippet across from the new Notre Dame Catholic Church. I remember long ago asking the city to put up a street sign there. It seemed fitting to remember the little street which was once one of the busiest in town.
The couple had 12 children; 11 survived to adulthood. Many dances were held in the Dietert's home, accompanied by a fiddle and accordion. The very first Christmas Tree in Kerrville was in their home. It was decorated with paper chains, nuts covered with gold and silver paper, apples brought from San Antonio, and cookies cut into shapes of birds and animals and decorated with sugar. The candles were tallow dips.
After selling his mill to Charles Schreiner in 1885, the Dieterts moved to a farm across the river opposite the town. Christian Dietert died in 1902; Rosalie lived to 96 years, passing away in 1927. Together they helped the little village grow into a town.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has mailed many, many letters through the Kerrville post office. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 26, 2012.


  1. That was a very interesting and entertaining story, thank you, Joe.

  2. Persistent he was indeed. Good Story. It is important to point out that Christian Dietert came to Texas with a group referred to as the "Free-Thinkers." They are known to have founded Comfort & Boerne. These European Educated Immigrants came to The United States of America around 1948, after Texas was annexed into the USA. They Supported The Union During The Civil War. Many had to risk their lives for their beliefs. They Studied the philosophies Saint-Simon, Fourier, Cabet, among others, and fundamentally disagreed with the institution of slavery. Christian Dietert believed in "a Union one and Inseparable."


    Morgenthaler, Jefferson. Boerne: Settlement on the Cibolo
    Mockingbird Books. Boerne, TX. 2005.

  3. Apologies, to correct myself the year was around 1848 to 1854.

    This is another interesting source about Free-Thinkers that mentions the timber industry in the Hill Country of which Christian and His Brother William were a integral part:

    I'm slowly working on a History, that is almost lost, about "Free-Thinkers."


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