Monday, May 7, 2012

The shadows of those before me

Do you ever wonder about the place -- the actual site -- where you've spent most of your working life? Not the state or town -- but the very piece of land, the metes and bounds of most of your work day memories? Did you ever wonder about those who toiled on this same spot before you?
I did this week.
The office where I type these columns each week is on land that has been owned by only six families, and one of those families probably never saw the place.
In studying an old deed I realized the line of ownership of this little lot is rather short.
It was originally granted to B. F. Cage in 1847 for his service in the Texas War for Independence; he probably never saw the land. His mother, Rebecca E. Beck, thought Cage was dead; she transferred ownership to her stepson, Alfred D. Beck, and it was from Beck that Joshua D. Brown bought the 640 acres that would later become Kerrville. Oddly enough, there is evidence the rumors of B. F. Cage's demise were greatly exaggerated:  B. F. Cage died at the age of 75 in 1887 and is buried near Blanco.
So the first family to own the land was Cage and his mother's family.
Joshua Brown, the founder of Kerrville, convinced the very first Kerr County commissioners court to make the land he'd only recently purchased the county seat; Brown wanted the town to be called Kerrsville (with an 's') after his friend (and brother of his maternal aunt) Major James Kerr. It is unlikely Kerr ever saw the land which now bears his name; by the time Kerr County was formed by the Texas legislature, Kerr had been dead more than five years.
So the Browns were the second family to own the land underneath my office.
Joshua Brown had a cabin near where the A. C. Schreiner home stands today, between our print shop and the library. Around 1857 he sold the cabin and the land to the Burney brothers: Hance, Robert, and DeWitt. DeWitt was Kerr County's first sheriff; Hance its first postmaster; Robert was one of the petitioners asking that Kerr County be formed, was our second county treasurer, and later served as district judge here. Hance Burney probably opened up the very first store in Kerrsville, in the 200 block of what we call now call Sidney Baker Street, about where the crosswalk juts from the parking building toward the clock tower.
So the Burneys were the third family to own the land here, from 1857 to 1878, 21 years.
The next family has quite a story. In the late 1870s a young doctor in Illinois contracted tuberculosis. Although he had served in the Union army, he chose to head south, to Texas, in search of health.
Many families came to our area for the same reason, but this doctor was unique: he was among the very first, and after arriving, alone, as thin as a rail, and looking like death, he got better. His name: G. R. Parsons.
Dr.  G. R. Parsons
Parsons would later write to many national medical journals telling about Kerrville as a health spot and he built what was probably our first sanatorium, most likely in the 700 block of Water Street. I believe it was because of him, and the articles he wrote to national publications, that Kerrville attracted so many families where at least one member was suffering from tuberculosis. Some of our most prominent families can trace their arrival in Kerr County to some poor relative who was very, very sick.
Dr. G. R. Parsons bought the tract in 1878 from Hance M. Burney.
Despite being a former Union soldier, Kerrville elected him its fifth mayor, in 1892. After retiring from his medical practice, Dr. Parsons operated a stage line, serving Kerrville, Fredericksburg, Bandera, and Boerne. The stage depot was actually in the parking lot between our print shop and Grape Juice.
So the Parsons were the fourth family to own the lot, and they owned it for a very long time, finally selling it in 1958, after 80 years of continuous ownership.
In late 1958, C. N. Parsons sold the lot to C. A. Roland and his wife, Anna Belle (Council). Mr. Roland served in World War II, operated a fire insurance agency, and was active in the Kiwanis Club, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Jaycees. Anna Belle was a teacher until 1946, and then a homemaker. He was a Mason, she was a member of the Eastern Star. They were a good, solid Kerrville family.
The actual building where I work housed several businesses before ours: the Modern Beauty Salon, and later the Paul McDonald printing company, tenants of the Parson family and later the Rolands.
The Rolands owned the lot from 1958 until 1970, a span of twelve years.
In 1970 my parents bought the lot, which adjoined their little print shop property, which they'd purchased in 1965. A third lot was purchased years later, from the very last gasps of the old Charles Schreiner Bank: the parking lot between us and Grape Juice.
Our family, oddly enough, has owned the land under my desk for the second longest span of time of any of the families that have owned it: 42 years, so far. Like the other families who have toiled here, I hope we've made a contribution to the community we love.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has worked in downtown Kerrville since he was a boy. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 5, 2012.


  1. Just read your article! Loved it and then started on my article for the Leakey Star. Which is the continuing sage of John Leakey. This segment is about the time of the Civil War and Reconstruction. Leakey and family are back in the canyon and concern for the lack of education Leakey has built a school for the children and hired Bob Burney of Kerrville as the teacher. I thought to myself, wait I just read that name so here I am back at your blog and sure enough there is the Burney name!!! Small world! Linda Kirkpatrick, Leakey, Texas

  2. You have made great contributions to the community.

    Thank you.


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