Monday, November 12, 2012

Kerr Roads no longer traveled

All that remains of Split Rock, a once-famous Kerr County landmark

I've been thinking a lot about roads, lately.
Not the ones you and I drive on, paved and with gutters, but the ones that were here when the first settlers arrived, and those built after.
In 1856, when Joshua D. Brown convinced the very first Kerr County commissioners court to select Kerrsville as the county seat, roads were on the very first agenda. After ordering a log "courthouse" to be constructed, those first commissioners turned their attention to road building.
According to Bob Bennett's excellent history of our community, "The county's first public road was designated at the opening day of the initial court session. The commissioners ordered the laying out of a second class road from Kerrsville to the north bank of the Guadalupe River at Brownsborough by way of Comfort."
A second road was ordered to connect Kerrsville and Fredericksburg, though that road was ordered as a "first class" road, and was to be built from Kerrsville to the Gillespie county line.
The third road connected Comfort to the "Fredericksburg-San Antonio road intersection."
There were good reasons, of course, for the commissioners to build these roads: trade with other communities, of course, as well as enhancing the different communities' ability to come to the aid of each other.
But what really interests me is this: where were those early roads located?
It is almost certain they did not travel much of the route by which our modern roads go today.
I suppose what started this line of thought was seeing a road sign between here and Fredericksburg which reads "Old Kerrville Road."
There are other examples, of course. Junction Highway, which runs through the western edge of Kerrville was once the preferred route to Junction, long before IH 10 was built here in the 1970s. I'm old enough to remember traveling that highway; it was the road our family took when visiting either set of my grandparents. I remember it as quite a scenic road, with rock bluffs, lots of curves and hills, and occasional glimpses of Johnson Creek below.
And that's not the only roadway which has changed since my childhood. I have strong memories of the roads past Hunt traveling in the river bed. Today there only a few river crossings which actually cross the river with your car in the water (the Vista Camps crossing comes to mind), but when I was a child it seems most of the crossings were actually in the river itself. In fact, a stretch of road past the River Inn was in the river. Some of the stones and concrete which marked the edge of the road can still be seen there.
Even in Ingram itself the road has changed. Between the Point Theater and Ingram the Johnson Creek crossing was much lower, and twisted in tight curves; you can still see the old roadway as you cross the creek on the high bridge.
I suppose I bring these examples up to suggest the old roadways were probably in much different spots than they are today.
Several years ago when I was searching for an old Kerr County landmark, Split Rock, these changes became more apparent.
Split Rock was this large limestone block which had a tree growing in the middle. It looks to me as if the tree had split the rock into four pieces. The rock was the subject of many early photographs of Kerr County, and was featured on more than a few early postcards. Families often posed atop the rock, and I have a good number of these photographs in my collection.
From the photographs I surmised Split Rock was near an early road connecting Kerrville and Center Point. (In many of the photographs the rock is plastered with advertisements.)
Searching between here and Center Point yielded nothing for many years, but thanks to Frank and Ruth Kiel, I found the old stone, abandoned and forgotten near the Guadalupe River, between here and the municipal airport.
Where's the road? I asked myself. I looked around the old rock and could clearly see what was once the road that connected Kerrville to Center Point -- and on to San Antonio -- as it marched toward the river to cross. In the other direction, the road edged away from the river to overcome a small bluff.
It was covered in grass, and it was no longer traveled, but you could see the roadbed as it cut its way through the hills.
It would interest me to find the actual route the first road from Kerrsville to Fredericksburg took, and to determine where that road met the little town here. I suspect it was not where we would expect to find it.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who ponders big questions about very small subjects. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times November 10, 2012

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