Monday, January 14, 2013

Our Guadalupe River

The story of our community starts with the Guadalupe River.
The first settlers to our area were attracted to land beside the river; in fact, early maps of our county show tracts surveyed along the river, but land away from the river had no surveys. It was as if land away from the river had no boundaries, in part because it had less value.
Prehistoric people camped along the river, often at the second ledge or rise above the water, knowing well how the Guadalupe often floods. I know of several archeological sites near the river which are in the downtown area. Every now and then I find an arrowhead (or, rather, a part of one) in the middle of Kerrville Old Town. We are not the first ones who lived beside the river here.
Here's the story of the Guadalupe, gathered from my files:
The Guadalupe River begins here in Kerr County. Two forks of the river join in Hunt, with the north fork surging from the ground just upstream from Mo-Ranch above Hunt, and the south fork beginning just south of State Highway 41, four miles shy of the Real-Kerr county line. In fact, at the headwaters of the north fork you can see water rushing from a limestone ledge on state land at a little access point which is part of the Kerr County Wildlife Management area, almost directly across from the entrance gate to the area. For many years I have taken friends and visitors to see these powerful springs.
From these small beginnings the river travels southeast from Hunt for about 230 miles, emptying into San Antonio bay. Its two major tributaries are the San Marcos and Comal rivers, and its drainage area is about 6,100 square miles.
I have traveled in search of the mouth of the Guadalupe, down in the muggy flats of Refugio and Calhoun counties, and it’s quite a different river down there: slow moving and filled with large creatures that would scare this swimmer. We saw “slides” on the banks of the river there where alligators sled on their bellies into the water. The air is heavy there, and my memories of our search include the drone of insects and the bright bleaching sun.
According to the Handbook of Texas, the river got its name from Alonso De Leon in 1689, when he named it the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. De Leon was familiar with the lower stretches of the river. It was called other names by the Spaniards, including the San Augustin and the San Ybon. The earliest reference to our part of the river, at least above the mouth of the Comal, was in 1727, when Pedro de Rivera y Villalon wrote about it.
Kerrville was established on the river in the mid 1800’s, when Joshua Brown and company came here to harvest the cypress trees for shingle making.
A wide variety of commercial enterprises have depended upon the river since that first shingle makers’ camp. Several mills were constructed along the river, one as far upstream as between Ingram and Hunt, the Sherman mill.
Swimming and recreational day camps sprung up in Kerrville, but upriver from Ingram on, overnight summer camps for boys and girls have been an important industry for over 80 years.
Despite a long history of businesses facing away from the river (including my family’s printing company), more and more newly constructed businesses are making use of the river as a selling point.
When I saw that thin ribbon of fog jogging through our valley this morning, fog rising from the river, white against the dark green of the hills, it made me smile. We live in a good place here, and I’m thankful the river has been such an important part of our home.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who learned to swim, long ago, in the Guadalupe River at Camp Stewart. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 12, 2013.


  1. I learned how to swim at the cypress tree next to the new dam at the bank on the entry side

  2. Ah, yes, a lot of us learned to swim in the Guadalupe. For me it was 1947 upstream of Ingram near where the old Sherman Mill used to be located. Good article, Joe.


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