Monday, May 13, 2013

The first mill in Kerr County

Friends recently gave me a collection of the very rare "Pioneer History" supplements to the Kerrville Times, published by James J. Starkey starting in 1933, and I'm learning new things about our local history on every browned and fragile page.
For instance, consider this question: who built the first mill in our area?
In other columns I've written about various mills and millwrights from Kerr County's pioneer days. Christian Dietert was an important early millwright, and evidence of his mill in Kerrville can still be found in the riverbank below One Schreiner Center.
Dietert served as an early Kerrville postmaster, though most accounts agree it was his wife, Rosalie, who actually did the work and maintained the little post office. You probably recognize the Dietert name: the Dietert Center on Guadalupe Street and the Dietert Chapel on the Schreiner University campus were both provided by a descendent of Christian and Rosalie Dietert, Harry Dietert.
Miles Lowrance, along with Alonzo Rees and J. M. Starkey, built a mill on the Guadalupe somewhere near today's Starbucks stands on Junction Highway. (I'm guessing about this location, and I'm sure a reader can offer better evidence than that on which I've based this guess.) This mill was later owned by T. A. Saner, and later still by Capt. Charles Schreiner. The dam was wooden and served several purposes: first, of course, for the mill; later to supply water for Kerrville's earliest municipal water system; and later as a swimming hole for campers at Mount Wesley, the Methodist Encampment.
A mill was also constructed between Ingram and Hunt, Sherman's mill. This mill was near yet another mill built, according to Bob Bennett's history of Kerr County, "by the Tegener brothers" before the Civil War. One of those brothers, Frederick "Fritz" Tegener, was a leader of the Unionists in our area. He was appointed "Major" by the Unionists, and was the leader among those attempting to leave Texas who were intercepted by Confederate forces only one day's travel from Mexico by the Nueces River.
"Fritz" Tegener was quite an interesting character. Before the war he served as Kerr County treasurer; he was a elected leader of those loyal to the Union during the war; lived for the duration of the war in Mexico (as a miner, I believe). When he returned to Kerr County, he learned his wife had assumed he'd died in the Battle of the Nueces -- and she'd remarried. I'm sure that was awkward for everyone.
Later still Tegener represented Kerr and other counties in the Texas Legislature from 1866 to 1871; while there he chaired the Indian Affairs Committee, and served on the Immigration Committee and the Public Buildings and Grounds Committee. There is some evidence he remained in Austin after his term expired, with his second wife, never returning to live here in Kerr County.
Mills were important in Kerrville's earliest days: harnessing the power of the river meant economic progress for the settlers here. Mills operated saws, grindstones, and even electric generators, and were used to saw lumber, make shingles, and mill flour and other grains.
The only mill in the area which is still standing, as far as I know, is in Gillespie County, between Doss and Hilda: Lange's Mill. Although it is private property and posted all over against trespassing, a county road runs beside the mill, and you can see a lot of the structure from the comfort of your car.
So, who do you think built the first mill in Kerr County?
None of the above -- according to James J. Starkey, writing in the very first "Pioneer History" supplement from January 1933, it was a group I'd never guess.
"Probably the first sawmill, and for that matter the first gristmill was erected in the early forties by the Mormons," Starkey wrote. "There is little doubt the materials they used were principally live oak, burr oak, and cypress. Cypress was then available in abundant quantities. The Mormons opened a sawmill on Verde Creek in the early fifties. This mill was not far from Center Point. These Mormons later moved into Bandera County and established a colony."
Now that's a story I hadn't heard before.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects Kerrville and Kerr County historical items. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 11, 2013
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