Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Our Guadalupe River

"Flat Rock" before the dam was built, Kerrville
The story of our community starts with the Guadalupe River, and the river itself starts with our community.  The river gathers from springs and streams in the high hills of western Kerr County and flows steadily to the sea, a distance of over 230 miles.  We live at its source, and it was the source from which our community sprang.
For many years I have taken visitors and newcomers to our community to a spot on the north fork of the Guadalupe, above Mo-Ranch, where water flows from a gap in a limestone ledge at the very starting place of the river.  Cold and clear, the water surges from the opening in the rock and falls a few inches to the riverbed there, a dramatic beginning for our normally placid river.  Nearby, pictographs faintly remind today's visitors of people who lived along this same river years and years ago.
The south fork of the Guadalupe begins just south of State Highway 41, four miles shy of the Real-Kerr county line, and the two forks meet up just east of Hunt.  Along with hundreds of other creeks between here and the coast, the San Marcos and Comal rivers are the Guadalupe's major tributaries.  The drainage area of the Guadalupe River is about 6,100 square miles, an area larger than the state of Connecticut.
The Guadalupe River with which we're familiar -- slow and green stretches interrupted by occasional dashing rapids, sheltered by cypress and sycamore boughs -- our river changes character as it approaches the sea.  Once, years ago, I traveled to the mouth of the Guadalupe with my wife and kids.  We found a tired river there, sweltering under heavy air, and dotted along its banks with alligator slides, made where the ancient reptiles slip from land back to water.  I still remember the loud sounds of the insects there.  Down there it's not the Guadalupe River we know.  My sweet wife wouldn't even get out of the car to explore.
Though our part of the river has been known by man for at least the past 10,000 years, it didn't gain the name "Guadalupe" until 1689, when Alonso De Leon named its lower stretches the "Nuestra SeƱora de Guadalupe," which translates, roughly, "Our Lady of Guadalupe."  Other Spanish explorers gave other sections of the river other names, including San Augustin, and San Ybon.  The earliest reference to our part of the river came in 1727 when Pedro de Rivera y Villalon wrote about the Guadalupe above the mouth of the Comal River.
The first settlers in Kerrville came to make shingles from the abundant cypress trees; they arrived in the mid-1840s with Joshua D. Brown.
The earliest maps of our area 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 -- and no value.
Most, if not all, of the tracts surveyed were conveyed by Texas to veterans of the Texas Revolutionary War, including the tract Joshua D. Brown purchased from heirs of Benjamin F. Cage, a veteran.  Brown then convinced the very first Kerr County commissioners court to locate the county seat of the newly-formed Kerr County on that purchased tract, and requested the county seat to be named for his friend, James Kerr.
Beyond shingle making, some of our area's earliest industries depended upon the river.  Several mills were constructed, from as far west as Sherman's Mill, between Ingram and Hunt, down to Kerrville, one in Center Point, and then in Comfort.
The mill in Kerrville was built by Christian Dietert, and later owned (like most things in downtown Kerrville) by Charles Schreiner.  At its heyday, the Kerrville mill produced flour, sawed lumber, and even generated electricity.
In those days each of the mills had a little dam, usually made from cypress wood.  These dams, while picturesque, often washed away with each rise in the river.  Several Kerr County leaders recognized the need for a more permanent dams, and several attempts were made to generate public support for these projects.
There were basically three arguments made for a new series of dams along the Guadalupe River: first, to enhance the recreational and scenic value of the river; second, to aid in times of flood; and third, for impoundment to aid in the production of drinking water.
It might surprise you to learn which community organization lead the charge for these new, more permanent dams.  I supposed, before doing my research, a local governmental unit provided the necessary leadership.
It turns out the leadership came from the Kerrville Chamber of Commerce.  In late 1941 the chamber circulated petitions and reported to the Kerrville city council "a substantial seven-to-one majority [of support] for the project," according to an article in the Kerrville Mountain Sun.  The chamber was seeking city approval for a bond election in the amount of $45,000 to build a "recreational dam across the Guadalupe River near Kerrville" near the "state park."
That effort did not bear fruit, however.  Shortly after the petitions were delivered to the Kerrville city council, Japanese planes made an uninvited visit to Pearl Harbor.  Suddenly steel and concrete were needed elsewhere, and city leaders were reluctant to raise taxes to pay for bonds, especially for a "recreational" project.
The  idea did not go away, though; it was merely shelved until 1951.  Although many were involved in this later effort, one name is mentioned again and again in the news articles: Darrell Lochte.
Lochte was a local boy who graduated from Tivy.  He served in the armed forces during World War II, and after the war served Kerr County in many capacities, including as county attorney.  During the effort to build a series of dams in Kerr County, Lochte was identified in local news articles as "chairman of the dams and roads committee" of the chamber of commerce.
Lochte did a good job organizing support, enlisting volunteers to distribute petitions in all county court precincts, developing a subcommittee to address tax issues, which included volunteers like C. A. Roland, Charles Schreiner III, and Clifford Lawrence; another committee to study dams, road site and engineering problems, manned by R. L. Sabbins, Bob Ziegler, and Jasper Moore.
These committee selections reflect Lochte's skill: they included representatives from various parts of the county.
These efforts paid off when the Kerr County commissioners court agreed on the locations of dams in August, 1954.  Three were proposed: one at Center Point, one at Flat Rock below Kerrville, and another near the "Chick-Inn."  A little research suggests the Point Theater had a building next door called the "Chick-Inn," and one of the dams would eventually be built nearby.
That same month, the chamber quickly organized a new committee, this one called "Operation Action," and once again Darrell Lochte was named chairperson of a key committee, the "Citizens Committee," tasked with "formulating plans to help the Kerr County Commissioners Court iron out existing obstacles to have the three dams completed before next summer."  More names were added to a "Chamber Dams Committee," which included Joe Pacheck, Tom Carr, Earl Stiefel, Ed Carruth Jr., Rex McElroy, Dick Eastland, Doris Johnson, R. C. McBryde, W. B. Kellogg, Jim Nugent, James Martin, Dr. J. L. Shanklin, Sam Braswell Jr., and Buddy Karger.  In fact, so many people volunteered to be on the committee only a fraction were chosen.
Their work was successful, and the voters approved the issuance of $225,000 worth of bonds for all three dams in late October 1954.  The bonds were eventually sold to the Texas State Board of Education, paying 3.05%  interest.
Obtaining easements took some time, and various newspapers noted Lochte's progress.  In July, 1955 it was reported he only lacked one easement in Center Point, three at Flat Rock, and two in Ingram.  By October, 1955, Lochte was visiting local service clubs, enlisting their support in "securing easements for the proposed dam at Flat Rock."  It seems the project required some peer pressure.
By February, 1956, the last of the easements was finally obtained, and the Kerr County commissioners court asked for bids on the three dams.  County crews worked to clear the sites, so when the bids were awarded, work could begin right away.  The bid was awarded in March, 1956, to the Keller Construction Company of Fredericksburg, who bid to construct all three dams for $215,000, "specifying a time limit of 200 calendar days for completion of the dams."
Finally, in August 1956, the Kerrville Mountain Sun ran a front page photograph of "workmen finishing a portion of the concrete skin on the big dam at Flat Rock just below Kerrville.
During 1956 Kerr County enjoyed a huge celebration marking its centennial.  It also saw the construction of three "flood control dams" which just happened to also offer recreational opportunities.  These dams took a lot of effort, both in public and behind the scenes, and I think my late friend Darrell Lochte shouldered most of the burden.  I can imagine he had a big smile on his face when that last easement was finally signed.
Each of the dams served specific purposes, but all increased the beauty of our river, which also increased the attractiveness of Kerr County as a tourist destination, and as a place to call home. I'm thankful to those leaders who worked so hard over fifty years ago to achieve their plans: they made Kerr County a better place.
This article originally appeared in the Comanche Trace Lifestyles Magazine in June 2013.
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1 comment:

  1. Joe, this article was, as all your articles are, truly enlightening.

    Thank you so very much for the tremendous amount of research that you perform for these articles. I suspect that many people don't realize that each of your postings may take many hours to prepare, prior to going-to-press.

    You are a blessing to Kerrville, its residents, and its former residents for all that you do.

    I would love to see photos of those dams being built, especially the one at Louise Hays Park.

    Also, if you have photos of the alligator slides, they would be very interesting to see.

    P.S. Who knew that many of the people I once knew had so much to do with the formation and improvements of Kerrville. When I once lived in Kerrville, I should have paid more attention to Kerrville's day-to-day activities.

    Thanks again, Joe.


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