Monday, November 4, 2013

Kerrville versus her neighbor, Fredericksburg

Kerrville was not supposed to get the railroad. When the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad was organized, in 1884, its owners and management hoped to connect San Antonio not only to Aransas Pass, but also all the way to Denver, Colorado.  This was their dream as they began.  The line they sketched from the Gulf of Mexico to San Antonio continued up to Denver, and that line did not pass through Kerrville.
It passed through Fredericksburg.
* * *
The president of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad, Uriah Lott, had some history with railroads.  As a young man he'd found work in Illinois as a helper in a station for the Chicago & Alton Railroad.  Later, in Corpus Christi, Texas, despite tremendous obstacles, he'd built a rail line connecting Corpus Christi and Laredo. Many called that project "Lott's Folly," but he got it built, overcoming the criticism piled upon him.
And then, after some financial turmoil, he lost that railroad, being forced to sell the line.
It's understandable, after all of the pressures and conflicts of building that first railroad, Uriah Lott would want to do something else with his life after "his" railroad was sold out from under him.
And so Lott bought a sheep ranching operation, thinking, I suppose, that making a living selling wool would be preferable to building railroads.
Unfortunately, Lott began his career as a rancher right at the start of a drought, which came from the heavens; the depression of 1884, which came from Wall Street; and the end of a tariff on foreign wool, which came from President Grover Cleveland.
Uriah Lott took a financial beating from that triple-whammy, and so, borrowing $5 and loading his possessions on an ox-cart, he and his family moved to San Antonio, answering the call of that city to build a new railroad to the sea.
The 1880s saw many proposals for new railroads, and the speculation surrounding them was not unlike the recent bubble in tech stocks during the early "Dot-Com" days.  Stories about possible rail lines filled Texas newspapers.  Each small town hoped they would be linked to the rest of the world.
The group in San Antonio was very serious about building their railroad.  They wanted to have a way to ship their products to a larger market, and they wanted a way to obtain merchandise more efficiently.  Getting this railroad was imperative for San Antonio to become a major center of commerce in Texas.
When Lott arrived on the scene, in March, 1885, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad was reorganized with Lott as president, and a board of directors including W. H. Maverick, D. Sullivan, George H. Kalteyer, and A. J. Lockwood.  Lott also had the strong backing of a man who'd helped financially on the railroad connecting Corpus Christi to Laredo: Capt. Mifflin Kenedy.
And so, Lott began work.  Slowly the line extended from its home in San Antonio.
In January, 1886, the S.A.&A.P. Railroad had its first excursion run, from San Antonio to Floresville.  Speeches were made, bands played, there was a big dance in the Wilson County courthouse, Governor John Ireland attended and addressed the crowd. A great feast was prepared, with barbecue pits dug in the courthouse square.  The distance from San Antonio to Floresville is about 30 miles, but that first run was quite a big deal.
The S.A.&A.P. Railroad started with three locomotives, each bearing a name: the "Sam Maverick," the "Chas. Hugo," and the "M. Kenedy."  They were originally designed to burn wood as fuel.  They were the 2-6-0 type, with cylinders 18x24, extension front ends, equipped with all of the latest modern technology.
The line from San Antonio to Corpus Christi was completed in October, 1886.  A line from Corpus Christi to Rockport was not operational until July, 1888.
Even before arriving in Corpus Christi, the operators of the S.A.&A.P. were looking toward the hill country, dreaming of a "northwest extension."  The goal was still the same: to continue past the hill country, through San Angelo and on to Denver.
But first the corporation had to decide which route to take: through Fredericksurg, or through Kerrville.  And therein lies a story.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has never ridden on a train in the United States -- other than subways in major cities.

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