Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A review of 2013

And here, suddenly, we're at the end of 2013.
It seems like yesterday I was writing about the year ahead for this column: "Sometimes I feel like a long-distance backpacker: January is the start of a long trail, and the time of the year when you select the gear you plan to carry with you on that trail. You can carry too much, and strain with each step, enduring a painful journey; or you can carry too little and find yourself wanting in spots where supplies and help cannot be found."
A blank slate of 52 columns can be daunting. At the beginning of each year I sign a contract, where I commit to providing about 42,000 words, (mostly) on time, over the coming 12 months. Between us, I don't really know 42,000 words about anything. The gap between what is expected and what I can provide is scary.
The column proceeded, despite my concerns, one week at a time.
Together we researched many topics. The river ("which got its name from Alonso De Leon in 1689, when he named it the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe"); early British settlers ("Although a few of their intrepid countrymen arrived in the Guadalupe valley earlier, a distinct migration of British colonists began to be felt in the decade beginning in 1879, and all these resolved people left a distinct impress on the rapidly developing ranching country"); Charles Schreiner (who would have been 175 on February 22, 2013); a hippo in Ingram (which was sent to Bernhards to be processed, as it had "killed 16 head of registered Angus cattle" on the Waters Ranch); H-E-B ("In the Old World there was often a market in the middle of town where all came and traded. I suppose, in a small way, grocery stores are something like that today").
None of these subjects could have been predicted, and I lack the forethought to plan columns very far in advance. I'm afraid I subject you to very random thoughts from a very random mind each week.
Of the subjects covered this past year which especially interested me, I'd include learning more about Dr. E. E. Palmer, a beloved physician who had his office, in the 1930s, very near my own. I often wonder about the folks who have toiled on the same patch of earth as me, such as the Parsons family, or Ann Hammack, who once ran a beauty salon in the same building we use today as our print shop offices.
In other columns, it was fun remembering the old Blue Bonnet Hotel, an eight-story brick hotel which once stood at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett Streets, opposite Francisco's Restaurant, on the bluff overlooking the river. I spent some time there, visiting friends (who lived there), and attending Kerrville Kiwanis Club meetings with my father. Few today remember the grand old hotel.
And I enjoyed exploring several local "history myths," including pinpointing the date when Kerrville changed its name from "Kerrsville," by dropping the "s" in the middle. Turns out it was much later than expected -- sometime after 1870.
Another myth: a Rockefeller Foundation report citing Kerrville as one of the healthiest climates in the United States. I never could find evidence of such a report, other than quotes from the writings of J. E. Grinstead, a local newspaperman from the early 20th century. A long search of the records of the Rockefeller Foundation turned up zero mentions of Kerrville.
And another myth: Kerrville was incorporated in 1889, as it says on the city's official seal. The community actually incorporated in 1888, though only for "school purposes."  State law in those days allowed for incorporation to fund schools; by incorporating, the community could issue debt and build a schoolhouse. The following year, 1889, Kerrville incorporated for "municipal purposes," and city government began.
I also enjoyed learning more about a turning point in our community's history: the arrival of the railroad here in 1887. I had no idea, prior to studying the issue, just how deep Kerrville's rivalry with Fredericksburg became over this issue. Both communities wanted the railroad, both bid on getting the railroad to come to their community. Kerrville won the contest, and so became the market center for this region of Texas. Our local history would have played out so differently had the choice been to send the rails to Fredericksburg.
I suppose what I've learned most this year is this: local history has a lot of surprises. There are twists and unexpected turns. Fortune smiles unexpectedly at times, and often, whether Kerrville deserved it or not, fortune smiled upon her.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who likes to fish. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times on December 28, 2013.
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