Monday, April 20, 2015

A Kerrville church for many congregations

Kerrville's Union Church, at its current location.
Photo courtesy of the Kerr County Historical Commission
Although Joshua Brown and his crew of shingle makers arrived in our area in 1846, settling here permanently in 1848, the first church buildings in Kerrville weren’t built until 1885 with the completion of the Union Church.
The Union Church’s story is interesting to me for several reasons.
Considering that it took our community so long to build churches – almost 40 years – a generation of Kerrville residents had grown up in a community without the benefit of a church building.
In 1876 the Kerr County Commissioners Court approved the use of the county courtroom for “use as a place of worship of Almighty God,” but this arrangement, for several reasons, “wasn’t satisfactory.” The court’s order stipulated that the sheriff be paid $5 per day for the use of the courtroom, and that “no distinction shall be made between associations, sects, classes, or denominations of the community.”
In 1876 our community had a new courthouse, two stories tall, and made of stone. The community had insisted the building have two stories, and that the upper floor be available for community events. That courthouse was a big improvement over the previous courthouse: the first courthouse here was a log cabin, which stood near where Grimes Funeral Chapels stands today.
That 1876 courthouse served our community for ten years; in 1886 a much larger courthouse was constructed, and the 1876 courthouse was "recycled" and converted into the county jail.
During the late 1870s, according to Bob Bennett's excellent history of Kerr County, “Mrs. Whitfield Scott, who had come to Kerr County with her husband Captain Whitfield Scott, a Confederate veteran, and her sister, Miss Laura Gill, who later became Mrs. William Gray Garrett, began to solicit funds for the building of a Union Church. They were later joined in this work by Mrs. J. M. Starkey, a Methodist, and Mrs. Adeline Coleman, a member of the Christian denomination.
“These ladies went from house to house on horseback and wrote appealing articles in newspapers of that day to stimulate interest. There appears in the Christian Observer, a Presbyterian publication, in 1885, an article under the title “An Urgent Call,” which told how the youth of Kerrville were growing up without religion training, how there was no place of worship…, and how valuable a church would be to the growing community.”
Two lots were given by Capt. Charles Schreiner for the construction of the church; it was located on Clay Street facing what is Pioneer Bank today; a gas station is on the original Union Church site now.
“For several years thereafter, all denominations held services in the Union Church. It was agreed that the Methodist Church should use the building the first Sunday of every month; the Presbyterian the second Sunday; the Baptist the third; and the Christian Church the fourth Sunday. After 1914, when the other denominations had erected their own places of worship, the Church of Christ began to use the building.”
The building was later moved to Francisco Lemos Street, and when I was a boy housed an Army Navy Surplus store where a generation of boys bought camping gear.
Later still, the Friends of the Kerr County Historical Commission moved and restored the Union Church, and it now resides on the corner of the campus of Schreiner University, moving from its original lots donated by Captain Schreiner to a corner of the college which bears his name.
I suppose back in 1885 there was a lot of rejoicing in the new church building. As you visit your church during this time, take a moment to remember those three women, riding house to house on horseback, working to build the community’s first church.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who ought to attend church services more often, if only to serve as a poor example to the faithful.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 18, 2015.

1 comment:

  1. Great photo, with snow too! Thanks again for presenting a piece of local history.


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