Monday, April 27, 2015

The case of the missing model

I have in my collection of Kerrville and Kerr County historical items an odd assortment of items, ranging from thousands of photographs, to oddities such as an early telephone switchboard or the corporate seal of a long-closed school for girls.
This week I was going through a part of my collection and found detailed notes prepared by Herbert Oehler, who wrote a history column for this newspaper years ago.
Mr. Oehler was an accountant by training, but he had a real love of local history. In fact, he wrote a personal history of his youth here in Kerr County, called "Hill Country Boy." (Copies are sometimes available at Wolfmueller'sBooks on Earl Garrett Street.)
You can see hints of both of his passions in his notes: they explore a great many subjects, and there are pages of neatly written tables, where information is provided in tabular columns. You can tell in his notes he was an accountant, but you can also see he was an historian.
Years ago, at the Hill Country Preservation Society museum, which was housed in the home of Captain Charles Schreiner on Earl Garrett Street in downtown Kerrville, there was a model of Kerrville as it appeared in 1870. The story goes it had been built by patients at Kerrville's Veterans Administration Hospital, for display during the county's centennial celebration of 1956.
I'll admit I was not among the fans of the old model of Kerrville. Many things about it just didn't seem correct.
Later, when Schreiner University acquired the Charles Schreiner mansion, many of the items which had been on display there were removed from the building. Some of those items were later sold at a sale held in the Union Church.
I don't remember seeing the model of Kerrville at that sale, so I assume it is stored somewhere at Schreiner University.
My opinion of the model may change, though, especially as I read through the notes of Herbert Oehler.
Apparently, when the Hill Country Preservation Society began, in the late 1970s, that model of Kerrville in 1870 was part of the planned display. Mr. Oehler was tasked with researching the model and verifying what was shown there.
He was thorough in his research, relying on anecdotal evidence in some cases, and he relies upon the work of Bob Bennett, who wrote a definitive history of Kerr County in 1956.
But Oehler also did extensive research using the county's records of land transactions in the downtown Kerrville area. There are pages of notes on land transactions, recorded in Mr. Oehler's precise hand, which show, block by block, the ownership of land in the downtown area.
And there are two hand drawn maps, too, which show the blocks of downtown as they appeared on the 1956 model, and then a separate map which reflects Oehler's research.
These maps show an area of downtown from the river to the edge of Main Street, and then from just past Clay Street to just past Washington Street (or from about the site of the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library to the campus of Notre Dame Catholic Church).
These two maps are very interesting, and show the locations of homes and businesses in Kerrville around 1870. 1870 is an interesting choice: it was just after the Civil War, when the future prosperity of Kerrville was still in doubt. Our community, at that time, was rustic. Very rustic. There were very few people here, and few buildings. The story of our bend in the river had not been written.
Hopefully I'll find where the old model of Kerrville now hides -- and compare it to Mr. Oehler's notes. There might be something there, after all.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr is a Kerrville native who collects historic photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County. Please bring him what you have: he'll scan the images and give you back the originals. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 25, 2015.

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