Monday, July 20, 2015

The Last Wool Warehouse

The Schreiner Wool and Mohair Commission Company warehouse, 1937
Few today realize how important wool is in the story of our community.
The earliest settlers usually brought other livestock, horses and cattle. Sheep arrived later, when Caspar Real brought in the first flock in 1857, to his ranch on Turtle Creek, though that first flock did not do well, and had to be moved back to Bexar county.
Real didn't give up, and tried again later. Meanwhile, S. B. Rees brought a different flock of sheep to our county at his ranch near the mouth of Turtle Creek. Other ranchers brought in additional flocks, but the "sheep business was in an experimental stage until about 1875," according to a history of our community written by Matilda Marie Real.
Many of the most recognizable names from our county's history were involved in those early days of sheep raising: Rees, Schwethelm, Schreiner, Real, Burney, Starkey, Tivy, Coldwell, and Moore.
By 1879 an organization had been formed by the wool growers of Kerr county, for their mutual assistance, and twenty-four charter members began what became a major industry in our community.
According to Bob Bennett's book on our county, "one of the biggest problems that confronted the pioneer sheep and goat men was finding a ready market for their products. Lack of transportation and the distance from eastern markets plagued the industry for years before the problem was solved largely through the business acumen of Capt. Charles Schreiner, who instituted a cooperative market and warehouse system which remains in use today [1956] in all major wool and mohair producing areas of the nation.
"Captain Schreiner...established his store in Kerrville in 1869. He stored wool clips of the early sheep raisers and sold the wool on consignment, freighting to San Antonio by ox teams. As sheep raising thrived and increased, Capt. Schreiner's wool business expanded and outgrew his original store and he enlarged his facilities from time to time."
In fact, an argument could be made that income from wool and mohair helped save many a ranch in the hill country, because it allowed for diversification, and offered income several times a year. And there is also evidence this industry fueled a great part of Captain Charles Schreiner's personal wealth, perhaps to a greater degree than did any of his many other interests.
An original wall of Schreiner's downtown wool warehouse still stands; it is the curved wall of the Schreiner Building (and current home of CarteWheels Caterers), the wall which is parallel and closest to Sidney Baker Street.
Even that larger warehouse was soon too small to handle the business, and in 1935 the Schreiner Wool & Mohair Commission Company built a new warehouse on McFarland Street in Kerrville. Bennett writes the new warehouse had a capacity of four million pounds of wool and mohair.
Meanwhile, in Ingram, another large wool and mohair commission warehouse was operated by J. W. Priour, Sr., and his sons J. W. and Dale Priour.
The Ingram location suffered a major fire years ago and was not rebuilt, but the Priour family stayed in the wool and mohair business, including through Ranchman's Wool and Mohair, which operates out of the old warehouse on McFarland Street.
Several folks have stopped by to let me know that warehouse is closing, and Ranchman's is referring business to the Priour-Varga warehouse in Rocksprings, meaning the last wool warehouse in Kerr County is closing.
Wool has been a very important industry for our county -- and wool growers will continue to make contributions here for many years to come. It's an industry with a rich tradition here.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who can usually tell the difference between a sheep and a goat, though it sometimes takes several guesses.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 18, 2015.

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