Monday, October 26, 2015

When did our community begin?

A map of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway, from around 1900
Click on map to enlarge
An Autumn story from my files:
In the autumn of 1887, only 128 short years ago, the railroad came to Kerrville, allowing the small city to grow economically and also in importance to her neighbors.
The line was a spur of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad, a line that came up the hills from San Antonio.   Captain Charles Schreiner was instrumental in getting the line here, even donating a portion of the costs to run the line.  It wasn’t pure altruism that motivated him.  He stood to make money, good money -- though it was a gamble.
Kerrville wasn’t much, yet.  It wasn’t the town we’d recognize.  It was a tiny place.
Part of the reason for its small size was its isolation.
Bob Bennett, in his excellent history of the county wrote, “Before the advent of the railroad, travel to and from the outside world had been by stagecoach, by hack, or by wagon, and even by horseback.  Freight was hauled by ox, mule, or horse-drawn wagon over dirt roads which had been ‘blazed’ but had little other preparation for vehicle travel.  It usually required two days to make the trip from Kerrville to San Antonio with an empty two-horse wagon, the night being spent in camp near Boerne.  When a load of freight had been placed in the wagon at San Antonio, a much longer time was required for the return trip, especially if rains came.  When the roads were muddy from heavy rains, the wagon wheels often cut ruts to the hubs.”
Image that every item on storekeepers’ shelves, except those which had been locally made or grown, had to be hauled in from distant cities by wagon.   Variety would have been meager and quantities would have been small.   It would be hard to build a community with such difficult supply problems.
And the community was still a frontier town.
When the railroad came here it provided a way to ship goods in and out of the community.   I was surprised to read that Schreiner’s cotton factoring firm shipped over 10,000 bales of cotton from Kerr County in 1910.   Wool was also a big product that went by rail, as well as livestock.   Another surprising product, at least for me, was cedar fence posts, headed to markets in deep west Texas where no lumber grows.
And Kerrville’s importance grew in relation to her neighbors.   Kerrville became the nearest shipping point for the livestock, agricultural products, and other commodities produced in neighboring Junction, Fredericksburg, Rocksprings, and Leakey.  Though Fredericksburg did finally get a rail line built (they had difficult terrain to overcome, and their line was very expensive), it came much later and was never very profitable.  Fredericksburg’s line only ran for a short while.
Kerrville continues to serve these communities as a market center, but only because of the initial impetus of the railroad here, followed, I suppose, by the arrival of Interstate 10 in the 1970s.
There was also a lot of passenger travel on the new Kerrville railroad line.
Bennett writes “the big event for the entire populace of Kerrville was when the fair at San Antonio or other festive occasion induced the railroad to put on a special train with excursion rates.  Sometimes the round trip, set as low as $1.50 or $1, brought out a huge crowd of excursionists that jammed the train full of passengers.  Great times were enjoyed when the hill folk journeyed to the big city to see the sights.
“For years the regular Sunday train reached Kerrville about noon, and usually a big crowd gathered as the train pulled up to the depot to see who had been to San Antonio or other faraway points.  It was a big event in those days to take a railroad journey.  During the summer months special rates to Kerrville were advertised and this induced many visitors to come to the hills during the warm months of summer.  These were the forerunners of the great host of summer tourists which now come to the Hill Country.”
Indeed, reading many of the era’s newspapers you will find many inches devoted to the travels of Kerr County’s citizens – and usually a listing of visitors to the city.
The community, as we know it, really began 128 years ago, in the autumn of 1887, when the train rolled into town.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who is old enough to remember seeing trains rumbling through Kerrville.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times October 24, 2015.

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