Monday, February 22, 2016

Why I write about Kerr County history

A few weeks ago, I mentioned to a friend that I'd been writing a column for this newspaper for over twenty years.
He responded with surprise: "How could you write about something as small as Kerrville for twenty years?"
Good question.
(My friend can be forgiven as his heart still resides in his previous home, a city far away, and with centuries of history. He may never let that place go. To his credit, he did apologize.)
So why write about such an obscure place for so long?
I suppose the honest answer is because the history of this place interests me. I enjoy finding new facts about our community's past. I hope my research (and my collection) will someday form the basis of a museum focused on Kerr County's history. I hope my writing will inspire our community to come up with a plan for historic preservation.
I don't have a personal connection to the founding of this community; our family arrived in Kerrville only a few weeks before I was born. To my knowledge I am related to none of the early settlers of this community. Since my family arrived here we have been very active in community affairs and may have contributed a paragraph or two of our community's history. Prior to 1961, however, our story was written in other parts of Texas.
So my interest in the history of Kerrville and Kerr county is not in building a memorial to my great-uncle Henry who came here with Joshua Brown. I have no great-uncle Henry. When Kerrville and Kerr County were founded, my family was engaged elsewhere.
* * *
This column has had some successes in nudging property owners to preserve historic buildings, but none of which I'd care to report. Most felt they came to the right choice on preservation without any nudging at all, and I'm happy for them to take credit themselves. Success has many fathers, you know.
Every time a bulldozer appears next to an old structure in Kerrville people wring their hands and bemoan our community's lack of vision. Comparisons to Fredericksburg are bandied about, comparisons which favor our neighbor to the north.
In my opinion, comparing Fredericksburg and Kerrville is like comparing a baseball and a boot. Each has found a way to profit from a unique advantage lacking elsewhere. When I was a boy, Fredericksburg's "Sunday houses" were falling apart in neglect, and could be purchased cheaply. When I was a boy, none of Kerrville's businesses faced the river. Both communities are now focusing on their strengths, and, if one looks at sales tax collections, one might be surprised which community's economy has grown more over the past few decades.
I hope the loss of the Garrett house, and the potential loss of the Scofield School allows our community to at least have a discussion about historic preservation.
Such a discussion might yield a plan which
protects the rights of the property owners
provides funded incentives for preservation
helps identify historic structures based upon sound criteria
helps identify said historic structures which are in imminent danger of demolition, or in danger of rotting away
Right now we seem to have no coherent plan, nor any indication such a plan is desired. Every time an old structure disappears, we say something should be done.
If not now, when?
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who wrote his first newspaper column, in the Kerrville Mountain Sun, when he was a teenager. It's kind of what he does. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 20, 2016.

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