Saturday, December 24, 2016

A Kerrville Christmas Eve -- 1885

The restored Union Church, photo taken in 2003
Something remarkable happened in Kerrville around Christmas Eve, 1885.
Though the community had its beginnings in the late 1840s, when Joshua D. Brown and a group of men built a shingle making camp near the present-day intersection of Water and Washington streets, and though the county had been organized in 1856, Kerrville had no churches.
There were several likely reasons for this: Kerr County was very remote, travel was difficult, attacks from Native American groups were frequent, and the county, while rich in land, was extremely cash poor.
Sometime in 1884 two local women, Mrs. Whitfield Scott and her sister, Miss Laura Gill, decided it was time for the community to have a church. According to a story I found in the March 8, 1928 issue of the Kerrville Times, the two worked tirelessly to get a church for our community.
"Mrs. Scott and Miss Gill drove from house to house, not only in Kerrville, but throughout the county soliciting funds. It was hard work. People were poor, some did not believe in churches. But through the indomitable perseverance of the ladies, the money was finally collected. Not only was every resident of Kerr County asked to give but many letters were written to friends far away for aid."
Mrs. Scott even wrote letters to newspapers and magazines asking for help.
"I wish to make a plain statement of facts concerning religious matters in this country, hoping that this article will arrest the attention and awaken the sympathies and interest of more fortunate persons.... We have no place of worship, excepting an unfinished Episcopalian church, whose doors are only open to pastors of their own faith."
St. Peters Episcopal Church was under construction at the time, at about the same location as the present site of the church. Mrs. Scott and Miss Gill wanted to have a place of worship for more congregations.
A petition had been presented to the Kerr County commissioners court requesting permission to hold religious services in the county courthouse, and permission was given for six months. "That time has now expired and we are not inclined to repeat the experiment," Mrs. Scott wrote.
"Christians are few in number, most of them poor, unorganized and discouraged.
"Society suffers as a consequence, and our dear Kerrville boys are growing up to be mockers and scoffers of pure religion and desecrators of the holy Sabbath day.
"Times are hard, but few people are able to contribute to anything but the maintenance of their own families.... I appeal to the readers of this paper for help.
"Not from far off China, Japan, Africa, or India but from your own Western Texas comes this cry for help..."
The women did raise the funds to build the church, and Captain Charles Schreiner donated a lot on which it was to be built. That lot was on the corner of Main and Clay streets, and the church faced Clay Street. A gas station, car wash, and convenience store stand on the site today.
Construction was completed "about Christmas, 1885." I can just imagine the happiness those ladies felt as worshippers came to the newly-built church to celebrate Christmas.
The church they built was called the Union Church, and it was the home of four congregations: the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, the Missionary Baptist Church, and the Christian Church. Each had use of the building one Sunday per month and the week that followed. The building was available for other faiths "by permission."
Other faiths had their local start outside of the Union Church, of course. The Episcopal church was erected in 1884; the first Catholic mass was read here in 1889, in Dr. Parsons' Hall, which once stood next to our print shop.
As each of the Union Church congregations grew, they left the Union Church building and built their own churches, until only the First Christian Church remained in the building. It was to this congregation the building was deeded on September 9, 1925. The building was in poor repair at that time, as no one congregation wanted to spend money on the building.
The old church building was purchased and moved to Lemos Street, where in my youth it was an Army Navy surplus store.
Later the Friends of the Kerr County Historical Commission obtained the old church building and had it moved to a corner of the Schreiner University campus. Many, many hours of hard work went into its restoration, and the building is again available to the public.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who wishes each and every reader a very Merry Christmas. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 24, 2016.

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