Monday, April 10, 2017

The road over Medina Mountain

The road over Medina Mountain, taken by Starr Bryden, probably in the 1920s.
The road was built in 1914.  I think this photo was taken on the 

Medina side of the mountain -- facing north-ish toward Kerrville.
If you've ever traveled south of Kerrville on Highway 16 to Medina, you've crossed over a steep hill we locals call Medina Mountain.
The road there attacks the hill with a series of S-curves, crosses over the divide between watersheds, and then descends into the Medina River valley. It is a scenic section of roadway, and I recently found the story of its original construction in the Kerr County Album, which was published in 1986 by the Kerr County Historical Commission.
An article from the March 2, 1914 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun was paraphrased and reprinted in the book.
"Building good roads on paper has for many years been a delightful task to promoters and writers throughout the country, but few of these boosters for better thoroughfares ever take part in the actual, practical task of building the roads.
"The present roadwork that is going forward under the direction of Commissioner Arthur Real in Precinct One of Kerr County is a fine practical demonstration of modern road building."
I imagine the author of the article is J. E. Grinstead, though the book does not say. Grinstead was the publisher of the Mountain Sun at the time.
"For a distance of about 8 miles from the city," the article continues, "the roads have been graded, and modern culverts have been put in. The grading crew is under the management of Henry Barton, and has moved camp to a point on Brushy Creek and is now pushing the work of grading and filling and putting in drains from that point forward to Lamb's Creek.
"At the head of Lamb's Creek where the great Medina Hill confronts the traveler, and causes him to wonder if the road must go through a tunnel, or becoming discouraged turn around and go back, the first evidence of the ability of Capt. Jack Gibbens, the road builder is found. Those who have been over this perilous piece of road in the past will remember it practically impossible for an automobile to pass, or for any but the heaviest teams to pull even a light load over it."
Grinstead describes "an army of men" under the direction of Capt. Gibbens.
"As if some magic wand had been waved in the still cloisters of nature among the age-old hills, the stones have disappeared from the roadway. Gently the climb is begun over a grade as smooth as the streets of a city."
The men camped at the base of the hill, along Lamb's Creek.
"Camp hospitality of the heartiest kind is dispensed, and several hours spent visiting the work, watching the great blasts tear away the mountain and make room for the march of modern progress by linking the upper Medina country to Kerrville...."
The report continues with a description of the camp, which featured great food and music played by one of the workmen. At night, the men slept in tents on cots with white sheets. "As they went to bed, one of the men said 'This canyon is so deep and rough, you'd have to look straight up to see a hootey owl."
The first real automobile road over Medina Mountain was completed in 1914, and it was built without the heavy equipment which would be used today.
On his visit, Grinstead "stepped from boulder to boulder, clinging to the side of the mountain, stumbling over picks, shovels, crowbars, powder cans, windlasses and derricks...where the men have literally hewn a road out of the solid limestone of the mountain sides."
Much of that original work still exists, if underneath modern paving, railings and signage.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has always enjoyed driving over Medina Mountain. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 8, 2017.

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