Sunday, August 6, 2017

Kerrville's West Texas Fair

Kerrville West Texas Fairgrounds
West Texas Fairgrounds, Kerrville, around 1905
Click on any image to enlarge
Starting in 1899, our community produced an event called the West Texas Fair every summer. It was a big deal, and continued for several decades.
The event was led by the movers and shakers in town and drew a big crowd each year. The officers for the 1905 fair were Charles Schreiner, president; H. Remschel, vice-president; Charles Real, secretary-treasurer. The association was organized and stock sold; stockholders held an annual meeting. While I think the event itself was not intended to be overly profitable, the community benefitted from the visitors it attracted.
Kerrville West Texas Fairgrounds grandstand
Grandstands, West Texas Fair
It was kind of a county fair, though I think Kerr County had greater ambitions for their event, hoping to include communities to our west in the festivities. There were horse races, parades, ball games, plus traditional county fair contests. Ribbons were awarded for everything from best garden produce to baking and canning.
Beyond those traditional offerings, at the 1905 fair, there was also an "Art Department," chaired by a local artist, James Spicer. "Those who have fine paintings and other works of art," a news article stated, "can safely trust them to his care for no one knows better than he the value of such things."
There was also an "Educational Department," where "schools of all Texas are cordially invited to enter the competition."
Later years included a Chautauqua, a kind of educational lecture series. Baseball games were scheduled between neighboring communities, which probably helped attendance from those communities.
In 1908, one of the planned "amusements" was a "grand speed contest between automobiles," which took place on the horse track. "This will be the first event of its kind ever seen in Kerr County and will be well worth seeing."  The first automobiles came to Kerrville that same year, so many of those attending the 1908 event had probably never seen an automobile before.
Exhibit Hall, West Texas Fair
J. E. Grinstead, a local newspaper publisher from the turn of the last century, described the West Texas Fair “whose home is in a delightful park adjoining the city limits, with the Guadalupe River upon one side and majestic oak-clad mountains on the other, is among the chief attractions of Kerrville, and is an enterprise which is the pride of the people of this entire section, and has and will continue to be a strong element in the development of our county and its resources. The exhibition of 1904 was a pronounced success from every viewpoint. And the importance of the work will increase as the country develops.”
Twenty years ago Warren Klein, a rancher in Mountain Home, sent me his memories of the West Texas Fair:
"The West Texas Fair was held each year around the 4th of July." This fair took place in grand buildings built especially for the fair. The site was on the river side of the intersection of Water Street and Junction Highway, called Five Points, about where [Wells Fargo] Bank is today.
"One thing I remember about the fair of 1915: a man had an airplane and he would take people up for a ride. The thing I remembered about the airplane was that it didn't have a self-starter. The propeller was at the back of the plane. In order to start it, a person had to turn the propeller by hand, but he wanted 'back up,' so he joined hands with 6 other men. One thing that still puzzles me today is where my brand new straw hat went when that plane started!"
Foot Ball Game, West Texas Fair, 1907
One postcard from the 1907 fair shows what looks to be a basketball game, played on the horse track in front of the grandstand. Basketball nets and backboards can be plainly seen, and a ball can be seen in the air.
The puzzling thing about the postcard? It has this headline: "Foot Ball Game at West Texas Fair, Kerrville, Texas 1907." While it's possible the game being played was football, it's also possible the printer made a mistake. Strike that -- it's obviously a game of football, played on a horse-track basketball court.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who stands in solidarity with the printer of that 1907 postcard. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 5, 2017.

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