Sunday, September 17, 2017

The 100 year old controversy of Kerrville's railroad passenger depot

Kerrville's controversial passenger depot, built by the
San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad, 1915.
Click on any image to enlarge
Two new historical markers were unveiled September 16th at the site of the old railroad passenger depot and an adjoining lumber yard. The ceremony begins at 2 pm, and the public is invited.
The old San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad depot, on Schreiner Street between Sidney Baker and Clay streets, was built in 1915; today it is the home of Rails, a Cafe at the Depot.
SAP advertisement
The lumber yard next door was once the home of Beitel Lumber Company; that building dates from 1889.
The depot building being honored with an historical marker Saturday was not the first train depot in Kerrville. That wooden structure burned down in September, 1913.
"An alarm was turned in shortly after 11 o'clock, but by the time the first company was on the ground the entire building, which had evidently taken fire from within, was a mass of flames. In the freight warehouse were a number of barrels of oils of different kinds, which together with lard bacon and other inflammable merchandise made a terrific fire. On a siding near the depot were two cars of merchandise. These were also completely destroyed."
Chief Tom Tarver, who carried
Kerrville's mail from the depot to
the post office -- for 33 years.
It took several years to get a new passenger depot built, and once built a controversy erupted.
Not long after the new depot was constructed, on land sold to the railroad company by the Beitel family, a suit was brought to prevent the railroad company from using the new depot. Apparently, when the railroad came to Kerrville in 1887, the citizens of Kerrville donated around 14 acres of land for use by the railroad for a passenger and freight depot. The new, brick depot was not on the donated land.
In the July 31, 1915 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun makes mention of the case; another issue, in July 29, 1916, says a verdict was reached for the plaintiffs. Notice of appeal to higher courts was reported in the same paragraph.
A news item in the Galveston Daily News, on May 10, 1916 may shed some light on the controversy:
The '500' railroad car
"An argument was heard in the Kerrville depot controversy," the newspaper reported, concerning a hearing before the Texas Railroad Commission in Austin, "where there is a division between the mayor and some of the citizens. Today's petition asked the commission to order the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad to build and maintain what was characterized as an adequate passenger station at Kerrville, located on the old depot site and on the south side of the tracks. It also protested against the petition of the mayor of Kerrville and the SA&AP Railroad for permission to use the brick depot constructed by the [company]. The new depot is declared inadequate and unsuitable and inconveniently and dangerously located. There is an injunction pending in the courts to prevent the use of the depot."
The railroad engine turntable
Looking at the 1904 Sanborn maps of Kerrville, I see the original depot was on the corner of Quinlan and Schreiner streets, about where Dealers Electrical Supply has their store today. The 1910 map shows the depot closer to the middle of that block, with the railroad tracks well away from Schreiner Street. The 1916 map shows the new brick depot (and current home of Rails) in its location, but still shows the old passenger depot on Quinlan.
The 1916 map shows something else interesting: Schreiner Street did not connect to what is now Sidney Baker Street, meaning the railroad track was not in the middle of the Schreiner Street, as it was when I was younger.
The controversy over the new depot continued until at least 1919, when the San Antonio Evening News reported the Railroad Commission drawing up an order to require the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad Company to use its new brick depot in Kerrville. That article says the brick depot had been closed for 18 months.
I suppose Kerrville hasn't changed all that much. After waiting years for a new depot, the little town divided over the question of the location of the depot.
The old lumber building was much less controversial.
On all of the maps I studied, the Beitel Lumber Company building is almost the only building in the area which remains. If built in 1889, it's older than many of the limestone buildings downtown, including the old Masonic building (home of Sheftall's Jewelers), and the Weston building (home of Francisco's Restaurant). Both of those buildings were built in 1890.
The Beitel Lumber Company yard in Kerrville was an extension of their business in San Antonio, and started here around 1889.
Ally Beitel's home on Myrta Street
A young member of that family, Ally Beitel, moved to Kerrville in 1909 to manage the business, and soon became very involved in community affairs, serving as president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, and the Kerrville Country Club. He even served a term as county commissioner.
Ally Beitel died young, at 44, after an extended illness, in May, 1933. His lovely home can still be seen at the southern corner of Washington and Myrta streets.
When I was a youngster a lumber yard was still in operation at the site, Hill Country Lumber, run by the Gus duMenil family.
I'm happy the Kerr County Historical Commission is working to place historical markers at worthy sites in our community, and I'm thankful to folks like Mark and Linda Stone who have worked hard to restore these and other historical buildings. I'm proud, too, of Melissa Southern and John Hagerla for creating a successful businesses in the restored buildings.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has enjoyed many a meal in the old depot, from dining at Rails, and going all the way back to when it was a barbecue place run by the Walkers. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times September 16, 2017.

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