Sunday, December 24, 2017

Five Christmas History Facts about Kerr County You Might Not Know

Kerrville Mountain Sun, Volume 1, Number 1, December 22, 1899.
Click on any image to enlarge.
History has a habit of happening year round, but there are five events in our community's history which happened at Christmastime. How many of these do you know?

James Kerr
James Kerr
Christmas Day, 1850: James Kerr passed away at his home in Jackson County, six years before the creation of Kerr County. Kerr arrived in Texas in 1825, to serve as surveyor general in the Texas colony of Green DeWitt. He was active in Texas politics from the time before the Texas Revolution until the early years of the Texas Republic, and was elected a delegate to the Texas Conventions of 1832 and 1836. After the war he served as a representative in the Third Congress, where he introduced anti dueling legislation, and a bill to make Austin the capital of Texas. He was a lawyer, a surveyor, a politician, and in the last part of his life, a physician.
Bonus fact: we don't pronounce his name correctly. James Kerr pronounced his last name to rhyme with "car," which means we mispronounce both Kerr County and Kerrville.
Rosalie Dietert
Rosalie Dietert
Christmas, 1857: The very first Christmas tree was in the home of Rosalie and Christian Dietert, German immigrants who arrived in Kerr County the same year the county was created. Christian was a millwright who built a water powered mill on the Guadalupe River, below the site of today's One Schreiner Center on Water Street in downtown Kerrville. Some evidence of the old mill remains, including two channels cut into the riverbed, some structures made of cut stone, and the ghostly outline of the old wooden dam etched at an angle in the limestone rock.
The Dieterts moved around a bit, but moved to Kerrville in 1857, when there were only five one-room huts in the entire village.
Their home also had the very first Kerrville Christmas tree. It was decorated with paper chains, nuts covered with gold and silver paper, apples brought from San Antonio, and cookies cut into shapes of birds and animals and decorated with sugar. The candles were tallow dips.
Charles Schreiner
Charles Schreiner
Christmas Eve, 1869: Charles Schreiner opens a small store in Kerrville, in a small 16 foot by 18 foot frame building, on the site where his home on Earl Garrett Street now stands.
J. Evetts Haley, in his book "Charles Schreiner, General Merchandise," published in 1969 by the Charles Schreiner Company, describes the little building as having double front doors, two front windows, another door, and a stovepipe "which elled out the side of the building." In back there was a lean-to shed, used as a "storehouse and as sleeping quarters for the clerks. But at first there were no clerks."
At the back of the shed was a cellar, used to store "barrels of coal oil, beer, whiskey and molasses."
Schreiner Store, 1869
illustration by H Bugbee
There was a long counter running the length of the building which "described an L at the back to cut off a small space that served as an office, and to shelter, at its base, barrels of sugar, coffee, rice, lard, and dried fruit."
He had obtained the backing of an "old-world" merchant from Comfort, August Faltin, who supplied the capital for the enterprise, and, I'm sure, plenty of advice on how to get started.
That first day of business did not portend a successful enterprise; only two sales were recorded, and both on credit, totaling $3.50.
George Hollimon Sr. bought 7 1/2 pounds of coffee for $2; John D. Wharton, 2 quarts of whiskey, for $1.50.
The only other entry that day: Charles Schreiner withdrew $1 cash. On what he spent that dollar, no one knows.
Kerrville's Union Church, around 1914
Kerrville's Union Church,
around 1914
Christmas Eve, 1885: First service held in the Union Church, which was shared by four early congregations: the Cumberland Presbyterian, the Methodist Episcopal, the Missionary Baptist, and the Christian Church congregations each used the building one week of each month. Kerrville had been without a church building since its founding in 1856, almost three decades earlier. A pair of ladies rode from house to house on horseback seeking donations to build Kerrville's first church.
J. E. Grinstead
J. E. Grinstead
Christmas, 1899: J. E. Grinstead purchases the Kerrville News and renames it the Kerrville Mountain Sun, and publishes a Christmas edition booklet of 24 pages. This booklet lists the prominent merchants and leaders of the community, along with photographs of these individuals, a few of their homes, and some images of the community. The county's industries are outlined, including ranching, health services, farming.
1899 Christmas Edition, Kerrville Mountain Sun
1899 Christmas Edition,
Kerrville Mountain Sun
The little booklet is like a time capsule for our community, and I was grateful to the Nuenhoffer family for letting me make a copy.
As a printer, I know how much work went into the booklet: the type was all set by hand; the photographs were taken, developed by hand, and then converted to cuts; the forms were set, and finally the project was printed on equipment which may or may not have been powered by an electric motor.
The Kerrville Mountain Sun may be the community's longest continually operating company; a slim reminder of its glory is still distributed in the community, though its name now owned by the Kerrville Daily Times.
Christmas, 2017: My hope is that you have a wonderful Christmas holiday, and make a little history while you're at it.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who thinks most of his Christmas shopping is done.  Maybe. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 23, 2017.

There are still a few copies of Joe's second book available.  Click HERE for more information.

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