Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Newly Discovered Photograph of Camp Verde

Camp Verde Texas by O Neal around 1905
Camp Verde, by Mrs. O'Neal, around 1905
Click on any image to enlarge
It’s surprising what you find when you’re looking for something else.
As you know, I collect old photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County. While searching for a photo of Water Street, I ran across a small image I don’t remember seeing before. If its subject is what it purports to be, it’s the oldest known photograph of Camp Verde.
The photograph is small, around 3.5x5.5 inches, and is printed as a real photo postcard. Its sepia tones are sharp, and reveal a lot of detail. It’s signed and titled, a practice that was common around the turn of the last century.
Camp Verde Texas  around 1930
Camp Verde, around 1940
The photographer’s name was Ellen O’Neal. I have another image signed by O’Neal, of the Schreiner Mansion with a ox-drawn series of wagons parked in front of it. In those days a photographer might scratch their name (in reverse) on their negatives, so when they made a print it would be readable. Or they might write their name in an opaque ink on the surface of the film to make their name appear white when printed.
In both of the O’Neal photographs I have, the name is written at an angle, almost sloppily. The photos themselves are good, and reflect some skill. Adding the name appears to be an afterthought.
Camp Verde Texas around 1941
Camp Verde, around 1941
I researched the photographer, and find that a Mrs. Ellen O’Neal was active in Kerrville in 1905, running ads in the Kerrville Mountain Sun, offering to take photos of houses or to take portraits of families and children. Her office was ‘opposite’ the St. Charles Hotel; I think her office was on the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets, on the corner now occupied by the city’s parking building.
The photo I found among my collection is labeled “Camp Verde.”
Camp Verde Texas historical plaque
Camp Verde plaque
That could mean several things. It could be a photograph of a family in front of their house in the community of Camp Verde. Or it could be a photograph of a family living at the old fort, Camp Verde, after it was abandoned as a fort in 1869, well after the civil war.
A careful examination of the ‘Camp Verde’ photograph by O’Neal shows a building similar to buildings shown in photographs taken later, mostly in the 1930s. But there are differences between the buildings in those photographs and the building shown in the O’Neal photograph.
Camp Verde Texas around 1936 by Starr Bryden
Camp Verde by Starr Bryden
For one, the posts supporting the porch are different; in the O’Neal image, the posts are made of wood. In the others, the posts are thicker, and look like they’re made of masonry.
And the roofline looks different in the O’Neal photograph, too. The O’Neal photo is also missing the chimneys shown in almost all of the other images.
But there are similarities between the various photographs of Camp Verde, too. The long porch with many openings and doors is similar in all of the photographs. The fencing is similar in at least two of the images.
Camp Verde Texas historical marker
Camp Verde historical marker
It’s true many of the buildings which once comprised Camp Verde are no longer there. It’s possible the O’Neal photo was of a building which existed around 1905, but no longer stands.
Here’s what I’m hoping: someone more familiar than I with Camp Verde and the old homes in that neighborhood will recognize the structure in the O’Neal photograph. It would be a bonus if anyone could identify the folks in the photograph, too.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep looking for that missing photograph of Water Street for which I was looking when I stumbled upon Mrs. O’Neal’s photograph of ‘Camp Verde.’
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who becomes obsessed with old Kerr County photographs. If you have one you’d care to share with him, he’ll scan the original and give it back to you, unless you’re super cool and give him the original. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times January 27, 2018.

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

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