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Sunday, March 11, 2018

A summer camp at the edge of Kerrville in 1906

Westminster Encampment Kerrville
Westminster Encampment Dining Hall
Click on any image to enlarge
In 1906 a Presbyterian church camp called Westminster Encampment was established in Kerrville, and it had a lasting influence on our community. Most of the 100 or so buildings are no longer here, but a few remain on the western edge of the Schreiner University campus. The camp operated until 1950, when most of its equipment was transferred to the then recently purchased Mo-Ranch, which is still in operation as a Presbyterian conference center west of Hunt on the north fork of the Guadalupe.
Westminster Encampment Kerrville
Robbins Lewis Auditorium
I was going through my collection of Kerr County photographs, and found a nice sample of photographs of Westminster Encampment. Going through them reminded me that days back then were slower and life simpler. It was an earnest time.
In those days communities competed to attract church camps, and Kerrville was fortunate enough to attract Westminster Encampment and Methodist Encampment. Both came here through gifts of land and financial donations.
Westminster Encampment Kerrville
Westminster Tabernacle
Westminster Encampment was organized by Rev. Hugh W. Hoon and a group of San Antonio ministers under the Presbyterian Synod of Western Texas. Kerrville, through the efforts of A. C. Schreiner and H. Remschel, offered 42 prime acres along the Guadalupe and $2,500 in cash. Those first few years offered fairly primitive facilities, but in a few years the camp offered comfortable lodging and conference services, including a special train stop for the San Antonio and Aransas Pass railroad, which ran near the site.
Westminster Encampment Kerrville
Westminster Encampment
Note the tents
Looking through the photos in my collection, I'm impressed by the architecture of the camp. Many of the buildings were designed to take advantage of summer breezes, and offered abundant porches and shade.
People came to Kerrville to these camps for several reasons. First, many loved the hills and river here. Second, it was a lot less humid here than elsewhere, such as Houston. Third, it was usually cooler here during the summer months than in the cities, in part because of our altitude. Many also traveled here because they felt Kerr County was healthier.
Westminster Encampment Kerrville
Westminster Encampment
photo by Wheelus
The purpose of Westminster Encampment was, of course, spiritual enrichment. But that purpose was met with rest, fellowship, sunshine, swimming in the river, and education.
Other groups used the encampment besides the Presbyterians. Looking through old newspapers, I see notices for a Y.M.C.A. camp to be held on the grounds, and Chautauquas, which were a type of educational lecture and music program, were often held there. Musical performances were also produced there, and advertised as being for everyone in Kerrville.
Westminster Encampment Waterfront Kerrville
Westminster waterfront
Many of the buildings on the camp grounds were built by Presbyterian congregations, but some by individual Presbyterian families. These houses were on streets which no longer exist: Billie, Atlas, Nassau, Hoon, and Delaney, to name a few.
Each camping season a small village assembled on the edge of Kerrville, offering many area firsts. For example, the first lending library in Kerrville is reported to have been at the camp.
Westminster Encampment Kerrville
Westminster Young People's
There were obvious economic benefits to Kerrville in having Westminster Encampment locate here, but there were some not as obvious other benefits, too. Westminster Encampment was the first of many area camps owned by a religious group, and it led the way as Kerr County became an area known for summer camps of all types. What would Kerr County be without summer camps?
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who spent a part of each summer during his teen years at a church camp in Leakey, Alto Frio Baptist Encampment. I have many happy memories of time spent there. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 10, 2018.

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