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Sunday, May 20, 2018

He dreamt of a library for Kerrville

800 block of Water Street, downtown Kerrville, circa mid-1940s
I was going through old photos of Water Street the other day when I noticed a name on a building. Noticing that name led me to discover an important but forgotten part of our community's history.
The photo, taken sometime in the early 1950s, shows the 800 block of Water Street. The photographer was standing in the intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets, looking up the block toward Washington Street. It was taken in the late afternoon, judging by the shadows.
Opposite the Blue Bonnet Hotel stood a series of buildings. Most are now gone, or have been heavily remodeled.
Detail, showing "Walther"
On the Earl Garrett street corner stood Chaney's, and next door was the Social Club, where pool and dominos were available, then First State Bank, and then the building with the name on it. It was a two-story brick building with an impressive facade. At the very crown was the name "Walther."
I asked my friends Jake and Jeremy Walther about it, and it turns out they were as surprised as I to find their family name on an old downtown Kerrville building; they have no known connection with the person who built the building.
The Walther Building is gone now, and in its place is the old switching office of the Kerrville Telephone Company. The Walther Building stood between today's Water Street Antiques and the Fore real estate office.
Loving a mystery, I decided to investigate: Who was this Walther?
The Walther Building was built by George and Geraldena Walther, who arrived in Kerrville around 1900.
George William Walther was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1862; his mother was French and his father, German, and so young George grew up speaking those two languages in addition to English. As a youth George Walther was an apprentice to a silversmith in Boston, and continued in that career in Paris. In 1886 he returned to New England, and in 1888 he married Geraldena Sanstedt in Massachusetts. They had four children together, though two passed away in early childhood, and another, Gerald Walther, passed away as a young man in Kerrville, perishing in a fire at the old Rock Drug Store. The surviving child, Norma, married W. C. Fawcett.
Like many who found their way to Kerrville, George Walther came here for his health. While the news accounts don't specify the illness Walther suffered, it was most likely tuberculosis or something similar. The climate here was said to help with that disease, and many Kerrville families can trace their arrival here to an ancestor who was ill, seeking health.
Not long after arriving here, the Walthers purchased a small fruit store and confectionery from C. S. Hough. The couple worked in the business together, and it prospered. They added a restaurant and catering business. Things were looking good for them.
In 1902, George's father died, and with the inheritance George received, he invested in Kerrville real estate.
An advertisement from 1922
It was in 1908 when the Walthers made Kerrville history. In that year, they opened the Kerrville Sunshine Library, as a part of the International Sunshine Society. It was the first public library in Kerrville, and it was housed in a "recreation hall" for young people, which included "box ball," which is game similar to "four square," dominoes and pool.
During its peak, the Kerrville Sunshine Library had 1800 volumes and 15 bookcases. Walther spent $50 per year on periodicals, including three humor weeklies from Europe: Punch, from England; Le Rire from France; and Fliegende Blatter from Germany. Those titles were meant, I'm sure, to appeal to young people.
For decades George Walther was a passionate advocate for a community library for our community. In 1927, at the urging of Walther, a committee of local leaders met to plan for a library. Unfortunately, with the arrival of the Great Depression, those plans never got off the ground.
"We want a real library," Walther told his community, in a 1927 talk, "a distinctive type of building of an attractive and substantial appearance; a large reading room with reference books for school children, as well as novels."
Forty years later, Howard and Mary Butt built such a library for our community. That gift may have had its beginnings when they were young people in Kerrville, visited the Walther's establishment, and read a book at his Sunshine Library.
George Walther died in 1931, before his dream of a community library could be accomplished. Geraldena Walther passed away in 1940.
The Kerrville Library Association was formed in 1941, and by 1954 a free library was formed, the Kerr County Public Library, housed in the ground floor of the Charles Schreiner home. In 1958 the Memorial Library opened on Water Street, and in 1967 the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library was dedicated.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who started first grade the same year the Butt-Holdsworth Memorial Library opened. Talk about good timing! This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times May 19,2018.

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