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Sunday, September 2, 2018

The mystery of the Kerrville tax photos

Deering's Grocery, 1217 Water Street, Kerrville.
The mystery: when were all of these tax photos taken?
Click on any image to enlarge.
Several weeks ago I published a few photos from a packet of photos taken, I said, sometime in the 1930s. The photos were mainly of houses, and I knew they'd been taken for the City of Kerrville, as part of a property valuation survey.
The city government had someone go all over town taking photographs and filling out forms about each structure, hoping to be more equitable in establishing property values.
Of course, I wanted to know when the photographs were taken. My guess was too wide and based on a few of the automobiles I saw in the photographs.
Depot Bakery, 425 S Schreiner
However, during the Great Depression, most folks didn't have a new car. Even if I could tell the exact year model of an automobile in one of the photographs I'd have no way of knowing how many years after that car's introduction the photograph was taken.
There are many folks in town who can look at a photograph of an old car and give the exact make and year model. I am not one of those folks.
I did have some other clues, however, and they were not dependent upon the cars in the photos.
First, I have a few of the envelopes which contained the forms the city used in evaluating properties. These tabulated size of lot, square feet of structure, and type of neighborhood information. The forms were part of a system created by the J. B. Stoner Company.
Michon Market, 412 Quinlan.
This building is still standing.
A search of old Kerrville newspapers had several stories about a property valuation survey completed for the city by the J. B. Stoner Company; these stories were published in July, August and September of 1928. Citizens were asked to cooperate with the company as it went around town working on the survey, which was completed in August, 1928, after six weeks' work.
"The survey," according to the August 30, 1928 edition of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, "was made for the purpose of raising taxes in an equitable manner and in order to adjust the values in Kerrville and eliminate any cause for complaints of unfairness or discrimination."
The story also reports that the survey "includes a complete set of maps and an abstract of every piece of property in the city. Many of the tracts had never been before mapped. All of the data compiled has been charted and indexed and is on file in the office of the City Assessor at the Court House, open for inspection by any citizen."
Leyendecker Grocery,
429 S Schreiner
But there was a problem with this new information, at least as far as the photographs were concerned. First, there is no mention of photographs being taken. Maps and abstracts, yes, but no photographs. Taking that many photographs would have been a very big and expensive project.
Then there are the photographs themselves. If the survey was completed in the summer of 1928, the trees should be full of leaves. In the photos most of the trees are bare. The photos were not taken in the summer. I think they were taken in the late autumn or winter, and some of the clothing folks in the photos are wearing would suggest it was chilly outside.
Last week a friend brought by a few hundred more of these property tax photographs, and among the many photographs of houses were photographs of a few commercial buildings. Almost all of the commercial buildings were on Schreiner Street, near the old railroad depot, and most of them were of buildings I'd never seen before.
Remschel Lumber,
512 S Schreiner
It was in these photographs of commercial buildings I finally had a final clue about the date all of the photographs were taken, both those of homes and those of businesses.
In the window of several of the business buildings was a little poster showing an eagle facing to its right. In one claw was a gear sprocket; in the other a bolt of lightning. Above the eagle, in giant letters, was "NRA;" below the eagle, "we do our part."
This NRA had nothing to do with the second amendment: NRA stood for the National Recovery Administration, an early part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. It was put into operation by an executive order in the summer of 1933.
However, the late spring of 1935, the "mandatory codes" section of the NRA was found unconstitutional by the U. S. Supreme Court, and the NRA was replaced by other New Deal programs.
Given the appearance of these posters in the windows of Kerrville businesses, my best guess is the photographs were taken between the summer of 1933 and the late spring of 1935, probably during the winter.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys studying old photographs of Kerr County and Kerrville. Please share what you have with him. He'll scan your photographs and give you back the originals. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times September 1, 2018.

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