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Sunday, April 26, 2020

The two community efforts of Louise Hays Park

Kerrville, April 1950, taken from south of the Guadalupe River.
The two tall buildings downtown: Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital, and
the Blue Bonnet Hotel.
The land between the plowed field and downtown is the site of the Louise Hays Park.
Click on any image to enlarge.

On Sunday, April 26, Louise Hays Park turns 70 years old.
On that date in 1950, our community came together to build a park in a single day. Today the whole community is joined together in a new effort.
Robert and Louise Hays
The Hays family, Robert and Louise, gave the city the land for the park. The tract is now surrounded by Kerrville, but in 1950 there was very little development south of the river. The land for the park was part of the Hays' ranch. State Highway 16 crossed the river, as it does now, traveling through the Hays property. There was a road to the state hospital connected to the highway, today's Thompson Drive. Aerial photographs of the site show plowed fields above the flood plain; near the river, a jumble of trees and brush.
Louise, Bobby, and
Robert Hays
As far as ranch land goes, the site was not optimal. But as the site for the park, the land was brilliant. Each year, as Kerrville grew in population and area, having a park in the center of town with river frontage grew more and more perfect.
I've often wondered what motivated Kerrville citizens in 1950 to attempt to build a park in a single day. I thought it was perhaps a clever tactic by the Hays family; then, as now, our community takes forever to finish a project, always finding the time to squabble about each decision made along the way.
April 26, 1950 - the big day.
However, the truth is probably closer to a 1950 quote from Camilla Salter, as reported in the Dallas Morning News: "We didn’t have enough money in town to build the kind of park we wanted, but we decided we could if we could get everybody to donate one day’s work – get everyone to give one day’s time."
Mrs. Salter was the owner and publisher of the Kerrville Mountain Sun, and very dedicated to any project advancing Kerrville. "From the day that Mr. and Mrs. Hays announced their gift, she has plugged hard day in and day out for the realization of the park project.” Building the park in a single day may have been her clever idea.
Louise Hays breaks ground
for the park
“Some 600 men, using machines in a race against time,” the Dallas Morning News reported on April 23, 1950, “will attempt to turn thirty-five timbered acres into a finished playground park between dawn and dusk.
“An Army of men, manning more than 100 trucks, tractors, bulldozers and rollers, will rumble into the river-bank acreage at 7 a.m.
“Twelve hours later Louise Hays Park should be finished, even to its name cut into the native stone entrance archway.”
The date for work to begin (and be finished) was April 26, 1950, which happened to be the 94th anniversary of the founding of Kerr County.
The volunteers made the ‘park in a day’ happen. The Houston Chronicle called the completed park the “Miracle on the Guadalupe,” in an April 27, 1950 story:
“A thousand men have made a gift grow into a lovely park in a day…. The gift was a tract of 35 acres along the river from Mr. and Mrs. Robert S. Hays. Their only stipulation was that the city beautify and make it a public park and that it be named the Louise Hays Park in honor of the wife of the donor.”
My entire life I've enjoyed time spent at Louise Hays Park, as have my children. I'm so grateful for the gift to our community from the Hays family, and I'm thankful for the clever leadership of folks like Camilla Salter.
* * *
Louise Hays Park, during
2020 Pandemic, 04-2020
I visited Louise Hays Park last weekend. There were quite a few folks there, enjoying the beautiful weather. They were being careful to stay at least six feet apart, practicing 'social distancing.'
A large sign greeted park visitors at each entrance: "Avoid Any Social Gathering," it read, in huge white letters on a bright red background.
"Avoid any Social Gathering...."
This is the current community effort, even at Louise Hays Park, the place where we have come together as a community for the past 70 years. By staying apart we are protecting the most vulnerable among us. This project will take all of us making wise decisions. This project will be enormously expensive, especially to those who've lost their jobs, and for most small businesses.
Staying apart, though, means we can someday come together again -- hopefully in huge crowds at our community's beautiful Louise Hays Park.
I'm sure the city government would have celebrated the 70th birthday of Louise Hays Park had circumstances allowed. The son of Louise and Robert Hays, Bob Hays, was planning on visiting Kerrville for the occasion. He was just a boy when the park was built, and he hoped to bring his family here for the 70th anniversary celebration.
Here's hoping health comes quickly back to our land -- and we can be together again to celebrate the park's 75th birthday in 2025.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who needs to spend more time in the sunshine. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times April 25, 2020.

Two Kerr County history books available, filled with historic photographs of Kerr County.  Both books are available at Wolfmueller's BooksHerring Printing Company, and online by clicking HERE.

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