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Saturday, July 4, 2020

July 4th in Kerr County over the years

July 4th Rodeo Parade, 800 block of Water Street, Kerrville, 1950s.
Click on any image to enlarge.
In 1856, the year Kerr County was formed, the United States celebrated its 80th Independence Day. The country was still new when Kerr County was formed.
There is no record of how Kerr County celebrated its first July 4th, but one should remember there were very few people in the county at the time. In 1856, the largest town in Kerr County was Comfort (which was in our county at the time, before Kendall County was created). Center Point had more folks than Kerrville, too.
Kerrville Hose Co. No. 1,
in front of the St Charles Hotel,
around 1900.
Kerrville only had four or five houses in 1856, and was at the edge of the Texas frontier. Center Point and Comfort were more established, but had small populations. If the communities in the county celebrated that first year, the details have been lost to time.
The earliest record I found of Independence Day celebrations came from a 1902 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun.
“Good time had at Ingram,” the headline read. “The picnic and barbecue at this place yesterday was a pronounced success. Plenty of everything to eat was in evidence. Candidates were on the grounds in greatest profusion, bragging on pretty babies, predicting abundant rains, and otherwise acting pleasant. The people were all happy, handshaking and good cheer was the order of the day, and all considered it one well spent.”
In the same issue, events marking the Fourth of July in Kerrville were reported.
“Great Success. The Fire Boys done Themselves Proud Yesterday,” the headline reads.
July 4 barbecue, around 1900
 “Kerrville’s big barbecue goes into history as one of the most successful entertainments the town has ever given — 2,500 people stood at the big tables — Prince and Nabob, Peasant and Plebeian elbow to elbow eating barbecue and drinking black coffee, joking and laughing and enjoying the dinner in the fullest sense.”
The event was a fundraiser for “Kerrville Hose Company No. 1.” The firemen were described as “Brau and Bonnie laddies as ever reared a ladder, or held a nozzle.”
2,500 is a large number of people to feed, and if accurate, would have been greater than the population of Kerrville in 1900, which was around 1,400.
“All had an abundance of barbecued meats, bread, pickles and black coffee, and half as many more could have been fed on what was left from the feast. The entertainment was good, in every way, and all passed off without fiction. Hon. Jno. Coleman of Houston delivered an address at 2 p.m. That was short, timely, and befitting the occasion.”
A rodeo in Ingram, 1930s
That evening the ‘Kerrville Dramatic Company’ presented ‘Rip Van Winkle’ as a benefit for the Kerrville Hose Company at Pampell’s Opera House. “Mr. Morrison, as ‘Rip’ was a pronounced success. The other members of the company were supposed by show goers…to be professionals rather than amateurs.”
Community barbecues continued for decades. In 1905, the Sun reported a Fourth of July picnic “near Frank Moore’s crossing of the Guadalupe, 3 1/2 miles above Kerrville. The picnic will be under the auspices of the Farmer’s Union…Let everybody turn out and make this entertainment break the picnic record of Texas.”
In 1935, a new July 4th tradition began in Kerr County: a big rodeo, produced the Kerrville Jaycees. These rodeos included parades, beauty contests, dances, and the big rodeo itself, which was held at “Antler Field.”
That meant the rodeo was held on the Tivy High School football field.
Pampell's, July 4, 1952
For many its first seven years, the rodeo was held on the football field at the intersection of College and Third streets. When present-day Antler Stadium was completed in 1941, the rodeo moved to the new location.
In 1955, a square dance jamboree was added to the annual rodeo, which included a performance by ‘the nationally famous Texas Starlets of San Antonio.’
By 1961 it appears the Jaycees dropped the rodeo in favor of a big air show.
By 1990 the festivities were held at Louise Hays Park, and featured live music. “From 7:30 to ‘dark thirty’ the Kerr Pops will hold a concert which will be the last scheduled event before the fireworks display, which is set to begin at exactly 9:37 pm.” Fireworks that year were sponsored by the Tipton-Carson Distributing Company and the Women’s Division of the Kerrville Area Chamber of Commerce.
This format continued for many years, with a pops concert followed by a fireworks display at dark thirty. Parades were rare.
In 2012 a new format was introduced for the community celebrations: "Kerrville's 4th on the River." This new idea has taken several forms, including making the event one where admission was charged. One year the celebration was not actually on July 4, and attendance was poor. Another year the event faced the obstacle of having Louis Hays Park closed for renovations.
In 2012 the performers were John Wolfe, Monte Montgomery, JB & the Moonshine Band, Stoney LaRue, and the New Buddy Holly Band.
In 2013, Robert Earl Keen joined the lineup, and for several years has been the headline act for the celebration.  For many years Mamacita’s Restaurant has sponsored the community’s fireworks display.
This year's “Kerrville’s 4th on the River” celebration has been canceled, due to the pandemic. Several of the musical performers who were scheduled to appear will broadcast their music online that evening. For the first time in many years our community, and especially Louise Hays Park, will be quiet on the Fourth of July, and our park will be mostly empty.
Kerr County has celebrated the Fourth of July in many different ways, during times of economic hardship, war, and political division. Coming together as a community has been a line one can trace all of the way back to the very first days of Kerr County. This year, of course, is very different.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who wishes each of you a very happy and safe Fourth of July this year. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times July 4, 2020.

I have two hardcover books available with tons of historic Kerr County photographs and selected history columns.  Click HERE for more information.  Free shipping to U.S. addresses.

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