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Sunday, August 9, 2020

Louise Hays Park in Kerrville -- Always Changing

Publicity shot, fundraising, Jaycee Park Improvement Day,
October 6, 1954, at the Sidney Baker Street bridge.
Click on any image below to enlarge

Susan Sander, who founded the Riverside Nature Center decades ago, moved north about a month ago to be closer to family – but before she left, she went through her collection of Kerr County historical photographs and gave me a mountain of images. I’ve been going through them, and there are a lot of pictures I’ve never seen before. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you here.

Boating area, Louise Hays Park, 1950s

One set of photographs from the 1950s shows Louise Hays Park at various stages of its early development. The park was originally built on April 26, 1950, in a single day. The land for the park was a gift from Robert and Louise Hays to our community.

Kerrville realized quickly what a wonderful asset the park could be – and the park has been improved again and again by many different groups since that first day, reimagined by successive dreamers.

For example, in 1952, R. R. “Railroad” Tarr came up with the idea to replace a 75-year-old wooden dam, originally built by Charles Schreiner, with a new concrete dam. The old wooden dam originally served the mill Schreiner owned on Water Street, which once stood near today’s One Schreiner Center, and by 1952 the old dam was in poor shape – it was dangerous.

Tarr collected about $8,000 in donations, and went to City Hall, only to be told the donations he’d collected should be used to repair the old dam. Tarr told them the money had been “pledged to a concrete dam – a new one.”

Children, 1950s, footbridge
Do you recognize anyone?

Willard E. Simpson designed the new concrete dam; Jasper Moore built it, at a cost of about $25,000. Jess Stahlings and Dick Furman sought donations, and the amount was raised in about two weeks.

The dam they built still stands in Louise Hays Park, and was dedicated on December 12, 1952.

The 1952 dam can be seen in a photograph showing a group of children standing on the footbridge below the dam. At first, I thought the event being photographed was a fishing rodeo of some kind, but few of the children had fishing gear; many of them had towels and appeared to carrying lunchboxes. I’m guessing (without proof) the children were participating in Kerrville’s “Summer Recreation Program,” which was extremely popular in the mid-1950s. Hopefully a reader will recognize one of the children (or themselves) in the photograph, and can help me confirm the ‘when’ and ‘why’ of the image. 

Jaycees 1954 Park Day results
The results of the 
1954 Jaycees Park Day

Only a few years later, the Kerrville Junior Chamber of Commerce (the “Jaycees”) came up with a plan to build a ‘lovely lagoon-like lake where the Jaycee Water Festival could be held. That festival included a water ski show many still remember, headed up by Cotton Eldridge and his wife, Ava.

In 1954 the Jaycees started collecting money to improve the park, and on October 6, 1954 they held Kerrville’s “Second Park Day.” Though a drenching downpour greeted the workers, they succeeded in opening up a new channel for “speed boat racers,” plus a man-made canal upriver, to be used to connect the two channels; built a public “swimming lagoon,” which stood 12 feet high and 120 feet long; they backfilled, graded and leveled an area 200 yards by 600 yards west of the Sidney Baker Bridge; and they planted dozens of trees.

Swimming lagoon
construction, 1954

I believe a few of the newly-found photographs Ms. Sander gave me are from that day, and though the improvements made then have, for the most part, been washed away or changed, it was a grand effort.

I guess these hot August days made me remember with fondness my own childhood and time spent at the Louise Hays Park. The park has gotten better over the decades, including the most recent improvements in the last few years. I’m happy seeing so many people enjoying the park, the river trail, and the water. It makes me wonder what might be next for the old park.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who has spent his fair share of time swimming in the Guadalupe River just below the print shop. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times August 8, 2020.

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