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Sunday, February 28, 2021

New details revealed about Kerrville's Union Church

The renovated Union Church after a snowfall, 2003.
Click on any image to enlarge.

The most interesting parts of history are found in the small details, especially when those details are about a subject which you think you already know. Those details can add so much color and depth to a subject.
Clay Street location
This past week, Dr. Bill Rector brought by a series of documents about Kerrville’s Union Church.
The Union Church was built in 1885, and it offered our community a place for four different denominations to worship. Members of the Methodist faith worshipped there one week; the Presbyterians the next; then the Baptists; and finally, members of the Christian church.
In 1885, according to Bob Bennett, “Mrs. Whitfield Scott, who had come to Kerr County with her husband Captain Whitfield Scott, a Confederate veteran, and her sister, Miss Laura Gill, who later became Mrs. William Gray Garrett, began to solicit funds for the building of a Union Church. They were later joined in this work by Mrs. J. M. Starkey, a Methodist, and Mrs. Adeline Coleman, a member of the Christian denomination.
“These ladies went from house to house on horseback and wrote appealing articles in newspapers of that day to stimulate interest. There appears in the Christian Observer, a Presbyterian publication, in 1885, an article under the title “An Urgent Call,” which told how the youth of Kerrville were growing up without religion training, how there was no place of worship…, and how valuable a church would be to the growing community.”
According to an article published in the Kerrville Times in March, 1928, “Mrs. Scott and Miss Gill drove from house to house, not only in Kerrville, but throughout the county soliciting funds. It was hard work. People were poor, some did not believe in churches.”
On Lemos Street
Two lots were given by Capt. Charles Schreiner for the construction of the church in September, 1885; the lots were located on Clay Street, across the street from Pioneer Bank. A convenience store and gas station are on the site today.
The original church cost $190 to build, which was the low bid presented by A. Allen & Co. The building was completed just before Christmas, 1885.
After 1914, when the other denominations had erected their own places of worship, the Christian Church began to use the building.” The building was deeded to the First Christian Church in September, 1925.
Years later, the building was moved to Lemos Street. When I was a boy, the old church building housed an Army Navy Surplus store -- where a generation of children bought camping gear.
The church building had one more move to make. It now stands on a busy corner of the campus of Schreiner University. The Friends of the Kerr County Historical Commission restored the church building, dedicating it on Christmas Eve, 2002, at a cost considerably greater than its original cost of $190.
On Clay, 1914
Now for the small details which give this story more color and depth.
I’d never considered the difficulties those four congregations must have gone through to hammer out an agreement for the fair and equitable use of the church building they were constructing together. In my experience, getting a single congregation to agree on any building project is often difficult. Multiply that difficulty by four.
The solution was to form a “Union Church Association of Kerrville,” with trustees from each congregation. J. M. Starkey and J. N. Hazleth served as trustees for the Methodist Episcopal Church; W. F. Gill for the Missionary Baptist Church; R. H. Storms for the Christian Church; and W. Scott for the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. J. M. Starkey served as chairman of the association.
Yes, Gentle Reader, I also noticed the Methodists had two trustees, when all other denominations had only one. No idea why, but I noticed Mr. Hazleth never actually signed the document.
Two additional trustees were named ‘for the General Fund:’ Charles Schreiner, who’d donated the land, and W. G. Garrett, a local attorney (and later judge).
This group worked out all of the details – the whens and whos and hows. These trustees were elected by the subscribers to the project, ‘subscribers’ meaning those who’d contributed money.
I also noticed, as perhaps you have noticed, although the project was originally spearheaded by women, and the funds were raised by women, no woman served as a trustee.
These small details make the story intriguing, because they offer up more questions than answers.
I’m thankful to Dr. Bill Rector for sharing these documents with our community. And I’m thankful for his steady leadership on the project to create the Heart of the Hills Heritage Center, a museum which will be dedicated to the story of the Texas Hill Country.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who should really attend church more often. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times February 27, 2021.

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