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Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Puzzle of Kerrville's Tchoupitoulas Street

1910 Sanborn Map of Downtown Kerrville,
showing Tchoupitoulas and Mountain Streets.
Click on any image to enlarge.

I searched Google Maps for all of the Tchoupitoulas streets in the United States, and three results popped up: the original Tchoupitoulas Street in New Orleans; a four-block-long Tchoupitoulas Street in tiny Jewell, Kansas; and a one-block Tchoupitoulas Lane in Thousand Palms, California.
Only three in the whole country. However, there used to be four, and one of them used to be in downtown Kerrville.
Tchoupitoulas, by the way, is pronounced CHOP-ah-too-lus, at least in New Orleans. I have no idea how they try to pronounce it in Jewell, Kansas. In New Orleans, Tchoupitoulas is “the through street closest to the Mississippi River,” according to Wikipedia. The name of the street comes from the name of a Native American tribe, and might mean “‘those who live at the river’ in the Choctaw language.”
So how did we get a Tchoupitoulas Street in Kerrville?
In the spring of 1856 five men decided where the county seat of the newly-formed Kerr County would be located. They were the members of the very first Kerr County commissioners court: Chief Justice Jonathan Scott and commissioners George M. Ridley, Thomas A. Saner, William B. Hendrix, and E. A. McFaddin.
Meeting on May 20, 1856, at the ‘farm home’ of commissioner George M. Ridley, just across the Guadalupe River from present-day Center Point, the commissioners court had specific instructions from the Texas legislature: “Provided that if a site can be selected on the Guadalupe River and not more than five miles rom the geographical center of the county…the said county seat shall not be fixed at a greater distance than five miles from such center.”
The legislature even dictated the name of the county seat: it “shall be called Kerrsville unless the site selected shall already have a name.”
Joshua D. Brown, who first came to what is now Kerr County in the late 1840s, had a shingle-making camp on land he did not own in what is now downtown Kerrville. He remedied this on May 15, 1856, by purchasing the 640 acre ‘patent’ made to Benjamin F. Cage for his service in the Texas Army and participation in the Battle of San Jacinto.
Brown did not buy the land from Cage, who was assumed to be dead; he purchased the land from Cage’s stepfather. Cage’s mother, Rebecca Cage Beck, had remarried; her new husband was Abraham Beck, and they lived in Gonzales County, Texas. Rebecca Cage was declared the sole heir of the B. F. Cage.
Potter, Joshua and Sarah Brown,
around 1873.  Courtesy of
Jan Wilkinson
“The B. F. Cage tract was deeded to Joshua D. Brown by Abraham O. Beck on May 15, 1856,” according to Bob Bennet’s book “Kerr County.”
What sounds like a complicated real estate transaction is even more complicated by the fact that Benjamin F. Cage was actually alive in 1856, and living in Blanco, though Joshua D. Brown and Cage’s poor mother had no idea he was still around when the transaction was made.
That first commissioners court was offered a deal by Joshua D. Brown on May 20, 1856. Brown, the owner of the B. F. Cage grant for five whole days, offered a portion of the 640 acres to the court as the site of the county seat. The site met the legislature’s criteria, and the commissioners court accepted the offer – with conditions.
Brown was required to donate at least four acres of land for a public square; and all the streets laid out in the town plat, said streets leading out from the public square to be eighty feet wide, and all cross streets to be sixty feet wide; one choice good sized lot fronting on the public square for county use, one lot suitable for public church, one lot suitable for public school house, [and] one lot suitable for public jail.”
There were four streets ‘leading out from the public square:’ Jefferson, Main, Mountain (now 
Earl Garrett), and Tchoupitoulas (now Sidney Baker) streets.
When the plat was drawn up, and the ‘public square’ surveyed, the very first streets in Kerrville were shown on paper. I do not know who was tasked with naming those streets, but I’m guessing it was Brown.
When Joshua Brown came to Texas, most likely from Missouri, he could have passed through New Orleans. It would have been the largest, busiest place he’d ever seen. Tchoupitoulas Street would have been the busiest of all the streets, handling the business of Mississippi River traffic, commerce and freight.
Why wouldn’t Joshua Brown dream the little town being surveyed on his land would someday be a great, bustling city of commerce? After all, the name of another of those first streets was “Mountain,” and it stretched from the river to a minor hill. I think Brown gave his townsite aspirational names, aiming for greatness.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who feels much better this week. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times March 27, 2021.

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