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Sunday, June 6, 2021

Our part of the Guadalupe River

Ingram Dam, 1968
Click on any image to enlarge

The story of Kerr County starts with the Guadalupe River.
Postcard, 1910s
The first settlers to our area were attracted to land beside the river; in fact, early maps of our county show tracts surveyed along the river, but land away from the river had no surveys. It was as if land away from the river had no boundaries, in part because it had less value.
Prehistoric people camped along the river, often at the second ledge or rise above the water, knowing well how often the Guadalupe floods. There are several archeological sites near the river which are in the downtown area. Every now and then I find an arrowhead (or, rather, a part of one) in the middle of downtown Kerrville. We are not the first ones who lived beside the river here.
Here's the story of the Guadalupe, gathered from my files:
The Guadalupe River begins here in Kerr County. Two forks of the river join in Hunt, with the North Fork surging from the ground just upstream from Mo-Ranch above Hunt, and the South Fork beginning near State Highway 41, four miles shy of the Real-Kerr county line. 
Launch, 1925
In fact, at the headwaters of the north fork you can see water rushing from a limestone ledge on state land at a little access point which is part of the Kerr County Wildlife Management area, almost directly across from the entrance gate to the area. For many years I have taken friends and visitors to see these powerful springs, though in recent years they were dry.
From these small beginnings the river travels southeast from Hunt for about 230 miles, emptying into San Antonio Bay. Its two major tributaries are the San Marcos and Comal rivers, and its drainage area is about 6,100 square miles.
I have traveled in search of the mouth of the Guadalupe, down in the muggy flats of Refugio and Calhoun counties, and it’s quite a different river down there: slow moving and filled with large creatures that would certainly scare this swimmer. We saw “slides” on the banks of the river there where alligators sled on their bellies to get into the water. The air is heavy there, and my memories of our search include the droning sounds of a million hidden insects and the bright bleaching sun.
Ski Show, 1950s
Louise Hays Park
According to the Handbook of Texas, the river got its name from Alonso De Leon in 1689, when he named it the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. De Leon was familiar with the lower stretches of the river. It was called other names by the Spaniards, including the San Augustin and the San Ybon. The earliest reference to our part of the river, at least above the mouth of the Comal, was in 1727, when Pedro de Rivera y Villalon wrote about it.
Kerrville was established on the river in the mid-1800’s, when Joshua Brown and company came here to harvest the cypress trees to make shingles.
Children, Dietert
Mill Dam, 1910s
A wide variety of commercial enterprises have depended upon the river since that first shingle makers’ camp. Several mills were constructed along the river, one far upstream, between Ingram and Hunt, the Sherman mill. In downtown Kerrville, Christian Dietert built a mill, the ruins of which are still visible today. Center Point had several mills over the years.
Swimming and recreational day camps sprung up in Kerrville, but upriver from Ingram on, summer overnight camps for boys and girls have been an important local industry for 100 years.
Despite a long history of businesses facing away from the river (including my family’s printing company), more and more newly constructed businesses are making use of the river as a feature. The construction of the City of Kerrville’s River Trail system opened up much of the river area to walkers and cyclists. Areas once closed to the public now have hundreds of visitors every day, especially when the weather is pleasant.
We live in a good place here, and I’m thankful the river has been such an important part of our county’s story.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who learned to swim, very long ago, in the Guadalupe River at Camp Stewart. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 5, 2021.

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