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Sunday, June 20, 2021

What Lies Beneath (an update on a Kerr County history mystery)

Original Nimitz Lake dam, under construction, circa 1980.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Often, as I travel home from work on these hot days, I’ll see folks playing in the Guadalupe River at the dam impounding Nimitz Lake. For those who don’t know, Nimitz Lake is the body of water roughly parallel to Junction Highway; the dam is below and next to Guadalupe Street, near Plaza Drive. The lake stretches from that point all the way past the Spur 98/ Thompson Drive bridge, which is beside the Lakehouse Restaurant. 
Not long ago the lake was named for Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, a World War II hero, and also a Tivy High School graduate. For many years it was called Upper Guadalupe River Authority (UGRA) Lake, and the dam was called the UGRA dam.
The missing mill, photographed by
Gussie Mae Brown, circa 1913
This past March I wrote a story called “The Case of the Missing Kerr County Mill,” which was built by Miles Lowrance, in partnership with Alonzo Rees and James M. Starkey. It was later owned by T. A. Saner, and most references to the water mill call it by his name. Even later, the mill was owned by Charles Schreiner. 
In 1924, J. E. Grinstead mentioned the ruins of the mill, suggesting it was destroyed by a flood. In 1910, the mill dam was being used as part of the city of Kerrville’s water works. Gussie Mae Brown took a photo of the mill around 1913, and it looked in pretty good shape; several of the wooden doors and shutters were still intact.
Here’s the mystery about the mill: no one is sure where it once stood.
The area now covered by Nimitz Lake,
taken from the old entrance to
Arcadia Loop, circa 1980
Though a season has passed since I wrote about the ‘missing mill,’ I have continued to search for it. Because James M. Starkey was involved in its construction, I’m pretty sure it was built on land his family owned, which was roughly from Harper Road to Methodist Encampment Road, with river frontage between those two roads. Starkey and several members of his family are buried on that tract in a private family cemetery between today’s Wal-Mart parking lot and Discount Tires on Junction Highway.
If the missing mill was on Starkey family property, that means its ruins might be found on the riverbank between Harper Road and Methodist Encampment. The problem with proving this theory is simple: the ruins would likely be at the bottom of Nimitz Lake.
If only there was a way to see under the lake.
I contacted a friend at the UGRA – to ask if they had any photographs or surveys in their archives of the land now beneath Nimitz Lake. She was kind enough to look, but the information she found didn’t solve the mystery of the missing mill.
This week, though, a new clue was found. While cleaning out a cluttered part of my office, I found a small box of photographs I’d forgotten were even in my collection. The box was a gift from my friend Susan Sander, and she gave them to many years ago.
Among the photos were two aerial photographs of the area now covered by Nimitz Lake, and one aerial photograph of the Nimitz Lake dam under construction.
Another view, looking upstream.
Knapp Crossing is in the middle
of the photograph.

The aerials provided a more definite possible location of the missing mill, especially if the assumption about the site being on Starkey family property is correct.
In one of the photos, taken looking upstream, you can see the old Knapp Road bridge. Today this is a city park behind Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers fast food restaurant in the 1200 block of Junction Highway, across from the traffic light at Wal-Mart. At the top of the photo you can see Foxworth-Galbaith Lumber. Between those two points, the Knapp crossing and the lumber yard, the terrain on the Junction Highway side of the river looks similar to the bluff and terrain in the old photographs of the mill.
In the other aerial of the river, looking downstream from the old entrance to Arcadia Loop, that area is shown, as well. I think this is the place to look for the old mill. I’ll keep you posted.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who enjoys a nice history mystery. This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times June 19, 2021.

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