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Sunday, December 5, 2021

Kerr County, 1893: sleuthing for a decade

Vacation photo album, 1893,
which includes images of Kerrville.
Photos courtesy of Yale University Libraries.
These pages are on display in full size at my POP UP MUSEUM
display at Pint and Plow until mid-January.

In the summer of 2010, my long-time friend Lanza Teague sent me an email about an interesting eBay auction of glass negatives, which included images from Kerrville. The negatives were shown in low-resolution images, but it was possible to extract a grainy image from the auction, convert it from negative to positive, and see the image on the negatives.
The auction price of the negatives was too rich for me, and Lanza passed on the auction as well. The grainy images were intriguing, and I think we both regretted letting them slip away. The auction ended without a sale.
Not long after this, the owner of the negatives got in touch with Lanza and me via email, and provided better scans of the images. He eventually offered the glass negatives to me, at a price which was even higher than the original eBay auction price. He said he had a buyer for the negatives, at that new price, but wanted to offer them to me first. I declined, and the other collector ended up with the priceless negatives. 
Sometimes the fish gets away.
Back in 2010, I determined the images were taken before 1898, since one of them shows the original St. Peter’s Episcopal Church without a bell tower. An entry about that church can be found in the Kerr County Album: "The bell in the church tower bears these words, 'Placed in St. Peter's Church through the efforts of the Ladies' Guild, 1898.'"
At the time, those photographs would have been the oldest in my collection -- for which I could confirm a date.
Until this week, the oldest images of Kerr County in my collection for which I can confirm a date, are of a parade in the downtown area – a Saengerfest parade – from September, 1896.
It turns out the images from that old eBay auction are older. They were taken in late January and early February, 1893, by a family on a cross-country vacation, traveling by rail.
How do I know this?
Last week I received an email from a kind person in Boston. She found my blog online, after searching for “Tivy House,” realized I had an interest in old Kerr County images, and gave me the link for a vacation photo album which is in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University. The images are free to use, as long as they’re credited to the Yale University Library. The scans are clear and provide details I’ve never seen in these images.
They’re the same photographs Lanza Teague found over a decade ago.
The album starts with photographs of the Capitol in Washington, DC, and ends with photographs of California. Kerrville was just one of the many places the family visited. Each page has two photographs, pasted one above the other, and beneath the images are descriptions, written in ink, by a person with good handwriting.
One photograph has this description: “Limestone Quarry, Kerrville, February 1st 1893.”
I looked through each page of the album, hoping to find the name of the travelers. Yale doesn’t know who took the photos, either, labeling it “unknown photographer.” Only two or three images have a name, and it’s the name of a boy: Alfred. No last name is given, though the eBay seller thought the last name might be Page.
We know the what, the when, and the why. We don’t know, for sure, the who.
I’m thankful for Lanza’s sharp eyes back in 2010, and for the kind person in Boston who sent over the link. Chasing history can be quite fun, and it’s best done in packs.
Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who collects items from Kerr County’s past. If you have something you’d share with him, it would make him happy.  This column originally appeared in the Kerrville Daily Times December 4, 2021.

My coffee-table history books on Kerr County make great Christmas gifts.  Free shipping. Click here for more information. Each book filled with over 100 historic photos.

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