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Sunday, March 3, 2024

A walking tour of downtown Kerrville -- from 1956

Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital, around 1956.
Note the gas station on the ground floor
-- and the heights of the two different wings of the hospital.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Schreiner Company
How about a bit of time travel?

Last week, we had a walking tour of Kerrville in 1907, thanks to some postcards published that year by Charles Apelt, of Comfort, Texas.

This week we time travel to downtown Kerrville in 1956 – courtesy of Starr Bryden, a pioneer Kerr County photographer. He was active here for almost 40 years, arriving before World War I, and working in photography until the late 1950s.

700 Block of Water Street
In 1956, Kerr County celebrated its centennial. Bryden took photographs of Kerrville and Kerr County that year, and offered them for sale. Many of the photographs were paired with historical images, some of which Bryden had taken himself, decades earlier.

Though the 1956 images were taken 5 years before I was born (at the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital), I recognize most of the buildings and many of the businesses in the photos. The downtown Kerrville I remember from my childhood is shown in this series of images.

from atop the Blue Bonnet
There are two ‘birds-eye views’ in the series, both taken from atop the two tallest buildings downtown. The Blue Bonnet Hotel, at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets stood eight stories tall; the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital, at the corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets, had two different levels in 1956; one section of the building was six stories tall; the other was only five. Bryden took his photograph from the five-story part of the building.

from atop the SPMH
There are two clues to help determine when these photographs were taken. First, over the 700 block of Water Street, a banner can be seen which advertises the 1956 Kerr County centennial celebrations. This banner can be seen in both of the ‘birds-eye’ views of downtown Kerrville.

What both of these ‘birds-eye’ photos show is an incredibly busy downtown area. In those days, most of the offices and stores serving our community were located in a several-block radius from the Kerr County courthouse. The ‘downtown’ area was formed by the ‘T’ intersection of Water and Earl Garrett streets, and extended up Sidney Baker and Earl Garrett streets to about North/Schreiner Street.

(Our print shop, in the 600 block of Water Street, in those days, was not considered to be in ‘downtown,’ separated from that fabled area, as it remains today, by Sidney Baker Street.)

800 block of Water St
Included in the series is a photo of the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital. In it, you can see the gas station that was on the bottom floor, at the corner of the building. The idea behind this, and other commercial ventures in the building, was to help offset the costs of running a rural hospital. One feature of that gas station many people remember: it had long, flexible ducts that would pump air conditioning into your car while the service station attendant filled up your car.

The photograph of the Schreiner Company, which was at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett streets, includes a photograph of a Kerrville police car.

Thompson Drive
I suppose my favorite photograph from this series is taken on Thompson Drive looking east toward the downtown area. Three major structures are shown in the photograph: the Sid Peterson Memorial Hospital (built in 1949); the Blue Bonnet Hotel (1927); and the Charles Schreiner Bridge (1935), with its steel trusses above the roadway. None of these important structures exist today.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who, like Starr Bryden, has been on top of the roofs of many of the buildings in downtown Kerrville, though not with permission. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead  February 29, 2024.

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  1. Love it as usual!! thanks for the memoriesđź‘Ź

  2. I so love your blog. This set of photos is so full of memories. I was nine years old in 1956, and my parents drove me to town in their 1949 Buick, or sometimes the old ranch pickup truck. The cars on Water Street always draw my attention in your photos, and the old stores. I just joined your blog and will be buying your new book. You are making such a gift to all of us boomers, and to everyone who loves history. Thank you.


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