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Saturday, March 30, 2024

The Centennial of Kerrville’s Methodist Encampment

Hand-drawn map of Mount Wesley, by Viola Kellun Redmond, possibly 1960s.
Click on any image to enlarge.

Summer camps have played a huge role in the history and economy of our community. The first summer camp here, in my opinion, was the Westminster Presbyterian Encampment, which was along Quinlan Creek in what is now part of the Schreiner University campus. Westminster provided a place for rest, recreation, and spiritual training. It operated from 1906 to 1950, and today only two of its original buildings remain.

By the mid-1920s businesses in Kerrville noticed the positive cash flow the many summer camps in our area were providing local establishments and hotels, and when a new group wanted to establish a camp here, community leaders made them quite an attractive offer.

The Methodist “Epworth League” of Texas, a Methodist youth organization started in Dallas in 1892, established a statewide meeting in Corpus Christi from 1906 until 1915, known as “Epworth-by-the-Sea.” The meeting moved to Port O’Connor until 1919, when a severe storm wrecked the property, which was then abandoned.

According to research provided to me by Linda Stone, “The leaders of West Texas Methodists wanted to have a new place for spiritual and intellectual training, as well as for social and recreational facilities for children, youth, and adults. This vision came to a climax in the fall of 1923, at the West Texas Annual Conference, when the following resolution was presented and adopted: "Resolution for the establishment of the West Texas Encampment Association under the direction and supervision of the West Texas Conference of the Methodist Church South." The first task of this Board was to find a suitable location for such an Encampment. A number of locations were offered throughout the conference, but Kerrville was considered by the Board as the most logical. In 1926, it was written ‘The trustees were fortunate beyond their fondest dreams in accepting this particular body of land. It fronts on the Guadalupe River, affording an ideal place for boating, swimming and fishing, and rises gradually to the back line more than a mile distant. ... The 200 acres with the improvements, private and public, are now conservatively valued at 100,000 dollars and could not be duplicated for that amount.’”

The front page of the February 7, 1924 issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun carried the bold headline “Kerrville Lands Methodist Encampment.” The story details the gift of 200 acres “from the Bud Porter and Starkey places west of city.” It was noted the site was within three miles of Kerrville and on the Old Spanish Trail highway. $11,500 needed to be raised to purchase the land for the encampment, and the Chamber of Commerce met at the St. Charles Hotel to plan a subscription drive. These funds were quickly raised by the Kerrville community.

“The encampment will also mean much to the moral and religious development as well as to the commercial interests of the city,” the article reported.

In the March 27, 1924 issue, a big “lot sale” and barbecue were announced in another front-page story in the Kerrville Mountain Sun. “About 150 choice lots, ranging in price from $100 to $1000 each were to be offered for sale the opening day.” Between 500 and 600 people attended, and 91 of the 130 lots were sold for $150 per lot. Those first lot sales were the beginning of the unique and iconic neighborhood on the hillside of what became known as “Mount Wesley.”

Remarkably, the same article says “work is being rushed in order to have everything in readiness for the program to begin July 8 and last until August 3.”

Many of the folks who purchased lots and built bungalows in the Methodist Encampment did so to have a place for their families to stay during the summer months of the camp. Though originally for summer use, today many are occupied year-round.

Those first houses had wonderful names, often relating to the family which built them: such as James Perry of San Antonio -“Perry-Winkle”; W. R. Perkins of Alice - “Perk Inn”; Elsie Peace - “House of Peace”; J. F. Duke of Forney – “The Duchess.” Others depicted the environment such as David T. Peel of Corpus Christi - “Restholme”, Rev. H. E. Draper of San Angelo - “Loma Vista.” Even the cafeteria had a name, “Eatmor!”

Today what was originally called Methodist Encampment is called “Light on the Hill at Mount Wesley,” a ministry of Kerrville’s First United Methodist Church.

For a century, the encampment has enriched lives, and made Kerrville a better place.

Until next week, all the best.

Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who grew up a few blocks from Methodist Encampment. This column originally appeared in the Kerr County Lead  March 28, 2024.

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