By John Ronan Broderick
NATIVE AMERICANS AND EARLY PIONEERS
Archaeological evidence suggests that the first humans to inhabit the environs of present-day Kerrville, Texas, date back some 10,000 to 12,000 years. Nineteenth century Native American tribes such as the Kiowa, Comanche, and Lipan Apache freely roamed this Texas Hill Country region at the time the first European settlers arrived in 1846. These intrepid souls were led by Joshua David Brown, a Kentucky native and a veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto. Brown, along with his family and ten other men and their families, primarily from Germany and other European countries, had explored the Guadalupe River Valley and decided to establish their settlement at the site of present-day Kerrville, along the Guadalupe River. Initially driven off by the Indians, they were undeterred and returned to stay in 1848, naming their little village Brownsborough.
Brown had chosen this site because of the abundance of Cypress trees that grew along the beautiful river, this wood being the best type for the shingle-making business he and his group intended to develop. The finished product they figured they could easily sell to other European, particularly German, communities springing up in the region. They figured right and Brown and his fellow pioneers prospered when their enterprise became the hub that served the middle and upper Texas Hill Country in the late 1840s and early 1850s.
Thus began the first successful industry in the city that Brown would eventually rename after his friend and fellow Kentuckian, James Kerr, a major in both the Texas Rangers and the Army of the Texas Republic. Kerr was also one of the signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, a congressman for the Republic of Texas, as well as a surveyor and physician. Kerrsville, later shortened to Kerrville, was formally created on January 26, 1856, when it was platted
after Kerr County was organized out of Bexar County. Kerrville is the county seat of Kerr County. It is called the “Capitol of the Texas Hill Country,” and the Hill Country is called the “Tuscany of Texas.” James Kerr died in 1839, seven years before the city that now bears his name, was founded as Brownsborough.
Though he did not settle in the area at the time, in 1842, Canadian immigrant Joseph A. Tivy, in his position as a surveyor for the General Land Office, acquired a 640-acre Military Land Warrant along the Guadalupe River from the heirs of Thomas Hand, a veteran of the Army of the Texas Revolution. This tract of land joined the old B.F. Cage Grant, eventually adding substantially to the size of the city yet to come.
Tivy was an interesting fellow with a varied career. For instance, in 1844 he joined the Texas Rangers, serving under Colonel Jack Hays’s command. Over the next half century he was a surveyor (always his fallback occupation); rancher; county judge; a Texas state representative; a “49er” during the great California gold rush of 1849, where he spent eight years mining for gold, running a hotel and a general store and surveying for Tulare County; spent a year in New Mexico, probably as a surveyor, as he made his way back to Texas; returned to Karnes County, Texas in 1858; served as a captain in the Confederate Army from 1862 to 1864, when he was mustered out for health reasons.
In 1872 Tivy returned to Kerrville with his two spinster sisters to finally settle on the land he had acquired there 30 years earlier. He married late in life, to a much younger woman, the widow of a friend of his. He then served in 1877 as County Judge for Kerr County, and when Kerrville was incorporated in 1889 with an aldermanic form of government, Tivy was elected its first mayor, at age 71.
An ardent proponent of free public education, in 1890 Tivy donated 16 2/3 acres of land for the site of the first free public schools in Kerrville. Moreover, he contributed another 23 blocks of land to finance construction and furnishing of the first schools in the city. On March 1, 1891, the first public school opened. Tivy died the following year, on July 5, 1892, at age 74. But he had lived long enough to see his dream become a reality.
Each year the graduating class of Tivy High School pays its respects to its benefactor with the traditional pilgrimage up Tivy Mountain to his gravesite on the anniversary of his death. Where else but in a small town in Texas is such a tradition honored 128 years later? But that’s the kind of values instilled in the hearts and minds of Kerrville’s young people. These
kids comprehend the meaning of the word “Heritage.” One would have to search long and hard to find a better community to raise a family than in the “Capitol of the Texas Hill Country.”
In the chronological telling of the history of Kerrville, homage must be paid to Cattle Baron, trailblazer, and drover John Thomas Lytle who, in 1874, blazed The Great Western Cattle Trail from the grazing ranges near Kerrville all the way to Fort Robinson, Nebraska with 3,500 Longhorn cattle. Lytle’s trail ran west of and roughly parallel to the Chisholm Trail, which went to Kansas. Known by no less than five other names, the most widely accepted name is The Great Western Cattle Trail.
According to Legends of America, “When the U.S. Army successfully concluded the Red River War in early 1875, driving the Comanche and Kiowa onto reservations, Lytle’s trail became the most popular path to the railheads in Kansas and Nebraska. By 1879, it would become one of the most traveled and famous cattle trails in U.S. history.” Not only was it longer than the Chisholm Trail, it was in use two years longer than the one that has the more recognizable name today. It must be duly noted that there is a gigantic, five-pointed star, a “Lone Star,” embedded in cement in the middle of one of the main intersections of downtown Kerrville. Known as the “Heritage Star,” it marks the spot where cattle were once gathered for the trail drives that passed through the city.
The last of these 19th century pioneer entrepreneurs to leave his imprint on Kerrville was another immigrant, Charles Armand Shreiner, and his contributions were in a class all by themselves. Originally from the Alsace-Lorraine region of France, Shreiner, like Tivy, wore many hats. A former Texas Ranger, from 1854 to 1857, Shreiner also served as a private in the Confederate Army infantry during the Civil War for three and a half years.
After the war Schreiner became a prominent merchant, rancher, banker, politician, real estate developer, and philanthropist. He settled in Kerrville in 1869, and with his business partner and financier, August Faltin, started a general merchandising business known as the Faltin and Schreiner Mercantile Company. Ten years later Schreiner bought out Faltin’s interest in the enterprise. That same year, 1879, Schreiner started the first bank in Kerrville. Shortly thereafter he began to develop the Kerrville downtown business district with the construction of commercial buildings, many of which still bear his name to this day.
Because of the likelihood of American Indian attacks in the area, a home guard known as the Texas Mounted Riflemen was organized in Kerrville in 1875. Because of his previous service in the Texas Rangers, Schreiner was elected captain of the group and was ever after known by this honorific.
Often referred to as the “Father of the Texas Hill Country,” Shreiner bought 27,000 acres of land in Kerr County in 1880 to form the Y. O. Ranch. The “Y. O.” was derived from the brand burned into the hide of the first Longhorn cattle, which Schreiner purchased to begin his ranch. He also raised sheep at the Y. O. And it was Schreiner who persuaded the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway to make Kerrville a regular stop in 1887, connecting it with many other Texas Hill Country towns such as Boerne. This may have been somewhat self-
serving since he undoubtedly had cattle and sheep to get to market, but it nevertheless also made passenger service available to Kerrville area residents.
Schreiner’s greatest legacy was probably his endowment of $250,000 and 140 acres of land to the Presbyterian Synod of Texas that created the Schreiner Institute in Kerrville in 1923. It is one of only four Presbyterian institutions of higher learning in the state of Texas and has been coeducational since 1932, when it was still a two-year junior college. In 1973 the school’s name was changed to Shreiner College and in 1982 it began offering a four-year Bachelor’s degree. In 2001 it became Shreiner University. It currently enrolls approximately 1,300 undergraduate and graduate students, offering 27 four-year undergraduate programs, as well as MBA and Masters of Education degrees on the graduate level. A side benefit to an education here is that these young people will learn and appreciate the uniqueness of being Texan. The motto of Schreiner University is “Enter with Hope, Leave with Achievement.” Amen to that!
According to the latest figures available, the estimated population of Kerrville in 2018 was 23, 729. It is the 124th largest city in Texas. The population density per square mile is 1,053; median age is 47.3; male to female ratio is 90 to 100; married residents number 57%; English speakers are 83%, Spanish 16%; cost of living is equal to the Texas average but 9% less than U.S. average; crime rate is 28% lower than the Texas average, 23% lower than U.S. average: overall crime is down 31%; household income is 26% lower than Texas average; median household income is $40,770, 26% lower than U.S. average; unemployment rate is 4%, 5% lower than U.S. average; home values are 10% higher than Texas; median home value is $157,300, 15% lower than U.S. average; high school graduates 88.4%; college graduates 27.1%; the poverty rate is 12.2%; average commute time is 14.6 minutes; and the average number of cars per household is 2.
PRESERVATION OF HISTORIC BUILDINGS
The 1879 Schreiner Mansion, now a museum, is probably the oldest, most magnificent, and best preserved of the historic buildings in Kerrville. It was the first building in Kerrville to be constructed of Hill Country limestone. The architectural style has been described as a combination of Romanesque Revival and Chateauesque. Expert stonemasons were brought over from Germany to construct the mansion in a grand style, featuring two turrets and a magnificent front porch. It was two stories, had six bedrooms, and an indoor bathroom and kitchen, unusual for that day and time. It was also the first home in the city to get electricity. Schreiner had it built right next door to his general store. Legend has it that there was a tunnel connecting the store to the house so that
Schreiner could safely bring home the day’s cash receipts in what was still a Wild West town.
When Shreiner died in 1927 at age 88, over 3,000 people from all walks of life and from all across the state of Texas attended his funeral, so beloved was he by so many. The mansion was then sold that same year to the Kerrville Masonic Lodge, which removed most of the interior walls on the second floor, converting the six individual bedrooms into a large Free Masons meeting hall. The home was purchased by the Hill Country Preservation Society in 1975 and it made extensive renovations to the property before donating it to Schreiner University in 2009. The university in turn transferred ownership of the mansion to another non-profit organization, The Cailloux Foundation, in 2015. The home is now known as the Shreiner Mansion and Hill Country Museum.
Other historic buildings, mostly in the downtown district, are: the 1886 Guthrie Building, originally home to a newspaper; the 1890 Masonic [Lodge] Building; an 1890 structure in the Italiante style, originally a saloon, now home to Francisco’s Restaurant; a 1907 furniture store, restored in 1988; a 1907 barber shop; and several others, including the first H-E-B grocery store, started in 1905 in Kerrville, now one of the largest privately held grocery store chains in America and, as of 2018, with 350 store locations employing 100,000, with revenues of $21 billion. Two buildings date back to 1935, the Notre Dame Catholic Church, which now serves as a school, and the Kerr Arts and Cultural Center, originally a post office.
THE GUADALUPE RIVER: THE NATURAL CENTERPIECE OF KERRVILLE
Running through the center of the city is the beautiful waterway that first attracted Joshua Brown’s attention 174 years ago, the Guadalupe River. Kerrville is in fact best known for the many beautiful parks that border the river, nearby youth summer camps, hunting ranches, and RV parks. Among the parks along the Guadalupe are: Kerrville- Schreiner Park, situated on 500 acres, which offers dozens of RV and tent campsites; the Kerrville River Trail, a five-mile- long hike and bike trail that parallels the river; the Riverside Nature Center, an arboretum and wildlife and native plant sanctuary located in downtown Kerrville at the confluence of the Guadalupe River and Town Creek; Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp-Resort, popular with the kids, offering cabins with kitchens, pools, water park, pizza pub, hot tubs, and gyms, a wonderful , family-oriented attraction; By the River RV Park Campground: and Louise Hays Park, 64 acres in downtown Kerrville, with trails, playground, horseshoe pits, large covered pavilion, 39 concrete tables, and Tranquility Island, a 7-acre Cypress lined idyll in the middle of the river, connected by bridges to the main park and to stairs below the library on the other side of the river.
OTHER UNIQUE LOCAL ATTRACTIONS
No visit to Kerrville would be complete without visits to these one-of-a-kind attractions: The Coming King Sculpture Prayer Garden, where many come to meditate, pray, and ponder the sacrifice that Christ made in order to secure their eternal salvation; the Museum of Western Art, which is, according to Wikipedia, “dedicated to the painting and sculpture of living
artists of the American West who follow in the tradition of Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell. In addition to the rotating collection, the museum also has an art library and teaching facilities”; Kerrville Hills Winery, situated atop a hill high above the city and the Guadalupe River Valley, offers a wine tasting room, tours, and a gift shop; Cailloux Theater, a venue for the performing arts, including Symphony of the Hills concerts; Stonehenge II, a replica of and homage to the original Stonehenge prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England; and the Kerrville Folk Festival, a music festival held annually for 18 consecutive days in late spring/ early summer at the Quiet Valley Ranch.
CHURCHES, HOSPITALS, AND HOTELS
At last count there were 63 churches of virtually every major Christian denomination, plus one Jewish congregation, in Kerrville.
In addition to the 18 nursing homes in the area, there are three major medical facilities: the Kerrville State [Mental] Hospital; the Peterson Regional Medical Center, a private facility; and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center. This latter facility provides healthcare for over 20,000 U.S. military veterans in the Texas Hill Country. The idea for a hospital for World War I veterans was conceived in 1919 and $500,000 was raised to fund the project. Two of Charles Schreiner’s sons, Louis and A.C. Sr., in the spirit of their father’s generosity, donated 790 acres for the site of the hospital.
There are hotels to suit just about every taste and budget, from La Quinta Inn & Suites, Days Inn, Holiday Inn Express & Suites, Best Western Sunday House Inn to the Inn of the Hills Hotel & Conference Center, to the ultra-exclusive Escondida Live Water Boutique Resort Hotel & Spa.
KEY EMPLOYMENT INDUSTRIES
The top 15 industries, and the percentage of the local work force they employ, is as follows:
18.4% Healthcare 11.3% Retail
8.3% Accommodation 4.7% Administration
4.7% Public Service
3.9% Professional, Scientific 3.8% Finance
2.6% Transportation 2.6% Real Estate 2.2% Arts
RESTAURANTS AND WATERING HOLES
Besides the standard bill of fare offered by the chain restaurants and fast food outlets, there are many unique, locally owned and operated dining establishments to suit just about every culinary taste. Among them are: Cowboy
Steak House; Texarita Restaurant; Soaring Dragon Restaurant; Thai Bistro; Jazz Cajun Restaurant; and the famous Y. O. Ranch— Texas Wildlife Steakhouse.
When it comes to happy hour and nightlife in Kerrville, there is a virtual smorgasbord of bars, pubs, and nightclubs that seek the opportunity to quench the thirst of the weary traveler or resident: Pier 27 River Lounge; Mulligan’s Pub; The Boat, Oyster Bar & Grill; Wilson’s Ice House; Ol’ Waterin’ Hole; Inn Pub Inn of the Hills; Azul Lounge; Gravity Check Saloon & Arena; Elm Waterhole Saloon; Blue Sage Hall; Lazy Dog Sports Bar; Grape Juice; Brew Dawgz Grille & Ale; 4th & Goal Wing House; Guadalupe River Club; Southway Pub; Chateau Club; Nautilus Beach Bar; Y. O. Social; and 8 Ball Billiards.
FAMOUS MODERN ERA FOLKS FROM KERRVILLE
Florence Thornton Butt was the founder in 1905 of a little grocery store that she operated from the first floor of her home in Kerrville. Her son, Howard Edward Butt, Sr., succeeded his mother as CEO of the H-E-B grocery store chain that is now based in nearby San Antonio.
Fleet Admiral Chester William Nimitz, Sr. of the U.S. Navy, who served his country in both World Wars, was promoted to Pacific Fleet Commander by President Franklin Roosevelt in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Because there were few surface vessels in operation as a result of the dastardly sneak attack, Nimitz, himself a long-serving submariner, took the battle to the enemy with the most viable weapons at his command, the untouched submarine fleet. He, along with Generals MacArthur and Eisenhower, was one of the three great theater commanders of World War II.
In 1954 James Avery started a jewelry business out of his (then) mother-in-law’s garage with about $250 in capital. The name of the company born in that garage was James Avery Artisan Jewelry. From that inauspicious beginning, the business has grown to become a worldwide operation with 270 stores and 2,000 employees. According to Wikipedia, the company designs, manufactures, and sells jewelry, primarily with a Christian theme. Though Avery died on April 30, 2018 at age 96, his sons carry on the family owned business, which is still headquartered in Kerrville. Some folks never forget their roots, especially when their family tree grew up alongside the beautiful Guadalupe River in historic Kerrville, Texas.