Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The End of a Quest

When a dream is realized or a long-lost treasure is found it dazzles you and you're left feeling in awe.  Tonight a quest I started 27 years ago came to an end, with a surprising outcome.

When I was younger, I loved to hear the stories my Aunt Anna Belle would tell about life  in Kerrville in the "old days."  My favorite stories involved my grandfather, William Lanza Council (now y'all know where my funny name came from).  In my young mind, the man I was named after gained legendary status. He was a builder, owned a lumber yard and furniture store and dabbled in real estate in Kerrville. The stories my Aunt Anna Belle (his oldest child) told about him made me wish I had known him personally.  He died in 1950 at the age of 75 when my mom was 8 years old.  He was gone a long time before I was born.
My grandfather, W.L. Council
About 1940
One day when I was a teenager, my mom and Anna Belle started talking about buildings my grandfather built in and around Kerrville.  Mom told me about standing outside the Tivy High School building during a fire drill and being surprised that her father's name was on the corner stone of the building.  She had no idea her dad had anything to do with the building where she had been attending classes!  When I asked about the location of the building, Anna Belle told me it had been torn down in 1983 (right before mom brought my family back to Kerrville).

This is how most of these conversations ended. So many old buildings around Kerrville have buckled under the wrecking ball in the name of progress.  This story, however had a twist.  Anna Belle told me that the corner stone from the old High School building was salvaged and that someone had it.  That day, I promised myself I would find that corner stone.

Years passed. I never forgot that stone.  Whenever I'd get to talking with people about old Kerrville buildings, I'd bring up the corner stone, but nobody ever knew what happened to it.  One day I mentioned the stone to Mike Bowlin, a man with an encyclopedic knowledge of Kerrville's history.  He told me that Clarabelle Snodgrass, the president of the Kerr County Historical Commission at the time of the building's demolition, received the items that were inside the corner stone but he didn't know about the stone itself.

Two years ago I joined the Historical Commission and had a chance to ask Clarabelle about the stone and she said that yes, she had the documents from inside the corner stone, but had no idea where the stone was.  She told me that Dr. Speck had salvaged several stones from the building and I should ask him.  I e-mailed Dr. Speck who said I was welcome to look at the rocks from the building but that he didn't have the corner stone.  A dead end!

A year ago, as I was putting together an exhibit for the Historical Commission, I was going through John and Sandy Wolfmueller's post card collection and saw a photo of the old High School Building.  I told Sandy that I had been looking for the corner stone and she said she knew where it was!!!
A photo of the old Tivy High School Building, built in 1912
I've circled the corner stone in the photo.

The previous year John and Sandy found the corner stone in a flea market in Comfort.  Apparently it had been stolen from a storage building on the Tivy High School grounds.  The Wolfmuellers called the school administration and they reclaimed the stone, and as far as Sandy knew, the school still had it.

I approached the Kerrville ISD administration and asked if they still had the stone and if they did, would they allow me to take a rubbing of the stone or even sell it to me.  Nobody knew where it was but they said they would look for it and let me know what they found.  A week later they called me back and said the stone was in a corner of their equipment storage barn and I could go over any time to take a rubbing but that they would not sell it to me.

Unfortunately, I was never able to get over to the maintenance department when someone was there to show me the stone.  During a Historical Commission meeting I mentioned the corner stone to Francelle Collins and she in turn mentioned it to another commission member, Dr. William Rector.  What happened next is amazing.

Dr. Rector went to the Kerrville School Board and told them he knew of this corner stone hiding under a tarp in the equipment shed at the school and thought it was a shame that this piece of history was hiding in storage.  The school board then decided to have the stone restored and made into a monument on the school administration campus.

I didn't know all this was happening until a couple of weeks ago. I mentioned the stone to my friend and fellow history geek, Joe Herring, Jr.  He told me about the monument dedication planned for this month and got me in touch with someone at the school who could give me more details.

Tonight I sat in front of the corner stone as it was uncovered and seeing the thing for the first time brought tears to my eyes.  I couldn't believe that something I had spent so many years looking for was RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF ME!!!  It still hasn't sunk in.

My grandfather's name is one of many names on that stone and I am so happy that a quest that I started as a teen has brought this piece of history out into the sunlight where others can see and enjoy it. 

The funny thing about quests: You never know how they're going to end.  This one exceeded all expectations.

Corner Stone as Monument - My Grandfather's last name is
listed on the right side with the contractors.