Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Favorite Photo

Kerr County Court House, Unknown Date
 Recently, while I was looking for an old photo of Camp Waltonia for a friend (which I was unable to locate) I came across this photo.  This image is one of the digital scans I made from the old Historical Commission collection of 35 mm slides. It is one of my  favorite "old photos" of Kerrville.  I've been meaning to write about this photo for several weeks so when I came across it again, I decided to get busy!

According to Charles Graham who wrote a paper titled "Kerr County Courthouse" for the University of Texas, Kerr County has had four courthouses.  The first courthouse was a log cabin, built in 1856 for $100. It was located about where Grimes Funeral Chapels now stands. A second court house was built in 1876 and the third in 1886. The fourth (and current) courthouse was built in 1926.  (It's always years that end in six!) 

I believe this court house to be the 1886 court house with the jail to the far left in the photograph.  An 1898 Sanborn map shows these buildings on the same piece of property as the current courthouse.  Below is a part of a (very cool) composite of downtown Kerrville put together by Aaron Yates.  It combines a satellite image of present-day Kerrville with the 1898 Sanborn map.  Thanks to both Aaron Yates and Joe Herring, Jr. for allowing me to borrow this image from their collections.

The little blue drawn buildings on the Court House Square
depict the location of the 1886 court house and jail

Why do I like the old courthouse photo?  I like it because it gives a brief glimpse into life in Kerr County in the late 1800s.  It tells me that the Kerrville I know and love is very different from the Kerrville my great-grandparents knew.  It is gritty and unpolished.

While the grass on the courthouse lawn, surrounded by a wrought-iron fence, appears to be clipped, the landscaping is informal. There's a wooden bench visible on the court house lawn and lots of scrubby little trees. Could one of these scrubby trees be the stately cypress that stands proudly at the southeast corner of the courthouse square today?

A caliche road passes the front of the building, littered with "horse debris." The roadside is overgrown and scraggly-looking with weeds.  There's also a hitch for "horse parking" and a gravel sidewalk.  The sturdy rock building is topped with ornamental wrought iron and finials.

If you really study the photo you notice some other things.  There is a man walking on the lawn and just behind him, immediately to the left of the courthouse, is a small wooden structure that looks like it may be an outhouse.  Also on the left of the building are two utility poles, short by today's standards, with glass insulators. 

The windows on the building are set up to open at both the top and the bottom, to allow the summer breezes to cool the building.  The door is open, giving us a small peek at the interior of the courthouse. You can just make out dark wainscoting on the walls and a stairway to the left of the door. 

Nobody cleaned the street or tidied up the building before taking this photo.  It showed the building - just as it was - on that particular day in history. Not even the lone man in the photo is posing for the photo. 

The County was only about 30-40 years old at the time of the photo and it shows a Kerrville that offered few frills or luxuries to its residents. I often wonder what it would be like to travel in time to see Kerrville in its early days. I get a few clues from photos like these.  I also wonder what the early settlers, like Joshua Brown, would think of their town if they could see what it looks like today.