Kerrville and the Railroad

The museum is indebted for the assistance received for this page. Our thanks to Rails, A Cafe at the Depot, who shared the large quantity of information they had gathered as the Kerrville depot was being so lovingly restored. We are also grateful to The Hill Country Museum, who went out of their way to provide more pictures and information. The staff of the Kerr Regional History Center provided invaluable guidance and material. Thanks also to the Kerrville Daily Times who provided some key information and images. Certain individuals will be mentioned in the text but it would be remiss of us not to mention the generosity of Joe Herring, of The Herring Printing Company whose encyclopedic knowledge of Kerrville and Kerr County pointed us in several interesting directions.

Thanks also to Dave Wallace, the founding member of the Texas Transportation Museum. Not only did he manage to catch a ride on the last freight train into and out of Kerrville in 1970, he has a home movie of the trip AND a file containing copies of the documents created by the Southern Pacific when they were applying to the ICC, the Interstate Commerce Commission for permission to abandon the line north of Camp Stanley.
Map detail showing the Hill Country route of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass railroad
At 11:45 AM on October 6, 1887, the first train arrived in Kerrville. On board the six Pullmans were 502 passengers, 200 from San Antonio, 131 from Boerne, 141 from Comfort and 30 from Center Point. Altogether this was 200 more people than actually lived in Kerrville. It was a banner day for the town, with parades and speeches. At the center of it all was Captain Charles Schreiner, whose visionary plans for the community were being realized in front of his eyes. He had been a significant part of the effort to raise the $180,000.00 demanded by the railroad, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass, before it began work just over a year earlier, August 26, 1886. With the 71 mile line complete, Kerrville's future growth and expansion were assured.
The first San Antonio and Aransas Pass depot in Kerrville. The passenger section would late be destroyed in a fire. The remainder would serve as freight depot until the tracks were removed. A separate passenger depot would be constructed a short distance away, which still stands.
1893 San Antonio and Aransas Pass timetable for the Hill Country
1904 San Antonio and Aransas Pass timetable for the Hill Country
2004 Kerrville branch railroad timetable
Kerrville, originally Kerrsville, had been established in 1856 when Kerr County was created. The nearby town of Comfort, which ended up in Kendall County in 1862, was the bigger community and was briefly named the county seat. Even Center Point, originally named Zanzensberg, half way between Comfort and Kerrville, not to mention Fredericksburg and Bandera, had a larger population, but the ambitions of the people of Kerrville were stronger and well founded. The arrival of the railroad brought prosperity all along its line through the Hill Country. It used to take two days to get to San Antonio from Kerrville, with an overnight stay in Boerne. Returning in a fully laden wagon might take even longer and, during inclement weather, it took longer still. The railroad brought in people and materials and allowed the cedar shingle businesses, which had been the original reason for the community's foundation, to expand. Soon sheep and goats were successfully introduced and before long Kerr County had become one of the premier mohair producing regions in the nation..
Tourism advice from the 1904 San Antonio and Aransas Pass timetable
 
1915 Kerrville Mountain Sun newspaper article on new San Antonio and Aransas Pass passenger depot in Kerrville
 
Drawing of the San Antonio and Aransas Pass passenger depot in Kerville.
1924 map of Kerrville. Note locations of old and new S.A. & A.P. depots plus spur down Highway 16 to the Schreiner department store, plus a switch in the middle of the highway to another spur.
Somewhat less than 10% of Kerr county's land is suitable for agriculture, and ranching, therefore, has always predominated the economy. But the region had other attractions, not the least of which was its "Sweet Air." Tourism began almost immediately with the arrival of the railroad. Various denominations created youth camps in the area. Uriah Lott, the general manager of the SA & AP, had a very soft spot for orphans and often put on a special car at the rear of trains to Kerrville especially for them, paying for their food and drink from his own pocket. The population of the entire county was only 2,108 in 1880. By 1890 it had more than doubled to 4,462. By 1900, the population of Kerrville alone stood at 2,353.
Train wreck recovery near Kerrville, date unknown
 
Guns at the ready picking up the mail from the Kerrville railroad depot. This is the northern end of the, building where the parking lot is today
 
Southern Pacific / Texas and New Orleans (T&NO) motorcar 300 at the Kerrville passenger depot, looking north. Originally the area outside the depot's ticket counter under the open arches allowed folks to wait outside in the shade. The interior did not have A/C.
 
1940 Southern Pacific / Texas and New Orleans (T&NO) timetable for the Hill Country. Passenger service has been reduced to mixed train service, which were also hauling freight. The war would soon briefly create a greater demand for passenger service, troop trains and also medical trains to the Kerrville VA Hospital.
The military also had a keen interest in the area. As weapons grew more powerful, firing them within the city limits of San Antonio became impossible. Before Camp Stanley, originally named Camp Funston, was formally acquired by the army in 1917, additional ranges existed in the Hill Country. There was a rifle range on the depot side of the Guadalupe River at Center Point on land owned by the Ganahl family. (This is why you see Ganahl listed in early timetables.) An artillery range was operated near Kerrville. It's precise location is not known but it seems reasonable to assume it was on the same site used by the entire 2nd Division in 1926 between Kerrville and Ingram. In the only known photograph of this event, there are multiple aircraft set out along a large parade ground and the site is described as the Louis Schreiner Field. Development has encroached on the site today and it its most visible occupant is Wal-Mart. Following World War One, a site was needed for a large veteran's hospital. Kerrville was selected and the Legion Hospital opened on July 1, 1923. (If you look at the 1940 timetable, you can see a stop listed as Legion three miles south of Kerrville.) The original hospital was replaced after World War Two, in 1947, and has been in constant use ever since.
Mule drawn wagons at a Schreiner wool warehouse
Two box cars in Kerrville around 1900.
Southern Pacific rail motorcar 500 on the Guadalupe river bridge near Comfort
Southern Pacific rail motorcar 500 crossing Cibolo gorge in the Hill Country
The interests of Captain Schreiner were diverse. He created the famous Y.O. ranch near Kerrville plus a large mercantile operation that still bears his name. He established a number of wool and mohair warehouses. One was close to his store on Water Street. A spur rail line ran to this warehouse and stopped at the rear of the store nearby as well. Another even larger warehouse was later built on McFarland Drive. It too had a spur line. Although this "Wool House" is long gone, a remnant of the tracks is said to remain visible in the area. Schreiner's interest in the railroad was intense. In a newspaper clipping from the early 1900s he reportedly timed the train over the twenty miles between Comfort and Boerne and recorded the 19 minute duration, or 63 MPH speed, with some satisfaction.
Human powered rail turntable at the end of the line in Kerrville
Last passenger rail trip from Kerrville, 1954
1967 image of Kerrville freight rail depot, the back section of the original S.A. & A.P. building
Tearing down the remaining section of the original 1887 Kerrville rail depot that survived the 1913 fire, following the removal of the tracks in the early 1970s
Passenger travel to Kerrville was brisk from the 1890s up to the 1920s. To enable additional service while keeping costs down, the Southern Pacific, which all but fully acquired the SA & AP in 1892, added motor car service to the regularly scheduled train, which may have been a mixed freight. The motor car left Kerrville at 6:50 AM, while a train pulled by a steam locomotive left in the opposite direction from San Antonio at 8:37 AM. The journey took around three hours. After turning around, the train departed Kerrville at 2:00 PM while the motorcar set back out for the Hill Country at 4:00 PM. In 1913 the passenger section of the original depot in Kerrville burned down but the freight room was saved. In 1915 a new masonry passenger depot was opened four blocks east of the original depot. At the time its given address was 430 Quinlan. Competition from private cars and the Kerrville bus company, one of the most successful in the region, led to a slow diminution of passenger rail service. First it was cut back to one train a day in each direction. By 1940 it was just a few cars at the rear of the daily freight train. The war years saw an increase in rider ship but this rapidly subsided and all regularly scheduled passenger service had ended by 1947. Occasional special trains continued off and on until the last one was recorded in 1954..
1970s image of the Kerrville railroad depot, now operating as a pizza parlor
1980s image of Kerrville railroad depot
1981 image of Kerrville passenger railroad depot
The railroad continued to use the passenger depot as the freight agents office. But as Highway 27 to Comfort and US 87 into San Antonio were improved, the costs and facility of using increasing larger trucks to move freight gave the agents, a Mr. H. Holchak in 1956 and Mr. W. Nelson in 1960, less and less to do. When the line was under construction a plan of sorts had existed to continue on towards San Angelo, but the costs of getting to Kerrville had far exceeded expectations and, with few if any communities of any size along the way to provide funding, the line did not get any further. When the Southern Pacific was finally allowed to fully acquire the San Antonio and Aransas Pass in 1925, these plans were resurrected and preparatory grading work was actually started before the Great Depression caused the idea to fade to nothing once more. J.H. Allhands records that Uriah Lott himself, who died in 1915, was somewhat bitter about the Hill Country line, blaming its high costs and low returns as a contributory factor in the S.A. & A.P.'s failure in 1890.
One of the most telling documents submitted by Southern Pacific when requesting to abandon the line to Kerrville. It shows the steady decline in freight being hauled. Note the decline of Gypsum from 1967 to 1969 - from 230 tons - to zero.
Kerrville Commissioners Court 1970 appeal to the Interstate Commerce Commission opposing the abandonment of the railroad to the Hill Country
1990s railroad map showing former Texas Hill Country railroad routes
Map showing tracks within Kerville outside the railroad depot
Kerrville street map detail showing the location of the railroad depot
By 1964, the S.P. was only sending six trains a week along the Hill Country line. Of these three turned around at Camp Stanley or the small quarry just north of it, and only three as went as far as Kerrville. By 1967, this had been reduced to just two to Kerrville. In 1969, H.J. McKenzie, a Southern Pacific Vice-President, submitted the necessary papers to the Interstate Commerce Commission for the abandonment of the line between Camp Stanley and Kerrville, on the basis that it " . . . is being operated at a loss and for which there is no reasonably foreseeable prospect of profitable operation in the future." The line is described as being in poor condition with a net salvable value of $238,118.00. Citing competition from the trucking industry, the companies listed as serving the area were the Basse Truck Line, Curry Motor Freight Lines, Red Arrow Freight Lines and the S.P.'s own trucking division. What is also interesting is that in 1969, IH 10 still stopped at Comfort. To this point it has been developed from US 87, which was built to Fredericksburg. The interstate west of Comfort was a brand new route and still under construction. The only road to Kerrville was HWY 27, which shadowed the tracks from Comfort, through Center Point. In the S.P.'s own report, it is described as merely a two lane road.
Restored Kerrville railroad depot, 2006
 
The new owners of the Kerrville railroad depot won a prestigious award for their efforts. Operated as a BBQ joint before they acquired it, it had fallen into serious disrepair
 
Opened in 2006, "Rails, A Cafe At The Depot," is drawing rave reviews from food critics and rail enthusiasts alike.
In 1969 the principle remaining railroad customers were described as feed and lumber dealers, a peanut producer, a beer distributor, a mohair producer and a small mineral company. Just two years earlier the biggest source of railroad freight was gypsum. Some 220 cars were moved, a combined weight of 16,156 tons. By 1969, this had fallen to zero. The largest remaining product in 1969 was cattle feed, 17 cars, 402 tons. Again just two years earlier, the railroad had moved 133 cars, 3,845 tons.

    The decline is best reflected in the gross numbers:

    YEAR         CARS         TONS

    1967           553         27,091
    1968           459         19,448
    1969             50          1,765

The numbers spoke for themselves. The very last train, carrying gravel, was run om May 15, 1970. On board the locomotive was a founding member of the Texas Transportation Museum, Dave Wallace, who was also running several railroad related businesses at the time, including the acquisition and disposition of the many unwanted passenger cars that had flooded the market when AMTRAK took over what remained of the national passenger network. In Kerrville, the remaining section of the original 1887 depot, at the corner of Schreiner and Lemos, had been demolished several years earlier. The Southern Pacific's petition to abandon the line north of Camp Stanley was approved on February 2, 1971. The tracks were pulled up north of that point and within Kerrville, several wide streets were created, including North and Aransas. You can hardly tell a railroad had used the route for over 80 years. There are no tell tale warehouses or similar businesses anywhere in evidence. The address of the passenger depot changed from 420 Quinlan to 615 Schreiner as a road replaced the railroad right of way. As the tracks became a memory the building saw a number of tenants, all in the food business. After being a bar-b-que joint for some time, it became a pizza parlor. It was put up for sale again in the late 1990s and purchased by its current owners who decided a total renovation would be required. This was so well done that they won the 2004 Best Rehabilitation Award from the Texas Downtown Association. The building now houses RAILS, A CAFE AT THE DEPOT which is chalking up rave reviews itself for its food quality and friendly service.
The room through the door was once the segregated Negro waiting area in the Kerville railroad depot
 
The railroad ticket counter was at the now interior arched wall looking out to the shaded waiting area outside
 
Rails, a Cafe at the Depot, 615 Schreiner, Kerrville TX 78028, 830-257-3877
The railroad is long gone from the Hill Country but it has left a deep legacy of service, one that helped firmly establish towns struggling to survive in what was quite a harsh environment. With a modern transportation link, communities along the 71 mile route became not only viable but prosperous. Journeys that took days now took hours. The transportation of freight in quantities unimaginable by ox pulled wagons over unfinished roads allowed several lucrative operations, such as ranching, mining and wool production to provide occupations to many new residents to what is one of the most charming parts of Texas. This charm, not to mention the advertising efforts of the Southern Pacific, also brought many visitors and many decided to stay. One of these was the famous songwriter, Jimmie Rodgers, who wrote his big hit, "Waiting For A Train," in the Kerrville depot in 1928 while, what else, waiting for train. Kerrville has grown to over 20,000 residents today. It has a sizable airport catering to wealthier residents who can afford to fly into the community. The rails are gone, replaced by an interstate, but its memory lingers for those who care to try to find it.
Kerrville Station in 2017
Kerville railroad station, September, 2017
Rescued SA&AP rail pulled from Kerrville streets near the station along a walkway near the station
Official state history sign installed at the Kerrville station in 2017

 

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