Hell! What a Place!

April 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

An old settler, who requests his name not be used, was asked yesterday how long he had lived in Austin. “Why, sir, I have always lived here!” was his reply. He then explained that he came to Austin when it was nothing but a cluster of log houses. Just after the town was established.

Austin in those days existed only in the imagination – it was a big city only in the mind. One day I went across the river and stood on the bluff where the deaf and dumb asylum is situated, and here I had a bird’s-eye view of the capital. I had been here but a short time – do you know what I said? I was given a little in those days to profanity, and when I gazed upon this capital of a great republic, I simply said, “Hell! What a place!”

All there was of Austin at the time was about 15 or 20 little log houses and the most ungainly structures that human genius could devise, and these were stuck into openings between scrubby trees. A man full of poetry might say the wild uncouth landscape was grand – but poets are great liars. It was the most barren and desolate looking spot I had ever set my eyes on. The white barren rocks glared in the sun like the very perfections of destitution, upon which only a few sickly, dwarfed and gnarled live oaks sat like death on a ship quarantined with yellow Jack. I had read the glowing description of the commissioners who selected this perfection of desolation for the capitol of the republic and before I cam to Austin I had my fancy wrought up to a high point of glory. I did not think men could lie so, and as I stood on the bluff that day, I said, and no wonder I said it, “Hell!”


A Regiment of Drummers

April 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today, we introduce a new category, “The Bum Rush, or Straight from the Rush’s Bum”; a sort of what-if, “What Would Rush Say?”, if the master Bloviator had been around “back in the day.”

And to start things off on the right foot (in the mouth) …

“The Kids Aren’t Alright”


“Cornpone and Sowbelly for Thought”

This gem originally ran in The Galveston News, March 25, 1875:

A Regiment of Drummers: The Labor Question.

The hostility of the average American youth to manual labor is a national calamity. The aversion of all mankind to the curse that followed the fall of our first parents is exhibited in a greater or less degree among all peoples. But the contestation must be made that here in America, under a republican form of government, and where labor should be regarded as manly and honorable, we have a shirking of the duties therein entailed which neither does good judgment nor sense of independence much credit.

We are led into these remarks from the tenor of a letter received in the NEWS office the other day, from New Orleans, stating that in answer to an advertisement that appeared in this paper a short time ago by a New Orleans firm, requesting the services of a “drummer” for Texas, the house had received three hundred applications. This might be pointed to as an evidence of the value of the NEWS as an advertising medium, but that is not the object of this article. It is of more import to show to the country generally that there must be something wrong in the social and material system of the commonwealth when three hundred men can be found on exceedingly short notice ready and willing to undertake such service as that required of a commercial solicitor. Now, it is not to be inferred from this that the position of a commercial traveler, or “drummer” as he is generally termed, is not one of responsibility and arduous exertion. On the contrary, it is a very hard life, and requires both tact and persevering industry. In fact, as business is now conducted, this class is indispensable to its prosperity. But the assertion is ventured that had a similar advertisement been inserted requiring the services of a good man to undertake a job of blacksmithing, or wheelwrighting, or any other task requiring the expenditure of a fair amount o£ elbow-grease and muscle, there would have been no three hundred applicants for the situation within a week.

And that is just what is the matter with too many who have to complain of hard times and nothing to do. The aversion to laboring with the hands is the cause of a great deal of material prostration. And not only is this the case in the South, for the North and West have the same complaint to make. Some time ago an article appeared in the Cincinnati Commonwealth showing the danger to the country from this cause. That journal represented that the skilled labor in the foundries and machine shops of the North and West was nearly all imported from Europe—that the youth of these sections evaded such work and sought clerkships and other light employment, and that in the event of a war of long duration with a European power, the country might feel grievously the want of such skilled labor. Of course this is a far-stretched supposition, but it proves that labor in America is not hold in that esteem which makes it honorable as in other lands.

Young men leave the country and come to towns seeking light employment and rapid promotion; the youth of our cities are all after “easy-going things,” and, as a consequence, the mechanical arts and useful industries are neglected and avoided. It is difficult to say where an innovation should commence here, but much remains with the parents undoubtedly in inculcating a respect for labor and enforcing a compliance with its exactions. Three hundred applications for a single situation as drummer inside of a week shows there are too many that way bent in Texas for the good of the State. That number of men upon good Brazos bottom land could raise two thousand bales of cotton a year, and corn and meat enough to do them. Just think of that, ye aspirants for commercial honors, and seriously and honestly go to work.

Along the Old Post Road from San Marcos to Buda

April 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last week I trundled down I-35 down to San Marcos for a doctor’s appointment (Where he leads, I will follow.). Rather than face a return drive along I-35’s unrelenting ugliness, as well as stop-and-go traffic beginning south of the Hwy. 71 interchange (now a standard feature any weekday beginning about 11 in the morning, I decided to toodle up the Old Post Road, past Kyle and through Buda, before taking refuge along the brief stretch of toll road that leads from just north of Buda to US 183.
The pristine, 1950s-era stainless steel train passenger coaches are still resting in their open-sided shed on a spur of the old IGN tracks as you leave San Marcos. I have never mentioned these classic cars in Hill Country or what is now is Central Texas, for fear that they would disappear from the scene (I hate it when I put something in one of the books and then it goes away before the next edition, making me look stupid.), but maybe I will now since they’ve been here for well over a decade and I am putting more of a railroad emphasis in the next editions of both books.
As I have noted before, development has encroached farther and farther out from San Marcos over the last three decades, pretty much to the Blanco River low-water crossing, which, thankfully, hasn’t been replaced, as is also the case with the massive, high, limestone-pier, IGN railroad span bridge across the Blanco, which, I believe is the original bridge built in the early 1880s.
I have reported on this drive on my blog before, and nothing much has changed in the intervening months, but I must make a few corrections, one of which is flat-out embarrassing. In Central Texas, I give an accurate description of the historic Kyle cemetery, but in best brain-fart tradition, I place it approximately 0.3 miles north of the entrance road to “Claiborne Kyle Log House” (2400 S. Old Stagecoach Rd.) , instead of its correct location, 0.3 miles south of the cabin entrance. The Skyview cemetery is located 0.3 miles north of the Kyle log cabin entrance; it has some graves dating to the 1880s but lacks the historical pedigree of the Kyle cemetery.
I parked at the entrance to the cabin and ducked under the gate for the brisk 5-minute walk to the cabin grounds, which are fenced in by a high wire-mesh fence. Bluebonnets, verbena, winecups, and a couple of Indian paintbrushes were in bloom along the dirt path.
Soon I was at the 4-way intersection with Cypress Rd. to the west, and the road into Kyle, which becomes Center St. once in town.
As long-time readers of Hill Country/Central Texas know, Cypress Rd. leads eventually to the old Ezekiel Nance homestead and mill. Contrary to what I state in the current edition of Central Texas, Cypress Rd. is not closed to the public beyond the gate; the Nance family property owners just want you to think so. The road is county owned all the way to its dead end, so feel free to open the gate, drive through, close the gate, and drive on to see and enjoy the old Nance homestead. The gate is just there to keep the cattle from straying off their property. But don’t trespass along the way; stick to the road and you’ll be OK.
Once in Kyle, a brief look at the old Auction Oak reveals that it is not too much worse for wear from the drought.
One of Kyle’s most historic structures has been heretofore excluded from previous editions of Hill County/Central Texas, because, I suppose, of its altered features. But what the hell, I’m mentioning it now, and it will be included in future editions. This being the old D.A. Young building, one-story, built from rough-cut limestone blocks, notable for being Kyle’s first permanent store, built in 1881 by David Alexander young who had come from Tennessee in 1857 and settled in Hays County. He and his wife moved here from Mountain City with the coming of the railroad. The chief alteration consists of a three-bay wing with three roll-up doors, leading me to suspect it once housed the fire department. It is located at the corner of Burleson and Miller streets, one block south of Center Street. Turn right at the Burleson Street traffic light, just after passing the Porter house.
The old IGN depot by the tracks is about to undergo restoration, as previously described.
On my last trip through Buda, the old stage stop house and post office were still undergoing renovation and were closed to the public. Work has been completed, and though the tiny post office is locked up, the house is open to the public and quite a pleasant little visit. The original look has been mostly restored, but as it serves as parks and visitor center office, it sports all the necessary modern conveniences. Several display cases are full of local artifacts and a variety of local history books, booklets and calendars are for sale, as well as free tourism pamphlets and such.
If you want to see the original IGN bridge across Onion Creek, built in 1881 and similar to the bridge that crosses the Blanco river, take a left on the gravel road just before you cross the railroad tracks as you leave “old” downtown Buda. Go past the park pavilion and facilities, and before long, you come to the bridge. The road dead ends soon after, so there’s no chance of getting lost.

The Peripatetic Kyle City Jail

April 2, 2012 § 2 Comments

Back when Aquarena Springs was a hokey tourist resort, complete with Ralph the diving pig and a submarine theater featuring Texas State University co-ed mermaids, one of the less cloying attractions was the Texana Village, a collection of old area buildings and reconstructions. The Merriman cabin, built in 1846 by Dr. Eli Merriman, was San Marcos’ oldest standing home. The saloon was a recreation, but the front bar was from Fredericksburg’s famous White Elephant Saloon. Kyle’s city jail from 1884-1925 had also been moved to Texana Village. Small and simple, it is of a very rare construction technique. Sawn 2-by-4 boards are laid flat like logs and built like a two-pen log cabin, layer stacked atop layer of boards, reinforced by iron bars and braces. In 1884, when Kyle was still a wild child of a town, it is said that the Hays County Commissioners Court decided Kyle needed its own jail and moved a cell from the original, 1873 county jail in San Marcos to a spot just north of Center St. and old Hwy. 81 (the current I-35 frontage road). I personally fail to see how the current structure, as is, could have been part of the old county jail, but that’s the official wisdom. At any rate, the two-room jail was used until 1925, and stood vacant until moved to the Pioneer Village on the Aquarena Springs grounds in 1964.

One of the mysteries following the dismantling of the Pioneer Village was where various of its components went. The Merriman cabin was moved to a spot adjacent to the 1867 Charles Cock Home, at Allen Parkway and E. Hopkins. But when I contacted Aquarena Springs’ management several years later, no one was able to tell me where the other items and structures of interest to me had gone, specifically, the White Elephant Saloon’s bar and the old Kyle City Jail. Unbeknownst to them and me, the jail had been rescued from destruction at the last possible moment and moved onto the grounds of the grounds of the second-empire-style, Hays County jail (used 1884-1936). It sat there for seven years, hidden from view by the vines and assorted brush that had grown up along the chainlink fence that enclosed the jailhouse lot, until it had to be moved again, when the old county jail preservation project began, to its present location in a field behind a building on the grounds of San Marcos Academy. It now belongs to the Hays County Historical Commission, which is now seeking the funds necessary to restore it and move it to a more prominent location, hopefully back in Kyle. It was named to the 2012 Preservation Texas Annual List of Texas’ Most Endangered Places, which will hopefully aid in the necessary fundraising. I still don’t know where the White Elephant’s bar ended up.

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