5 Score and a Few Months Ago

– By Marjorie Hagy

A little over a hundred years ago, the people of Boerne were gearing up for an election. On November 5, the men of Kendall County would decide between Rudolph Phillip and Adolph Theis for the office of County Treasurer ; Otto Schweppe was running for re-election for District Clerk, JA Luckenbach was on the ballot for Precinct 1 Commissioner, and James Monroe Saner was up for Sheriff again- and would win. Election Day was a festival day in young Boerne, the county seat, with whole families coming into town from Kendalia, from Bergheim, Wasp Creek and Comfort, and all the farms in the country in between, piled into their wagons and bumping over dirt-rutted roads with their lunches on their laps.

The women would do a little shopping and socializing while the men decided the future at the ballot box- women didn’t have the right to vote yet, and while black men were technically allowed to vote, none would be casting a ballot in 1912 in Jim Crow Boerne.

The candidates for office were listed in the September 27 issue of the Boerne Star, in the right-hand column alongthe edge of the page.  Announcements in the paper there set them back ten bucks for a district office, $5 for a county seat and a mere $3 for the precinct election.

Oh yeah, a hundred years ago was a presidential election year, too, just like this year and as hotly contentious as they all are.  The 1912 race was a rare four-way contest, a real doozie, with incumbent William Howard Taft for the Republicans, Democrat Woodrow Wilson (the Convention didn’t nominate him til the 46th ballot), the American Socialist Party’s Eugene V Debs, and former president Teddy Roosevelt who, having failed to receive the nomination of his Republican party, created the Progressive (Bull Moose) Party and ran at the head of its ticket.  Wilson would win, handily, with 42% of the popular vote, while the next closest contender (Roosevelt) got only 27%.

But those elections were still in the future that September 1912.  There were more immediate concernes in Boerne that week- like Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, in San Antonio, the evening of the 27th.  The San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad was running a special on a round-trip ticket to the show, leaving that afternoon from Boerne and coming back in the morning, and you can bet there was a carnival feeling in the mob that crowded the depot on (what is now) Rosewood Avenue, waiting for the train.  Kids used to flock to the depot to meet the trains coming in, just to see if there was anybody interesting getting off, like the peddler who had the pet monkey and gave out candy samples; Election Day was a social event.  A train ride and seeing Buffalo Bill in person must have seemed like going to heaven without the trouble of dying first.  The paper doesn’t say what the tickets were going for, but that same day the railroads were offering round-trips from SA to Galveston for four bucks, so 50 cents seems like a good bet.

The sixth Kendall County Fair was just over, too, and it was starting to look like it would be an annual event.  The Star ran the names of the winners, and we see Charles Herff taking first prize to Oscar Bergmann’s second for draft stallion, Gus Wollschloeger winning the blue ribbons for black angus cow, best ram and pen of sheep, and Mrs BS Davis carrying off the first prize for Best Sow, Any Age.

There was excitement in the camp of newly incorporated (1909) Boerne’s promoters, too, and in the considerable industry that had grown up around tourism in the Resort Era of the town, over the news that the Northern Clericus of the Episcopal Church had chosen to hold their convention here for the first time.  Mr Albert Kutzer of St Helena’s Parish (and also, incidentally, mayor of Boerne) was in charge of arrangements for the convention, and was putting up the visiting preachers at Ye Kendall Inn.  Townspeople were encouraged to show the out-of-towners ‘much courtesy and attention, for if they are favorably impressed,’ the paper proclaimed, ‘Our reputation as a desirable place to visit will spread throughout…the state and bring back benefits to Boerne for years to come.’  Indeed, a hundred years ago Boerne’s reputation as a desirable- and healthful- place to visit had already spread far and wide, and September 1912 found the bustling little town right smack at the height of the tourist boom.  Ye Kendall Inn wasn’t the only game in town, either, and Mayor Kutzer had five other fine hotels to choose from, including Phillip Manor and the St James Hotel, as well as the Rob Roy Ranch and John Reinhard’s luxurious Walnut Grove Resort, and countless boarding houses.  

There were three saloons to choose from, too, not that any of the visiting padres were of a drinking persuasion, but those who were could choose between Krause’s, Ort and Zoeller’s, and Max Beseler’s place.  “Don’t fail to look over HO Adler’s bargain counters”, reads a reminder sandwiched in between other items of news and such- in the manner of old newspapers, ads are piled up with social news and announcements and thank-you cards, all together willy-nilly.  Adler’s store was one of seven general merchandise emporiums in town in 1912, it inhabited the almost-new (1911) building where Bergmann’s Lumber has been for years, and if you don’t believe me HO Adler’s name and the date are out on front of the store on Main Street.  Joe Dienger owned another of these mercantiles, down the street in the Dienger building, and Joe Vogt another one, on the corner of Main Street and Theissen, in a limestone building whose front door faced catty-corner to Main Street.  Indeed, construction was just finished on Joe Vogt’s new store, which for years housed the Hill Country Bakery and now is home to the Bear Moon.  This year marks the Joe Vogt Building’s one hundreth anniversary.
The school was just-built too, having been built on Blanco Street- then Courthouse Street- in 1910 on the site of the old schoolhouse.  Boerne’s white school children used to meet in a little frame cottage on the hill but now they went to classes in a beautiful new two-story limestone building, which serves today as the City Hall, while the old frame schoolhouse was given to Boerne’s black kids and moved to the Flats where today it is a private home.

A strict notice is hereby given that all flues and stovepipes…will be inspected on October 15, 1912. City Council.  With school having just started up again and the first cold front just blown in, it was time to start thinking about winter fires.  The US Weather Bureau map in the SA Light that September day shows it was 60 and partly cloudy, a beautiful autumn day.

Miss Mattie Tucker, we are informed, had just thrown a party on the Saturday before, a kitchen shower for Miss Tillie Dienger, ‘a bride of next month.’  Another friend, Miss Ola Loe, hosted a six-course luncheon in Miss Dienger’s honor, at Miss Loe’s home on the Tuesday.  The honoree was twenty-one year old Ottilie Dienger, daughter of the Joe who owned the general store on the square (and is said to still haunt the place) and his wife Ida Dietert Dienger.  Her husband-to-be was one Hugo Joseph Vogt, her father’s business partner at the store until 1928, and the two married on October 10, 1912, and lived the rest of their lives in their hometown and are buried side by side in the cemetery.

 News of Miss Loe’s lunch party is sandwiched between an ad for Newton ’s Grain Mill (All farmers interested in better grain, call me…) and this bit of news: Ben Knibbe of Kendalia was a business visitor in Boerne Wednesday.  It was a day not only before email and text and facebook, but before even the enormous wooden telephone box hanging on the kitchen wall, and one was interested in knowing what one’s neighbors were up to.  A visitor from the country was news to read about in the paper.

The highest cash prices paid for chickens, egges, turkeys, ducks, geese, dry and raw hides, also bees wax- S Kahn.  Farmers would bring their produce into town early, early in the morning- poultry, milk and cream, butter, eggs, vegetables- and sold to agents who carried their wares to San Antonio for resale, or directly to local shopkeepers who turned around and sold them fresh from their stores.  The milk you would drink for breakfast would be literally only hours out of the cow.

September 1912.  The first Keystone Comedy movie would be released this month, one ehundred years ago.  It was silent, of course, and the movie houses employed pianists to bang out the madcap music that went along with the Keystone antics.  The unsinkable Titanic had gone down five months before, and my own grandfather had been born the same week in San Antonio.  Julia Child was a month old that Spetember, and WC Handy published a song called ‘Memphis Blues’- the first blues song ever.  In less than a month the Boston Red Sox would beat the New York Giants in a cliffhanger of an 8-game World Series (one game ended in a tie.)  And the circus was coming to town- well, to San Antonio.  The Boerne Star announced that the bill posters were busy the first part of the week hanging out signs for the Barnum and Bailey show.

Victor Talking Machines $1.00 down and $1.00 per week- Vogt Hardware Company.  An ad for a clothier in SA touted ‘Try H & R’s original Easy Credit Plan.’  Buying things on time that one used to save up for was a growing trend in the early years of the high-flying new century, and it worried the more cautious who felt that such a thing would tempt people to live beyond their means.  ‘We have a number of good subscribers who are behind in their subscriptions,’ began an item in the Boerne Star, from the Boerne Star.  ‘Please come and settle or we will be obliged to discontinue your paper.’  That would be Gammon Davis, father of the next editor, and grandfather to the editor after that.  Pay the Printer it says here and there between other news items, in case that first was too subtle for you.  I ask all my friends and customers who are indebted to me to please come and settle as I am anxious to close up my books, Rud. Phillip respectfully requests.  ‘A cheap home in San Antonio’ is offered for $1100- a ‘3 large-roomed cottage’ with shade trees, rose bushes, a barn ‘for horse, cow or chickens’ and one block from the car line- that would be the streetcar.  Interested parties are instructed to inquire at Becker House Hotel- proprietress Mary Schertz Becker, first white child born in Boerne.

There were two drug stores in town, selling drugs of course, but also a little jewelry, a hat or other odd bit of millinery, a pair of ladies gloves.  ‘Remember Willke’s Drug Store sells Roof paint for 75 cents and House paint for $1.75 a gallon.’  Willke’s was supposed to have been the very first place in town to have a telephone, and was located right across the street from Mary Becker’s hotel at Main Street and Rosewood (Depot Street in 1912) and in later years became Robert’s Drug Store.  ‘Jacob’s Delicious Candy…fresh shipment every week at Levyson’s Drug Store.’  Levyson’s was on the southwest corner of the Plaza at Main Street, and Levyson was one of the first citizens of Boerne and one of the very few Jews in town.  His son was a leper, moved to an actual leper colony and changed his name to protect his family from the shame, and became a very famous and inspirational man under his new name.  You could get your feel-good products outside of Willke’s and Levyson’s too, and ads all over the paper told you where and how.  ‘Are you a sick man?’ in a black-bordered box. ‘Are you in bad health and discouraged?  You can be made well.’  What a promise!  And Dr EA Holland goes on to promise more extravagantly: he has ‘absolutely positive cures for Varicele,  Hydrocele, Contagious blood poison, Piles, Flatula  and all chronic diseases of the stomach, kidneys, bladder and prostrate gland.’

Whatever miracle cure ol’ Doc Holland cooked up to cure everything from blood poison to hemmorhoids to excessive farting has, unfortunately, been lost to time.  ‘A cure for Tuberculosis,’ another ad blares, and yet another: ‘When your liver goes wrong take Dodson’s Liver Tone.’  A third box bears the testimony of a grateful former sufferer: ‘I suffered five years with awful pains due to womanly troubles,’ but Cardui the Woman’s Tonic, seems to have fixed her right up.  Considering that most of these miracle cures were either 100 proof alcohol or spiked with opium or both, the fact that they made you feel better isn’t surprising at all, nor is the fact that they left you with a powerful craving for more tonic.  The medicos peddling their cure-alls were raking in so much dough that they didn’t seem to be deterred by headlines such as ‘Consumption Quacks to be Prosecuted,’ which ran in the September 27 paper right next to an ad promoting ‘Hot Oxide Vapor and Our Madagascar Tonic’ as the cure for TB.

A terse note suddenly appears beside Dr John F Nooe, Physician and Surgeon and underneath Patronize Home Industry, Boerne Electric Power and Mf’g Co. Something has apparently gone down out at the Theis place: I will prosecute anyone who is caught within my enclosed land without my permission.  Keep out!  This means YOU. Jacob Theis.  Yeah, that doesn’t sound playful to me.
A choice building site in Oak Park addition to Boerne.  Inquire of Dr Betts. 
Just received an order of Studebaker Wagons, all sizes, Vogt Hardware Company.
Active work has begun on the new bridge across the Cibolo, foot of Main Street- up til then the Main Street bridge was a wooden affair, down at water level.
Fabra’s Meat Market- the best of FRESH BEEF, PORK, MUTTON- both phones.

A fluff piece about a goat who got drunk and leapt through a minister’s window.  A coupon worth two dollars off at the Chicago Painless Dentist in San Antonio.

A different world.

A small town, everyone related by blood or marriage, farmers bringing their butter and eggs into town by wagon over an unpaved road in the dawn of an autumn morning.  A bride-to-be, enjoying her round of parties and about to start life with the husband she would grow old with.  A fellow at his breakfast table grumbling over the *#!@ Republicans and a wife quietly sneaking a sip from her tonic bottle.

Boerne, one hundred years ago.


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