You might be surprised to learn an immigrant from England helped shape the outlines of our community, as well as in other communities all over Texas — and even parts of northern Mexico.
The immigrant was Alfred Giles, born in Hillingdon, Middlesex, England, in the mid-1800s. He was an architect who designed hundreds of buildings, many of which still stand today. He studied the “arts of construction” at King’s College of the University of London, while an apprentice at the architectural firm of Giles and Bivens in London. In 1873, Giles moved to Texas for his health. He found employment at the contracting firm of John H. Kampann in San Antonio, where he learned about the use of locally available building materials, especially stone.
In 1876, Giles opened his own firm in San Antonio, which designed a wide variety of buildings over the years — from plain residences to showy mansions, from courthouses to banks. Giles also designed many buildings in Kerrville and Comfort, and a few in Fredericksburg, Boerne and Bandera. In Kerrville, Giles designed the Schreiner store and bank, although that building was extensively revised in 1919 after its construction in 1882 and 1893. He was the architect of the St. Charles Hotel, built in 1884, and torn down in 1936, which once stood on the east corner of Water and Sidney Baker streets. He also designed the third county courthouse in Kerrville, in 1885, which was torn down in 1926. He designed the Charles Schreiner Bank building at the corner of Water and Earl Garrett, complete with a row of brick office buildings, which stretched from the corner to near the Arcadia Theater, around 1914. These were torn down in the 1980s.
A few of the Kerrville structures that Giles designed are still here: the home of Charles and Magdalena Schreiner on Earl Garrett Street, the Masonic Building just opposite their home and the home Giles designed at 405 Water St. for one of Schreiner’s sons. The Schreiner Mansion on Earl Garrett Street was built in several phases. The original home was designed in 1879 and then revised in 1895 when the impressive stone porches were added. Giles designed both phases.
The Masonic Building, just across the street, was for many recent years the home of Sheftall’s Jewelry. It was designed by Alfred Giles in 1890. The building was occupied by Kerrville Lodge No. 697 AF&AM from April 1891 until Charles Schreiner’s death in 1927, when the Masons moved their lodge across the street to the Schreiner Mansion. In the Masonic Building, the Masons held their meetings on the second floor, while the ground floor has served many tenants. The first tenant was the U.S. post office. Around 1918, the ground floor was leased by Florence Butt and housed her grocery store until about 1926. (The Butt family has another connection to a Giles-designed building; Florence Butt’s grandson, Charles, also a grocer, lives in the restored Carl Wilhelm August Groos House in the King William neighborhood of San Antonio, a house that Giles designed in 1880.)
The residence at 405 Water St. here in Kerrville was designed by Alfred Giles and built in 1897 by Capt. Charles Schreiner as a wedding gift for his son, Charles Schreiner Jr. The younger Schreiner and his bride, Kitty West, of San Antonio, lived in the house until the summer of 1912, when they sold the home to his brother, A.C. Schreiner.
A.C. Schreiner then sold the home to his son, A.C. Schreiner Jr., who married Nellie Elizabeth Ganter later in the summer of 1912. The sales price was “in consideration of love and affection.” The younger A.C. and Nellie lived in the house for the rest of their lives. In 1927, the couple had Adams and Adams design changes for their home, adding a second floor, arched porch and tile roof to the original structure. These changes transformed the home. Alfred Giles designed many buildings that are now landmarks. He also left another landmark.
Alfred Giles, in partnership with his brother-in-law, Judge John Herndon James, began purchasing land near Comfort in 1885 to form Hillingdon Ranch, which consisted of more than 13,000 acres. Hillingdon Ranch is still in operation and is owned and operated by members of the Giles family, who raise cattle, sheep and goats.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who admires talented architects.