Summer camps have played a huge role in the history and economy of our community. The first summer camp here, in my opinion, was the Westminster Presbyterian Encampment, which was along Quinlan Creek in what is now part of the Schreiner University campus.
Westminster provided a place for rest, recreation and spiritual training. It operated from 1906 to 1950, and today only two of its original buildings remain.
Summer camps for children started showing up in the early 1920s, when Rio Vista (1921) was opened by Herbert Crate between Ingram and Hunt. Camp Stewart (originally called Camp Texas) started in 1925. Camp Waldemar came along in 1926.
Soon many summer camps could be found above Ingram and Hunt, bringing hundreds (if not thousands) of children to the Hill Country each summer for fun and instruction.
By the mid-1920s, businesses in Kerrville noticed the positive cash flow these many summer camps were providing local establishments and hotels, and when a new group wanted to establish a camp here, community leaders made them quite an attractive offer.
The Methodist “Epworth League” of Texas, a Methodist youth organization started in Dallas in 1892, established a statewide meeting in Corpus Christi from 1906 until 1915, known as “Epworth-by-the-Sea.” The meeting moved to Port O’Connor until 1919, when a severe storm wrecked the property, which was then abandoned.
According to research provided to me by Linda Stone, “The leaders of West Texas Methodists wanted to have a new place for spiritual and intellectual training, as well as for social and recreational facilities for children, youth and adults. This vision came to a climax in the fall of 1923, at the West Texas Annual Conference, when the following resolution was presented and adopted: ‘Resolution for the establishment of the West Texas Encampment Association under the direction and supervision of the West Texas Conference of the Methodist Church South.’ The first task of this board was to find a suitable location for such an Encampment. A number of locations were offered throughout the conference, but Kerrville was considered by the board as the most logical. In 1926, it was written ‘The trustees were fortunate beyond their fondest dreams in accepting this particular body of land. It fronts on the Guadalupe River, affording an ideal place for boating, swimming and fishing, and rises gradually to the back line more than a mile distant. ... The 200 acres with the improvements, private and public, are now conservatively valued at 100,000 dollars and could not be duplicated for that amount.’”
The front page of the Feb. 7, 1924, issue of the Kerrville Mountain Sun carried the bold headline “Kerrville Lands Methodist Encampment.” The story details the gift of 200 acres “from the Bud Porter and Starkey places west of city.”
It was noted the site was within 3 miles of Kerrville and on the Old Spanish Trail highway. To purchase the land for the encampment, $11,500 needed to be raised, and the Chamber of Commerce met at the St. Charles Hotel to plan a subscription drive. These funds were quickly raised by the Kerrville community.
“The encampment will also mean much to the moral and religious development as well as to the commercial interests of the city,” the article reported.
In the March 27, 1924, issue, a big “lot sale” and barbecue were announced in another front-page story in the Kerrville Mountain Sun.
“About 150 choice lots, ranging in price from $100 to $1,000 each, were to be offered for sale the opening day.”
Between 500 and 600 people attended, and 91 of the 130 lots were sold for $150 per lot. Those first lot sales were the beginning of the unique and iconic neighborhood on the hillside of what became known as “Mount Wesley.”
Remarkably, the same article says “work is being rushed in order to have everything in readiness for the program to begin July 8 and last until Aug. 3.”
Many of the folks who purchased lots and built bungalows in the Methodist Encampment did so to have a place for their families to stay during the summer months of the camp. Though originally for summer use, today many are occupied year round.
Those first houses had wonderful names, often relating to the family which built them: James Perry of San Antonio had “Perry-Winkle”; W.R. Perkins of Alice had “Perk Inn”; Elsie Peace had the “House of Peace”; J.F. Duke of Forney had “The Duchess.”
Others depicted the environment, such as David T. Peel of Corpus Christi with the “Restholme” and the Rev. H.E. Draper of San Angelo with “Loma Vista.” Even the cafeteria had a name: “Eatmor!”
Today, what was originally called Methodist Encampment is called “Light on the Hill at Mount Wesley,” a ministry of Kerrville’s First United Methodist Church.
The neighborhood and the encampment are dedicating a Texas historical marker for the “Methodist Encampment Community” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 29. The marker has been placed at the intersection of Methodist Encampment and McAllen streets. The event is free and open to the public. Masks and social distancing will be required.
Until next week, all the best.
Joe Herring Jr. is a Kerrville native who grew up a few blocks from Methodist Encampment. Herring’s column appears each weekend in The Kerrville Daily Times.