Our History: Heart O’ the Hills Inn, est. 1928

It’s hard for us campers to imagine just how recently Heart O’ the Hills Camp as we know it now was even a possibility. The history is unusual, but one of love and tenacity. Here’s the tale.

Nearly a century ago, the Texas Hills Country was certainly a different place, very rustic. Kerrville was barely on the map at all until 1887, when the railroad reached the little town, which quickly became an incorporated city in 1889.

Beyond Kerrville, there was no electricity, no paved roads. People who ranched goats and sheep between Kerrville and the Divide had addressees like “18 miles west of Kerrville”.

There simply wasn’t much going on.

What Kerrville did have going for it was its elevation of nearly 2,000 feet, and the pristine headwaters of the gorgeous Guadalupe River. Word spread of the healthy clime, and people from the Texas coastal cities soon began to find the area a wonderful reprieve from their summer heat and humidity.

Just 35 years after Kerrville’s establishment, Doc Stewart opened his summer camp for boys. E.J. Stewart was a medical doctor, and athletic director and head football and basketball coach for the University of Texas. He knew about the establishment of summer youth camps in Canada and the Northeast, and wanted Texas to have the same.

Doc Stewart really started something!

So in 1924 he opened Camp Stewart for Boys, followed in 1926 by Stewart’s Camp for Girls, also in Hunt. At the time, camp brochures bragged that camp was “only 12 hours by train” from Houston or Dallas.

Being the enterprising man that he was, he decided the families that brought their children this far to camp needed a good place to stay. So in 1928, he opened the Heart O’ the Hills Inn. It was a “typification of Swiss chalet architecture set among the picturesque scenery” with 34 rooms, all of which had access to hot and cold running water.

And still no electricity. Those things came nearly a decade later. And until that time, all the lodge’s amenities were powered by a private electrical system.

People who ventured upstream always followed the Guadalupe. It was a relatively flat and clear path. Sometimes, when the bedrock was smooth and the water shallow, the river bed itself became the road.

A prominent local landmark was “the heart”—a large heart-shaped boulder near the river. That was the site of the new inn, and the namesake. People would gather at “the heart.” In time, the entire area was known as “the heart of the hills”.

Luxuries were added

In the winter months, the inn hosted deer hunters. Tragedy struck in 1948, when an ember went up the chimney and landed on the roof, setting the building ablaze. The contents were able to be carried outside. The building was a total loss, except for the rockwork. One particularly sad outcome was the death of a record-holding pecan tree which once shaded the patio in front of the dining room.

It was at that point in time that Kenneth and Velma Jones took ownership of the inn. Quickly, they  rebuilt it with a new wing, thick plaster walls and other features to help it withstand any future fire, and adding deluxe features such as wall-to-wall carpeting, plastic bathroom tiles, and the best invention ever: central air conditioning!

The inn reopened in May of 1949, just in time for the busy summer season—and for capitalizing on the number of post-World War II honeymooners!

…More to come soon about the evolution of the Heart O’ the Hills Inn into Heart O’ the Hills Camp for Girls.

 

About the Author

Jane Ragsdale

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Jane Ragsdale (Mrs. Dick Howell) is the director of Heart O’ the Hills. She was a Heart camper and counselor, and served as program director from 1978-87. She has been one of the owners since 1976, and director since 1988.

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