There is one industry that likely brings more residents than any other to Kerrville and Kerr County: summer camps. Over and again you will hear new residents of the Hill Country say they first heard of this area when they were a child and attended summer camp here. "I fell in love with the place then," they’ll often say. "And I knew one day I had to live here."
When the first camps in Kerr County opened in the 1920s, there were no interstate highways and air travel was extremely rare. Most campers came from Texas' largest cities – but especially from Dallas and Houston – and they arrived by train. Leaving the cities in the heat of summer, traveling half a day on the train and then arriving here, where it is cooler because of the elevation, would have been a welcome trip.
Though Native American tribes were the first to "camp" along the rivers, summer camping, as we know it today, began in 1921 when Herbert Crate opened Camp Rio Vista between Ingram and Hunt. One of the favorite camp counselors from that camp was a young football star named Roger Staubach, who later gained fame with the Dallas Cowboys.
Edward J. "Doc" Stewart, the head football and basketball coach at the University of Texas at Austin in the early 1920s, is responsible for the beginning days of three well-known Kerr County camps: Camp Stewart for Boys, Heart o' The Hills Camp for Girls, and Camp Mystic. Given Stewart's career, it is easy to guess the focus of his camp: athletics. He brought UT coaches with him and even the director of the University Interscholastic League. Football, basketball, track, tennis, and volleyball were planned on the fairground's dusty old horse track, with water sports planned for the river. Not surprisingly, the camp's colors were orange and white.
"Doc" Stewart started another camp in 1926, Camp Stewart for Girls, on the south fork of the Guadalupe; a year later it became Camp Mystic for Girls. In those early days, Camp Mystic had 1400 acres and the girls were housed in 18 log cabins constructed from cypress logs cut on the camp.
Another pioneer in Kerr County camping was Miss Ora Johnson, who founded Camp Waldemar in 1926. Miss Johnson was the principal of Brackenridge High School in San Antonio and many of her early campers were from that city. In 1926, she had 56 campers, who attended a six-week session. In 1928, Miss Johnson brought in from Mexico a "Russian-born German rock mason, Ferdinand Rehbeger." It was Rehbeger, working with the Johnson family, who constructed many of the stone and cedar buildings that give Waldemar its distinct beauty.
Waldemar was noted for its horseback program and for a time, was known as "the Texas Horseback Camp for Girls." Connie Reeves, a noted instructor and rider, was hired in 1937 and continued with the camp for many decades. Its beautiful waterfront has inspired many photographs as has the beauty of its architecture.
Other notable camps begun during this time include Camp La Junta, Camp Arrowhead and Kickapoo Kamp. Later additions include the much-needed Texas Lions Camp, Camp Loma Linda on the grounds of Mo-Ranch and Echo Hill Camp in Medina.
Soon children of former campers started attending camps here, then grandchildren of those first campers. Today many camps can boast of multi-generational campers from the same family.
Summer camps in Kerr County are paradise, a paradise for children and young people, a paradise with a long and good history. They provide jobs, help the local economy, and, in many cases, they bring Kerrville and Kerr County new residents. Sometimes, during the interval between camp and finally moving here, decades pass, hair turns white, and strides shorten. But the memory -- of golden days on the Guadalupe, in a cabin with other youngsters -- never grows old. And a lucky few make it back.
Visit our Kerrville & the Texas Hill Country to see a map of all of these summer camps and learn more about this majestic region of Texas.