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Volunteers take part in the beautification of Chihuahua Street

Volunteers take part in the beautification of Chihuahua Street
ELAINE M. STEPHENS Volunteers from La Vernia and elsewhere in Wilson County take a break to appreciate their efforts June 3, after planting shrubs and placing mulch along Chihuahua Street during a Keep La Vernia Beautiful beautification project. The effort produced more than beauty, as volunteers discovered almost-forgotten history along the way!

When volunteers who care about their community get out their shovels, their dreams and hard work can unearth mysteries. That’s exactly what happened along Chihuahua Street in the heart of historic La Vernia when a group of people recently dug up more than soil.

The story began sadly when the Floresville Alternative School learned the end was in sight for their greenhouse project. Ray Silva of the Floresville Independent School District reached out to Harry Grove, president of the Wilson County Beautification Association, and offered some of the orphaned plants. Grove called Jennifer Kolbe, who, at that time, was executive director of the La Vernia Municipal Development District. Kolbe, like many who love Chihuahua Street, had always dreamed of improving the appearance of the cherished old downtown thoroughfare. She called Keep La Vernia Beautiful coordinator Elaine Stephens, and right away Grove, Kolbe, and Stephens met with Silva. Forty shrubs were quickly adopted, but not before a mystery started growing.

One of the sites chosen for the beautification project was along a low, deteriorating red rock wall, one of several which have lined Chihuahua Street for decades. Someone asked, “When were these walls built?” That’s when Keep La Vernia Beautiful reached out to the La Vernia Historical Association.

The mystery was a question waiting to bloom. LVHA Vice President Susan Richter began putting the clues together and called a few citizens who have lived in La Vernia a long time. “The wall at the east end of Chihuahua Street was built by my dad, E.O. Koepp Sr.,” said Evelyn Wosnig, referring to the remains of the wall across from her childhood home at Chihuahua and Crews. “He built it in the 1930s to make a better-looking play area for the local kids,” she said. That part of the wall is possibly the oldest and can be seen in the 1940s postcard sold by the historical association.

La Vernia Historical Association Director Wanda Von Minden said, “I remember watching a man build one part of the wall (across from Wells Fargo bank) when I was about 10 years old. Oscar Linne owned the property then.” That makes the wall there and the matching section behind the Stanush office building at least 80 years old.

The west end of the wall is located behind what is now the Mini-Mart. Elsie Ferry Witte, now in her 90s, said she and her family lived in the house which was demolished to build the convenience store. She recalled the wall being there when she was a young girl. “It was there as long as we lived in that house,” she said.

Another seed sprouted when Melvin Strey reminisced about the wall be-hind the Mini-Mart. He clearly remembered his dad, Henry Strey, hiring a big, tall man named Lonnie Garrett to build the wall in 1947 or 1948, making that section almost 70 years old.

It’s no mystery that the red rock looks familiar to La Vernia folks. It is the same kind of rock used to build the historic Brahan Masonic Lodge and the old Applewhite homestead and well in front of Finch Funeral Chapel. Both sites proudly display Texas State Historical Markers. The strong rock is abundant in the La Vernia area, particularly in the nearby sand hills.

Mysterious abundance also came in the form of shards. Numerous pieces of broken Suttles pottery were found along the wall at the site of the beautification project. The Suttles Pottery, once located near the center of Chihuahua Street, was established by former Union soldiers George and Isaac Suttles, who made a new life in La Vernia in the 1870s, producing thousands of gallons of utilitarian pottery through the 1910s. Over time, the broken shards became scattered along the old street, like uneven pieces of time.

The stories of walls and pottery and soldiers captured the attention of the 11 volunteers as they busily planted fresh life to four sites along the historic road. The shrubs seemed to smile in their new homes along the old wall behind the Mini-Mart, outside the La Vernia Food Pantry, in pots at the La Vernia News building, which will soon house the new library, and at the east end of the street at the site of the former hardware store owned by Herman Suhre in the late 1800s. Even the crumbling steps in the wall behind Mini-Mart enjoyed the attention of the caring volunteers, who did their best to fix the steps. A few leftover plants were delivered to the Wilson County Courthouse, where Grounds Supervisor Kim Kintgen will find new spots for the shrubs at the Criminal Justice Center and new Wilson County Courthouse Annex. The pottery pieces will be admired by visitors to the La Vernia Heritage Museum.

The volunteers, now nursing sore muscles, included Dr. Patrice Broderick, Doug, Adrien, and Brendon Begole of La Vernia Boy Scout Troop, WCBA President Harry Grove, Guadalupe County Master Gardener Barbara Heuerman, LVHA Museum Director Susan Richter and two of her grandchildren, Carter and Avery Keck, S.S. Water General Manager Herb Williams, and Elaine Stephens. Donations of materials included mulch from Floresville Electric Light & Power, along with potting soil, mulch, and hoses donated by Jennifer Moczygemba of Catholic Life Insurance. KLVB appreciated the weed cleanup by Richard and Bobby of the La Vernia City Works Department, and the break in the rain, courtesy of the Lord.

What started as a beautification project became a new page in a story of good people giving fresh life to old dirt in the heart of their community.

Keep La Vernia Beautiful is an Affiliate of Keep Texas Beautiful and a committee of the Greater La Vernia Chamber of Commerce.

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