Kerrville, the county seat of Kerr County, is sixty-two miles northwest of San Antonio on Interstate Highway 10, at the junction of Texas Highways 16 and 27. The official elevation is 1,645 feet above sea level, though many of the residential districts in the hilly township are higher. Geography has always been the dominant quality of the Kerrville area-from prehistoric times, with archeological evidence suggesting human habitation as early as 10,000 years ago, to the present, when the town has achieved a national and international reputation for its karst landscapes, scenic roadways, river and streams, lakes, caves, biological diversity, ranches, architecture, and popular culture. The original settlement, named for James Kerr and situated on a bluff north of the Guadalupe River in the eastern half of the county, grew from a successful shinglemakers' camp into a mercantile and shipment center for the middle and upper Hill Country, and eventually into a medical, recreational, professional, cultural, and, to some extent, educational hub for parts of a five-to-seven county area. One of the earliest shinglemakers was Joshua D. Brown, a member of Green DeWitt's colony at Gonzales and a veteran of the battle of San Jacinto, who, with his family and related families explored about a hundred miles of the Guadalupe valley from Curry Creek to near the headwaters in the 1840s. These pioneers built permanent homes at what they called Brownsborough in the early 1850s. From this settlement, Kerrsville, later Kerrville, was platted after Kerr County was organized in 1856. It was voted county seat by a narrow margin, and its claim was tenuous until 1862, when rival Comfort was placed in newly formed Kendall County. Kerrville's importance dates from a conjunction of events starting in 1857, when German master miller Christian Dietert and millwright Balthasar Lich started a large grist and saw mill on the bluff. This mill, with a permanent source of power and protection from floods, became the most extensive operation of its kind in the Hill Country west of New Braunfels and San Antonio. Related mercantile and freighting enterprises led to the foundation of the Charles A. Schreiner family empire of retail, wholesale, banking, ranching, marketing, and brokering operations-which during the next five decades became the catalyst of Kerrville's and the area's early prosperity and growth.
The Civil War slowed this development and split Kerrville, as it divided the rest of the Hill Country. With the start of Reconstruction, however, Kerrville's economic boom and ethnic diversification continued anew as demand in San Antonio for lumber, produce, and craftsmen combined with the cessation of Indian raids and the expansion of cattle, sheep, and goat ranching into the upper Hill Country and Edwards Plateau. Cattle drives punctuated the boom years of the late 1880s and the 1890s. In 1887 the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway reached Kerrville, and in 1889 the town incorporated, with an aldermanic form of city government. The Kerrville Water Works Company began to provide water for town dwellers in 1894, telephone service was introduced in 1896, and the city began to pave streets in 1912. Kerrville adopted a commission form of city government in 1917, then changed to the city-manager form in 1928. In 1942 the town adopted a home rule charter, while continuing with a city manager. Kerrville has displayed steady population growth throughout the twentieth century, increasing from 1,423 residents in 1900 to 2,353 in 1920, 5,572 in 1940, 8,901 in 1960, and 15,276 in 1980. Its economic base has diversified and broadened through business, agriculture, light manufacturing, health care, transportation, services, education, the arts, and tourism. By the mid-1990s the Wall Street Journal described Kerrville as one of the wealthiest small towns in America. By 1995 the city's official population was still under 18,000, with another 20,000 people in relatively affluent residential areas south of the river and in the rest of the county. In 2000 the population reached 20,425. Much of the growth in population included retirees and young professionals and semiprofessionals; for many years Kerrville also experienced significant outmigration of young adults raised in the area.
Kerrville enjoys not only a favorable and pleasant setting that has long attracted an affluent and international population, but also a diversity in culture, business, and institutions. In the 1990s the ethnic mix of the town included Anglo Americans from all parts of the United States, as well as Germans, Mexican Americans, African Americans, and Scots. It also included smaller elements of Central European, Baltic, and Asian extraction. Partner-city agreements and other exchanges linked Kerrville with other municipalities in North America and Europe. There were more than fifty churches. Public and private schools, a college, several university extension programs, and an unusually large public library served Kerrville and the larger Hill Country area. Two museums preserved cowboy art and the history of the Schreiner family. The Kerrville music festivals (see KERRVILLE FOLK FESTIVAL), sports competitions, arts and crafts fairs, working ranches, wildlife, and exotic game preserves have been widely known in the state since the early 1900s and in the nation since the 1980s. Businesses in the early 1990s ranged from clinics, sanatoria, summer camps, convention centers, hotels, restaurants, and three hospitals, to an aircraft-manufacturing facility, a major silversmith, a regional bus company, an airport, various banks, radio and television stations, newspapers, retail stores, and services. The city also had a large number of artisans, painters, writers, and musicians. Tourism brought well over half a million visitors to the town annually in the 1980s and 1990s. The primary trade area included nearly 70,000 people by 1995. Economic development and environmental and cultural preservation were the main concerns of the town during these decades. Predominantly Republican, the town in the 1990s had a council-manager form of city government with six council members. An armory of the Texas National Guard was also located inside the city limits.