In the late 1800s, itinerant photographers wandered the Texas countryside, making a living talking hardworking farming families into the need to document their lives on their homesteads. The result was that neighbors often had their farmstead portraits taken during the same time period.
In Haunting the Graveyard: Unearthing the Story of the Coker Settlement, published by the Coker Cemetery Association in 2019, I organized the book by a combination of themes and timelines. This meant that I used most of the itinerant farm photos in a chapter describing the efforts of those making a living in the area of San Antonio known as Buttermilk Hill. But this also meant my favorite details in two of these remained unlinked in the book.
Buttercup, Elsie, Black Beauty, Jaunita and the amply-uddered May West were among the cows Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker raised from birth and milked twice a day, 365 days a year on their farm, part of which is now Phil Hardberger Park. More than a century old, the milking barn could accommodate 20 cows at a time. The 1,500-square-foot barn is key to understanding what life was like for the farmers who lived on the many dairies dotting the area of San Antonio known as Buttermilk Hill.
For this reason, volunteers from the Associated General Contractors’ Construction Leadership Forum are adopting the historic structure for their restoration project over the next two years. Rotted wood will be repaired, and windows will be repaired with guidance from Fisher Heck Architects and the City of San Antonio’s Historic Preservation Office to ensure the restoration forwards the building’s eligibility for the National Register of Historic Places.
Zac Harris, chair of the Construction Leadership Forum, said:
We want kids to walk in and feel like they’ve stepped back in time. We envision a working farm with live cows – a place where we can all connect with our cultural heritage and better understand San Antonio’s original settlements.
The group is hosting its first fundraiser (in the spirit of an old-fashioned barn-raising, but you won’t have to work before the eating and music get underway) for the restoration of the milking barn on Saturday, May 14, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the farm in Hardberger Park. Music, an art sale and plenty of barbecue will be on hand, and the author of Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill: Voelcker Roots Run Deep in Hardberger Park, will be present to sign books. For ticket information, contact Zac Harris at Joeris General Contractors, 210-494-1638, or Jeff Coyle at 210-826-8899.
As the project continues, I am sure they will need some vintage equipment from dairy operations as well. Any farmers out there with an antique Sears Economy Cream Separator?
The following weekend, the City of San Antonio will celebrate the grand opening of a whole new section of Phil Hardberger Park. The park opens at 8 a.m., with activities beginning at 10 a.m. and running through 7 p.m., on Saturday, May 21. Activities planned for the day include guided nature walks, kite-making and flying, children’s basketball competitions, parachute games and Frisbee tosses. A special feature is the addition of the “Makin’ Hay” exhibit created by sculptor Tom Otterness, previously on display at Espada Park. Parking will be available at the Alon Shopping Center across NW Military Highway from the new entrance to this western part of the park.
Update on May 10, 2011: Jeff Coyle’s post about “Makin’ Hay.”
Update on May 12, 2011: Saturday, May 14, event to include cow-patty bingo.
Update on May 17, 2011: During the event, Forrester Smith, a trustee of the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund, delivered a $10,000 check from the fund to be used for the restoration of the diary barn.