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The Boerne Visitor Center has a past!

The Boerne Visitor Center (IE: Menger-Kingsbury-Shumard Ranch House) as many folks know it is a little old house in the Wal-Mart parking lot. However its story goes way back! We hope you will come visit us some time soon and see the beautiful buildings for yourself!

The Boerne Visitor Center is currently located on an acre of the land that was granted to John Small in 1838 by the President of the Republic of Texas. Mr. Small was given 1280 acres in reward for his service during the Battle of San Jacinto which was fought in 1836 and allowed the Republic of Texas to become an independent country. His land was rich, containing creeks and an ancient Native-American trail, called the Camino Viejo which ranged to the northwest. Mr. Small did not live long after receiving his grant and died in 1841.

Legend has it that Mr. Small built the original two room rock house with the stone tower which was a defensive measure against the Indians. The Apache and Comanche were so fierce that much of the land rush was actually a land-survey rush. People wanted to own the land but they were afraid to live on it. Mr. Small may have never set foot on his land.

After Mr. Small died, Mrs. Small sold a portion of the property to Simon Menger (who operated a soap and candle factory in San Antonio) for $480. Mr. Small’s daughter also sold a portion of the property to Dr. W.G. Kingsbury who was a soldier during the Mexican-American War. For a while there was a dispute between Menger and Kingsbury as to ownership and Mr. Menger eventually sold his portion.

Dr. Kingsbury was born in New York in 1823. After the Mexican American war, he became a dentist and practiced in San Antonio. He bought land in Boerne in 1853 and named it the Molar Ranch. Dr. Kingsbury, a very colorful man, was a well-known speaker and a prolific writer. While Commissioner of Immigration, he brought large numbers of English immigrants to Texas and to Boerne. He was a signer of the 1859 petition to form Kendall County and was a member of the Episcopal Church in Boerne. He raised horses and cattle, and was involved in establishing a local polo field.

It is unknown when the small rock house and tower located on the property were constructed and who built them but it is thought that Dr. Kingsbury expanded the original rock house. Determined to prepare the English immigrants to be good pioneers, Dr. Kingsbury taught them how to build walls using native materials. They built most of the rock walls that still encircle the house and tower building. Dr. Kingsbury died in 1896 and is buried in the Boerne cemetery.

In 1906, Dr. Kingsbury’s son Ferdinand sold 66 ½ acres for $665.00 cash to M.A. Shumard. Property tax records in 1907 show a large value increase which shows that this is most likely when the big house was built. The additions were believed to have been in about 1929, when the porch was enclosed and the large living room added. After Shumard Sr. died, Shumard Jr. designed and built a roof garden on top of the living room. The main house has a large attic that, according to Mrs. Shumard, was where the cattle wranglers were housed. Later, separate quarters were built to bunk the cowboys. The Shumard family owned the property for 94 years.

When Judge Shumard died in 1999, part of his estate was sold to a private corporation headed by Phil Bakke for $1,750,000. They, in turn, sold to Wal-Mart. The negotiations involved the ownership and removal of the buildings. They remained in Phil Bakke’s name. Because the buildings were never listed with the Texas Historical Commission or National Trust, they were in danger of being demolished. Howard Calder of the Kendall County Historical Commission and the City of Boerne appealed to Wal-Mart to save the historical buildings. Wal-Mart donated the 0.973 acres on which the buildings were located to the City of Boerne with the stipulation that they be used for public purposes. Phil Bakke donated the main house and sold the City the tower building for $30,000.

The house is of cut limestone construction with plaster over stone. The old house is shaded by huge live oaks and situated on a high bank above the Menger Creek. The house went through extensive renovations from a dark abandoned residence to a bright and beautiful space that is now being used to house the Boerne Convention and Visitors Bureau’s administrative offices and visitor center. The Boerne Convention and Visitors Bureau officially opened its doors in October 2005.

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