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From the Heart of the Texas Hill Country


1931 Earthquake in Kerrville

Story by Norman Luther, Jr., from his Autobiography
Edited by Joseph Neal Luther
© 2004



In 1931, Leland, my brother, had reached maturity and my Dad made him partner in a service station called “The Wide Awake Garage” operated by H. N. Luther & Son.  It was located across the San Antonio Road from the main entrance to Schreiner College.

(Click here to see a photo of “The Wide Awake Garage”)


Since we named the business “The Wide Awake Garage”, it was necessary to have a night man on duty, so that was Leland.   My job was to sleep in the office and keep a light on outside.   Anyone wanting service would ring a bell.   We had to get up in the middle of the night on many occasions to sell gas.


The one and only known earthquake to hit Kerrville occurred one night when Leland and I were sound asleep at the Wide Awake Garage.   To awaken to the sounds of an earthquake can be most puzzling.   On this night, we had been in bed several hours when a parts rack – consisting of about eight metal shelves filled with auto parts and

accessories – began dancing around the floor.   This made an awful noise as car parts began dropping on the floor, scaring the devil out of two sleepy heads.


We did not have the slightest idea what was going on since we had never experienced anything like this before.  We imagined all sorts of things.   We turned on all the lights to look around for a burglar.  When we could not find the reason or cause of this disturbance, we locked up the garage and got the heck out of there and went home “all shook up”.


The next morning we heard on the news that Kerr County had experienced an earthquake.   The fault line was visible out on Tivy Mountain Road.




Editor’s Notes
by Joseph Luther


 The “fault line” that was visible on Tivy Mountain Road was still visible in my youth as late as 1950.  Today, I believe it was probably a slope failure type of earth movement rather than a fault line.  It had the appearance of a fault scarp on the north side of Cypress Creek Road just before the turnoff to ascend Tivy Mountain.   The vertical displacement and lateral distance implied a modest movement.


The verification of this earthquake and its strength as felt in Kerrville can be found in the following publication:  Earthquake Information Bulletin, Volume 9, Number 3, May-June 1977, by Carl A. von Hake.   This US Geological Survey publication is available at


This is how Carl A. von Hake’s report describes this earthquake:  ”The 1931 western Texas earthquake heavily damaged many buildings at Valentine.  Also, many chimneys fell (VIII).  The shock occurred at 5:40 AM on August 16; although people were panic stricken, there were no fatalities and only a few minor injuries from falling adobe.  Adobe buildings suffered most, and cement and brick walls in many places were badly cracked.    Even though Valentine bore the brunt of the shock, damage was reported from widely scattered points
in Brewster, Culberson, Jeff Davis and Presidio Counties.   Cracked walls and damaged chimneys were reported from several towns.   The total felt area covered about 647,000 square kilometers in Texas and New Mexico and an estimated 518,000 square kilometers in Mexico.  The earthquake was accompanied by rumbling subterranean sounds heard over practically the entire affected area.   The shock, measured at magnitude 6.4, was strongly recorded on all seismographs in North America and at stations all over the world.   Numerous aftershocks were felt in the epicentral region; the strongest on August 18, was intensity V at Alpine, Lobo, Pecos and Valentine and intensity IV at Carlsbad, New Mexico.  A minor aftershock was felt at Valentine on November 3”


While we may not think of Kerrville as an earthquake-prone location such as San Francisco, the community does have some potential for earth movement as shown by the maps from USGS at the URL shown above.


Joseph Luther, Ph.D.
Lincoln, Nebraska

         © 2004


About Joseph Neal Luther:  He was born in Kerrville, Texas, in 1943, and graduated from Tivy High School in 1961.   He was a combat veteran of the Viet Nam War, serving in an air rescue squadron and in aeromedical evacuation.  He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Eastern Washington University, Spokane, WA, and his Master of Urban and Regional Planning degree and Doctor of Environmental Design degree from the College of Architecture at Texas A&M University.   He taught at Eastern Washington University from 1974 to 1983 where he was Department Chairman.   He served as Associate Dean of the College of Architecture at the University of Nebraska from 1983 to 1994 at which time he returned to full-time teaching.   He was endowed Professor of Community Planning and Architecture and retired from the University in May 2004 after 31 years of teaching.  


He has received numerous awards for his teaching, research and service in the field of small town and rural planning.   He is a 32nd degree Mason and has two children, Christopher Neal Luther and Stephanie Lea Luther Dahmke.   


Beverly Ann Luther, sister of Joseph Neal Luther, was also born in Kerrville, in 1937, and married Joseph Glenn Reagan, a geologist, in 1958.   He was killed in an industrial accident on an oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico in 1961.   Beverly died in 2002 at Bryan, Texas.    Beverly and Joseph were the children of Norman Luther, Jr., and Marjorie Neal Luther. (This information is from the Luther Family Genealogy compiled by Joseph Luther – exerpts of which are found in another section of  “Kerr Photos & More”)


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