- Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill: Voelcker Roots Run Deep in Hardberger Park
This volume chronicles the farms and farm community that grew along Salado Creek north of the nucleus of San Antonio in the nineteenth century, addressing the shift to dairy farming and then the sale of the farm lands for urban development in the early to mid-twentieth century. In particular, author Gayle Brennan Spencer looks at the lives of Max and Minnie Voelcker, who owned the last dairy farm in this now very urban area just north of Loop 410, and at Minnie’s decision to create a charitable endowment. This decision led to the city’s preservation of the three hundred remaining acres of the farm as Phil Hardberger Park, named for the San Antonio mayor who worked to preserve it.
Beginning with John Coker’s land grant after his service in the Texas Revolution, the author traces the migration of families into what became known first as the Coker settlement and later as Buttermilk Hill because of the growth of the dairy farms along the creek in the late nineteenth century. The picture that emerges is one of rough frontier conditions and periodic outbreaks of feuding and violence within the pioneer community. Spencer provides some good details about what daily life was like here in the mid-to late 1800s.
Max Voelcker was born in 1897, Minnie in 1904. The author traces their ancestry, noting that both grew up in the Buttermilk Hill community and lived in it throughout their lives (Max died in 1980, Minnie in 2000). After their marriage in 1927, the two sold their milk, cream, and butter locally, but saw their dairy farm and others superseded by large commercial operations. Eventually, they sold off parts of their area land holdings, including Minnie’s inherited land from her own farming family. Putting these earnings in the bank, the childless couple lived frugally but amassed wealth; for example, they drew $65,000 in interest in the year 1973 alone.
Such wealth came at a cost. In family wrangles over inheritances of land from pioneer forebears, Max and Minnie became estranged from siblings over what each claimant considered fair division of property. The two were no more contentious than other community members; lawyers had plenty of business on Buttermilk Hill in the mid-twentieth century as former farmlands became real estate gold.
Readers may become frustrated with this narrative at times. If ever a volume needed maps, this one does, yet there are none. (The period photos are helpful, but not in ascertaining locations.) The author often relies on long quotes; while the primary-source quotes add to the narrative, the ones containing secondary information, many of them from the online Handbook of Texas, show a lack of integration. The extensive and repetitive footnoting system for each of the Buttermilk Hill residents mentioned is distracting; much of this could be replaced by a set of family trees to which the reader could refer. However, the author is clearly a conscientious researcher, and this book captures many aspects of a community in formation and change. Like Phil Hardberger Park itself, the book stands as a testament to a lost piece of San Antonio’s past. [End Page 322]