|House near completion, 1948|
Joe Herring wrote about the house in the May 9-10, 2009, Kerrville Daily Times. This column does not appear on his blog, but it can be read on-line here. (Alternatively, the original story from 1948 can be read at newspaperarchive.com or newspapers.com. Both are subscription sites.) Some of this was taken from that column. The original story is quite entertaining. I think I would have enjoyed knowing her!
Nettalie Russell Bateman was born 28 December 1895 in Texas. In the 1930 census she was living at 3 Bonner Street, Tyler, with her husband J. Kirby Bateman, a dental surgeon. They had been married 17 years and had no children. By 1940 they had moved to the Whitesborough Road, also in Tyler. His 1954 death certificate said he was never married, but that is wrong. They were divorced. When she died the obituary in the New Braunfels Herald Zeitung incorrectly called her his widow.
She enlisted in the Women's Army Corps on 20 October 1943 from Smith County and served in the Engineers Division of the Army Air Corp, Eighth Service Command. While a WAC she dreamed of a house she would one day own. According to her nephew, she was injured in the course of her service, and after her discharge she moved to Kerrville for outpatient care at the VA Hospital. She bought a vacant lot at the corner of Tivy and Garden Streets from G. L. and Iva Richeson. She was unable to find anyone to build her dream house, so she began to do the work herself, donning a parachute suit for protection against the weeds and started clearing the lot. When she was unable to buy quality lumber for her house, she switched to rock and built her house herself with almost no help—but with lots of sidewalk superintending from the community. It took two years, but she did it.
From Joe Herring's column
City Hall hasn’t changed much .... According to the story, Mrs. Bateman reported “I was told that I must first have a plumbing permit before I could get a building permit…I finally got a plumbing permit after I haunted a plumber’s shop until he began to suspect that I had taken advantage of the housing shortage and had moved in on him.”
After finally getting the building permit, she spent several days staking off the foundation, which was “L-shaped, 44 feet on one side and 40 feet across the front.”
She dug the foundation herself by hand, often with an audience telling her she was doing it all wrong.
“The day I that I finished the excavating for the foundation, a man from the city hall stopped by…and told me that to conform with a city ordinance, I would have to move the foundation in 10 feet.”
It took 2 weeks to fill in the excavation and dig another 10 feet inside.
Then came construction – which took almost 2 years. People stopped and asked her what she was doing; in small town Kerrville, in the 1940s, everyone knew she was a divorcee who’d been in the Army. She told everyone she was building an arsenal.
“Except for several days help from school boys and occasional lifts from old men, she did the entire job herself,” the article concludes. “She wore out more than three dozen pairs of heavy leather gloves, but at the finish there was not a scratch or callus on her hands.”
Then December 1948, after all that work, she sold the property to Frank R. Stevenson and wife. At some point she also enrolled at Schreiner Institute, taking classes and maintaining honor roll status while building this house. She then moved to Austin to enroll at the University of Texas, while also serving as director of Kirby Hall women's dormitory at the university. After graduation with a Master’s in Speech Therapy she served as a special education teacher in Comal ISD in the 1950s and early 1960s. She died 26 April 1987 in Comal County at her “writer’s cabin” in Dripping Springs
This building was restored in 2009 and continues to serve its original purpose today.