I am a “junkie” for Texas roadside, historical markers. I try to stop and read each one I see. This has not always been the case. For most of my life, I was too busy, had too much on my mind, or in a hurry to get to the next place to stop and read the markers. I always planned to come back and read the sign another time. That almost never happened.
One day, I smelled a rose and realized what a pleasure it is to catch a whiff of the pleasing fragrance of a flower—to stop and smell the roses. At some time in our lives, most of us begin to slow down and take time for life’s little pleasantries such as reading roadside historical markers.
I’ve learned about old cattle drive trails, grist mills, historic ranches and homes, plus many other facts and tidbits. One of my favorite markers rests on Highway 27 between Kerrville and Comfort. It lies on the north side of the highway about two miles west of Comfort. The sign marks the location of the old Apelt Armadillo Farm.
There is an old homestead and several outbuildings on the property. I stood there for several minutes and visualized a farm that raised armadillos…Only in Texas! I could the big smile on my face as I drove off.
I pass the sign and homestead frequently. I use the highway to go see my kids in Boerne, a heart specialist who comes to Comfort monthly, as an alternate route to San Antonio, and sometimes to have dinner in Comfort at Guenther’s. After passing the sign a number of times and after stopping to read the sign several times I decided to enter the twenty-first century and Google “armadillo farm.” Sure enough, there it was.
Charles Apelt, an emigrant from Germany, migrated to the Comfort area in the late 1800s. He caught an armadillo while wandering his land and decided to cook it over an open fire. According to legend, he found it quite tasty. He admired the armor that protected the little mammal and thought about what he could do with the shell. He’d worked in a basket making business in Germany so he devised a way to make a basket out of the shield. It didn’t take long before he had a thriving business. What began as a basket business grew into an expanded line that included purses, smoke stands, lamp shades and more.
The baskets sold for $2.50-$15.00 depending on the ornamentation. He took his products to the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair where they were a hit. At its peak, Apelt Armadillo Farm was the largest employer in Kerr County. Apelt built a substantial homestead with several outbuildings and a series of concrete tunnels in his front yard where his armadillos lived and reproduced. Apelt passed, and eventually the business closed. The homestead went into disarray and was ready to fall over when a local antique dealer, Harriett Gorman, bought the place. She took great pains to restore the property over a period of seven years. It is quite charming as it stands today.
As I pass the farm, I notice that lights are rarely on in the house. It is like no one is ever home. The only automobile I ever see is an old pickup truck, which has been there every time I have passed. And…the pickup is always in the same exact location on the back driveway.
I have passed there at 5:30 a.m. and as late as 10:00 p.m. Every so often, two porch lights are aglow, but there is never any action. I have seen inside lights illuminated on several occasions, but not often.
My imagination goes wild when I pass the property. Where is the activity? Where are the people? Do armadillos live there now? Have they taken over the place and eaten all the people in retribution for killing so many of their ancestors? I will find the answers. It may require that I camp out in one of the trees on the property disguised in an armadillo costume, but I will find out.