Alamo Area Master Naturalist (AAMN) Maria Kaylor re-wrote this piece from AAMN Wendy Thornton’s earlier version. That version was based on the book Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill: Voelcker Roots Run Deep in Hardberger Park by Gayle Brennan Spencer, © 2010.
About 12 miles northwest of San Antonio, the original limestone house and the dairy were built in the 1870’s and in 1896 respectively on what would become the Voelcker Homestead. The land that the house and dairy barn were on, along with the surrounding area, became known as “Buttermilk Hill” due to the growing number of dairy farms that cropped up in the latter part of the 1800’s. In the early settlement of the area, there were many hardships that had to be endured. For example, when nearby creeks ran dry, the nearest water access was San Pedro Springs located a half-day wagon-ride away.
The Voelcker Homestead
Louis Voelcker was one of the many pioneering dairy farmers in the area in the latter half of the 1800’s. In 1917, Louis purchased over 300 acres of land bordering Salado Creek where the aforementioned limestone house and dairy barn stood. When Louis’s son Max married Minnie Tomerlin in 1925, Minnie reportedly refused to live in the simple limestone house. So in 1927, Max had a craftsman-style home built for Minnie. The home was built toward the front of the homestead where they lived until their deaths.
Max and Minnie Voelcker carried on the dairy tradition of Max’s father and the other pioneering farmers of the time. Over the years, they acquired more acreage—growing their land to 1000 acres. While Max primarily worked the farm, Minnie delivered milk to San Antonio. They began to sell their milk and other dairy products at wholesale to larger dairies in San Antonio during the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Due to dairy price wars and the move toward larger and more automated dairy operations, Max and Minnie sold off their dairy cows in 1947 and transitioned to cattle ranching and leasing their land for hunting. In order to live more comfortably, Max and Minnie sold a large parcel of their land in 1971. After Max’s death of cancer at the age of 82 in 1980, Minnie continued to manage the ranching operations. Minnie died at the age of 96 in 2000. They did not have any children.
Transition to Hardberger Park
Max and Minnie were known for their frugality (for example, not having air conditioning installed in their house until their caretakers repeatedly requested it) and their philanthropy. Minnie was passionate about helping children in need and finding cures for diseases like cancer. Therefore, in the 1990’s, Minnie established the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund which is still contributing today to causes such as medical research at the University of Texas Health Science Center, the care for children with disabilities at Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, and the operation of Boysville, Inc.
In 2006 and 2007, Mayor Phil Hardberger led efforts by The City of San Antonio to purchase the 311-acre parcel from the Voelcker estate which included the 5-acre farming complex of the Voelcker Homestead. Groundbreaking for Voelcker Park took place in February 2009, In December of that year, the park was renamed Phil Hardberger Park in recognition of the former mayor who worked so diligently to make the park a reality.
There have been several initiatives at the historic Voelcker Homestead. In 2013, the restoration of the 1,500-square-foot dairy barn was completed and is now used to educate school-aged children about the history of San Antonio. The Alamo Area Master Naturalist (AAMN) Butterfly Learning Center (BLC for short) is located next to the historic dairy barn; the BLC boasts plants that are food sources and/or larval hosts for a wide array of butterflies. The BLC also has a “hatch house” that is used to protect butterflies during their chrysalis-to-butterfly phase. The hatch house is located behind the Children’s Vegetable Garden which is a place for school-aged children to learn hands-on (literally!) about gardening. In 2014, the original 1870’s limestone house was restored and is now used as the offices of the Phil Hardberger Conservancy.
While the homestead itself is only open to the public for special events and educational programs, you can enjoy views of the homestead while accessing the nearby Salado Creek Greenway Trail that run through Phil Hardberger Park. The homestead area is located at 1021 Voelcker Lane adjacent to the The Voelcker Homestead Trailhead parking area.
For material for children see History of Voelcker Farm