Leon Valley carved stone marks a time of change


A message from nearly a century ago resurfaced last month when an inscribed rock fragment emerged during electrical work at the Huebner-Onion Homestead, a historic landmark dating back to 1858. It is the the year Austrian immigrant Joseph Huebner began building on a once-remote site that is now in the center of Leon Valley, a municipality northwest of San Antonio.

First, some information about the farm.

Huebner, a jeweler by trade, continued to expand his acreage, where he raised cattle, and built limestone structures on his creekside property – a one-room house that later became a kitchen, followed by a larger two-story house later. furnished with a porch and a balcony and an exposed stone barn.

The Huebners sometimes provided food and lodging for stagecoach passengers if a rising creek interrupted travelers’ progress toward Bandera as they headed west into California. Services at the stopover included blacksmithing and fresh horses as well as overnight lodging, says a Texas Historical Commission marker, and ‘well into the early 20th century the family continued to operate the ranch, the watering hole and the livery service on this earth”.

Huebner died in 1882 at age 58; according to legend, he drank a visitor’s whiskey and somehow mistook a bottle of kerosene for more of the same. The pioneer was buried on the property and later gave his name to several important features of the growing community – a road, a stream, eventually a school and numerous businesses.

The other half of the farm’s history belongs to the Onion family. In 1930, the family of Judge John F. “Pete” Onion Sr. and his wife, Harriet, purchased part of the Huebner property and moved into the house with their twin sons, John “Jack” and James “Jim” , born in 1925, who also grew up to be judges. Harriet Onion, a teacher in local schools, remained in the historic house until her death in 1983.

After a period of decline, the Leon Valley Historical Society raised funds for a multi-year restoration project that preserved 19th-century structures and transformed the surrounding land into a natural area. The property has been recognized as a Texas Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Due to its age and architectural importance, the property has required almost perpetual renovation throughout this century.

This is how he delivered his last mystery.

During recent work on the main house, the contractor‘s team “found some interesting rock” while digging a trench for the power line, said historical society board member Ruth Lyle. The piece of stone that has arisen in the front yard of the monument is engraved with “S Zettner/1933”. As this is an irregularly shaped piece, additional letters or words may be missing.

A stone recently unearthed at the Huebner-Onion farm, which dates back to 1858, may refer to a contractor who worked on an addition in the 1930s.

During the early to mid-1930s, as Jack’s son Frank Onion reported to society volunteers, the family made a few additions to the first and second floors of the house. “I wonder if Zettner was a stonemason or a builder at that time,” said Linda Persyn, former president of the Leon Valley Historical Society. “Any information on ‘S Zettner’ would be appreciated.”

Some research on this has revealed a possibility.

Lyle learned from company records that the builder of the addition — which included two bathrooms for the growing family — was Falbo Bros., who was part of a well-connected family in the construction industry.

Checking the surname on the stone fragment – either “Zettner” or possibly “Zeffner”, others found a good possibility. At the Conservation Society of San Antonio library, a volunteer found Carl S. Zettner in the San Antonio city directories for 1931-32 and 1934-35 along with a mention of his participation in a renovation project ( a house “updated in materials and workmanship”) advertised as a show home by Ed. Steves & Sons Lumber in the San Antonio Express, December 2, 1934, during the period of Onion’s addition.

At the San Antonio Genealogical and Historical Society Library, Registrar Stephen Mabie found the Zettner family during the 1930 U.S. Census. At that time, there were three sons in their twenties — Walter, Theodore, and Carl — who were all living with their mother and sister and all listed as plumbers. Carl, the eldest, was then a master plumber and owner of a shop. Ten years later, Carl was still a plumber, while the others had changed jobs: Walter was listed as a teacher, and Theodore had become a firefighter. No one is ever identified as a stonemason, but the inscription is not particularly accurate, although some of the vagueness may relate to being buried and re-unearthed.

Still mysterious…why would any of the few contractors working on the onion house addition want to commemorate their contribution to the project? Youthful spirit or lost tradition in the building trades? If you’ve seen similar engraved stones, for Zettner or another contractor, share your findings and photos with this column.

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