INTRODUCTION TO BASTROP, TEXAS - By John Ronan Broderick
EARLY DAYS IN BASTROP
Unlike most of the towns and cities founded in the first half of the 19th century in Texas, Bastrop did not have its genesis in the era of the Texas Revolution. Rather, it began circa 1805 as a Spanish military post named Puesta del Colorado (Post on the Colorado), strategically situated at the Colorado River Crossing and the Old San Antonio Road, which led to Nacogdoches. The primary purpose of the soldiers at the post was to act as escorts for mail couriers and supply trains that traveled this main highway of early Texas. The entire garrison, if it may be called that, likely never numbered more than 30. The Spanish soldiers decamped their outpost around 1812, when ordered to do so by superiors who reassigned them to San Marcos, where their presence was more urgently required.
Also recorded in the history of this era is the indisputable fact that a Dutch businessman who called himself Philip Hendrik Nering Bogel, the self-styled Baron de Bastrop, was on the run from Dutch authorities for embezzlement of tax funds and had hastily immigrated to America. After a stay in Spanish Louisiana, he came to Spanish Texas when Louisiana was sold to the United States. Forming an invaluable association with the last Spanish Governor of Texas, Antonio Maria Martinez, Bastrop was instrumental in convincing the Spaniard to allow Moses Austin to establish an Anglo-American colony in Texas in 1820. Though Moses died the following year, his son Stephen F. Austin took up the cause of Texas colonization.
By 1823, the Baron de Bastrop was busy helping Austin as his Land Commissioner, and by 1827, serving in this intercessory capacity with the new Mexican government, which had supplanted the Spanish, enabled Austin to obtain permission to establish his “Little Colony” of 100 families on the site. The founding grant was signed by Mexican Land Commissioner Jose Miguel de Arciniega. Austin named the town Villa de Bastrop, in honor of his old friend and go-between. The name of the town was later shortened to Bastrop in the wake of the Texas Revolution of 1836. The town was officially established on June 8, 1832, as the principal settlement of Austin’s “Little Colony.” Commissioner Arciniega had in the original grant himself referred to Bastrop as the “capital” of the new colony.
In the three years following the founding of Bastrop, the population grew to approximately 1,000. It attracted such pioneers as: Josiah Wilbarger, a legendary early Texan who survived for 12 years after being scalped by Comanche Indians in 1833; Reuben Hornsby, one of Austin’s primary surveyors; and Edward Burleson, who was destined to become a commander of Texian Army forces during the Texas Revolution, the third vice president of the Republic of Texas, and a U.S.. Senator from Texas after it was annexed to the United States in 1845.
In 1834, Bastrop was renamed Mina by the Mexican government, after a legendary Spanish general and hero. According to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA): “The town served as a business, commercial and political center . . . . It was the place where settlers rallied for retaliation and forted up for protection when Indian depredations occurred in the vicinity. In May 1835, Mina citizens became the first to organize a committee of safety to stockpile arms and keep citizens informed of revolutionary developments. The town suffered greatly in the Runaway Scrape of 1836, when residents returned to find it completely destroyed by the Mexican army and Indians. Three Bastropians signed the Texas Declaration of Independence in 1836, several died at the Alamo, and 60 men are recorded as having fought at the Battle of San Jacinto.” It can be safely said, without exaggeration, that Bastrop was a bastion of Texas liberty.
Incorporated on December 18, 1837, under the laws of the new Republic of Texas, the fledgling nation’s Congress changed the name back to Bastrop. At the time, the little town, which also became the county seat of Bastrop County that same year, boasted “a courthouse, a hotel, a stockade, a gunsmith shop, a general store, and a number of residences, “ according to the TSHA. Farming and timber, harvested from the nearby Lost Pines Forest, were the primary industries of Bastrop during this period. When Austin, Texas, became the capital of the Republic in 1839, Bastrop began supplying that city, as well as San Antonio, with most of their lumber needs.
The decade of the 1850s witnessed a fair amount of growth in the town. The first newspaper, the Colorado Reveille, published its first issue on November 30, 1851, noting the many advances made since the town’s founding less than two decades earlier; but the paper’s publishers, Desha and Kelly, left town only a few months later. Their newspaper was succeeded on March 3, 1853, by one called the Bastrop Advertiser, which is still in existence today.
The first private co-educational school, the Bastrop Academy, opened in 1852; and in 1857, the male part of the Academy became the Bastrop Military Institute, eventually preparing young men for service in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. The town had, like many other, primarily German, small Texas Hill Country towns, voted against secession from the Union.
In fact, 18 counties voted against secession; 32 newly created counties, not yet organized, reported no voting results whatsoever; most of what we now refer to as West Texas, then known as the Bexar Land District, had not even been divided into counties; there were nowhere near the 254 counties that now comprise the state. Even the Texas Governor, Sam Houston himself, was vehemently opposed to secession, subsequently resulting in him being deposed from office. It is estimated that fully 25% of the state’s population was opposed to leaving the Union. When, however, Texas as a state voted in favor of secession, the citizens of Bastrop supported the cause, both financially and with manpower. For in Texas, as in most democracies, the majority rules.
The 1860s saw disaster strike Bastrop twice: in the form of a devastating fire in the downtown district in 1862; and in 1869 the worst flood in the town’s recorded history forced the residents to evacuate. Undeterred by these catastrophes, the citizens of Bastrop rallied and rebuilt, and the town now has over 130 historic buildings, earning it the honorific, “Most Historic Small Town in Texas.”
The town suffered severe periodic flooding up until the 1930s, until President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal back-to-work programs constructed dams to better control the flooding. The worst catastrophe, however, was yet to come, in the form of the Central Texas Wildfire. In September 2011, Bastrop County suffered the most destructive wildfire in Texas history, which destroyed over 1,600 homes.
Bastrop can legitimately lay claim to being the home of 130 historic buildings, most of them listed on the National Register of Historic Places or the Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks, or both. Ken Kesselus, the Chairman of the Bastrop County Historical Commission, was an immense help in navigating these waters, providing details and anecdotes about the history of the region. Ken was even kind enough to send me the first few pages of his manuscript entitled “Bastrop County Texas Before Statehood,” which enabled me to make several corrections to the first draft of my own article, and for that gesture I am extremely grateful. It’s all in the details. Any mistakes or omissions made in the retelling of the early settlement or architectural history of Bastrop are entirely my own.
According to Wikipedia, which enumerated what they purport to be a comprehensive listing of all these buildings and places that are on the National Register of Historic Places in Bastrop, there are 131 buildings and one commercial downtown district, which by itself accounts for 32 of these structures. It is not within the scope of this article to attempt to list all these buildings, but suffice it to say that of those listed on the National Register, two dozen of them are also on the Recorded Texas Historic Landmarks (RTHL) roster. RTHL is a legal designation by the Texas Historical Commission (THC) and the highest honor the state of Texas can bestow on a historic structure. Of these structures that carry both designations, only one, the Bastrop County Courthouse, built in 1884, also carries the designation of State Antiquities Landmark, an even rarer honor.
Moreover, Bastrop bears the honorific of being a “Texas Main Street” city, a title bestowed upon it in 2007 by the THC. Currently only 88 other communities of the 1,214 in the vast State of Texas, or 7.2%, can lay claim to this honor. Bastrop was also named a Distinctive Destination in 2010 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation; in 2012, the Texas Commission on the Arts designated Bastrop a Cultural Arts District; and it became one of two designated Culinary Districts in the county in 2013.
It is quite possible that Bastrop has more historic structures, per capita, than any other similarly sized town in Texas. One must wonder how many more, and older, buildings would exist today were it not for the fire of 1862, which decimated the downtown area. One would get no argument from this researcher that Bastrop richly deserves the title, “Most Historic Small Town in Texas.” For it was a true cradle for the infant Republic of Texas, the only state in America that was an independent nation before its statehood.
Since it is nigh impossible to cover all 131 structures in Bastrop that fall under the category of structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places, I have selected 11 that I, as an impartial observer, feel best represent the societal, historical, and cultural diversity of the town’s heritage. It is a purely subjective list, I grant you, but I think a fair one. If I have offended any citizen of this wonderful community by my exclusion of their favorite building, I apologize in advance. The list is arranged in chronological order by date of construction. Most are included on both the National Register of Historic Places and Recorded Historic Texas Landmarks.
Circa 1836: Jenkins House is the oldest building in Bastrop, constructed the same year as the Texas Revolution for Sarah Jenkins.
1857: Crocheron-McDowall House is a Greek Revival-style house, which was for many years the social and intellectual center in Bastrop.
1883: Calvary Episcopal Church was, according to Ken Kesselus, designed by renowned 19th century architect Jasper Newton Preston and was the only example of Ecclesiastical architecture he ever did. It was the first building in Bastrop to be listed as a Recorded Historic Texas Landmark.
1884: Bastrop County Courthouse is a three-story, stuccoed-brick Neoclassical Revival structure with a copper-domed clock tower on a flat roof. It represented the governmental organization of the first Anglo-American settlement in Texas. The building used 1.3 million bricks, Austin cut stone, and lumber from the Lost Pines Forest for its construction materials.
1889: Bastrop Opera House is a performance art theater that offers wonderful plays, musicals, and dinner theater shows, as well as concerts.
1889: First National Bank is still in its original location 131 years later.
1892: Old Bastrop County Jail is a distinctive Victorian-styled, three-story, tan and red brick structure designed to belie its primary function.
1892: [Dr.] H.P. Luckett House was built in the Queen Anne style and is a 14-room home. Dr. Luckett, an influential citizen of the period, practiced medicine in Bastrop for almost half a century.
1905: T.A. Hasler House was built in the Classical Revival-style. The two-story home was renovated from a farm house-style dwelling . It was featured in the 2008 Julia Roberts film, Fireflies in the Garden.
1914: Kerr Community Center, aka Kerr Hall, was an African American gathering place in an age of segregation. It also served as a USO for black soldiers stationed at nearby Camp Swift during the Second World War.
1924: Colorado River Bridge, aka “Old Iron Bridge,” is actually constructed of steel, according to my new friend Ken Kesselus and now serves as a pedestrian walkway. He thinks of the bridge as a “time tunnel,” for when one crosses over it, one leaves the 21st century and steps back into the 19th. It is also an appropriate spot to join the quirky International Society of Bridge Spitters, according to a different source.
According to World Population Review calculations, Bastrop, Texas has a 2020 population of 10,120 and is the 241st largest city in Texas. Currently growing at a rate of 3.58% annually, its population has increased 40.21% since the 2010 U.S. Census. More than 11 square miles in area, Bastrop’s population density is 931 people per square mile. Of the 6,768 adults in Bastrop, 1,576, or 23.3%, are seniors.
The city’s average household income is $71,305 with a poverty rate of 5.47%. The median rental cost is $941 per month, with a median house value of $173,300. The median age is 38.8 years and for every 100 females there are 108 males. The rate of home ownership is 54.2%.
According to the most recent ACS (American Community Survey), the racial composition of Bastrop was:
RACE - PERCENTAGE - POPULATION
White: 83.34% - 7,281
Black or African American: 10.37% - 906
Other race: 2.52% - 220
Asian: 1.96% - 171
Two or more races: 1.09% - 95
Native American: 0.72% - 63
There were 789 male high school graduates and 836 female. Those earning a Bachelors Degree were 616 males, 564 females. And among those holding a Graduate degree, 298 were male, while females numbered 340. The highest rate of high school graduates is among Native Americans, with a rate of 100%. And among those holding Bachelors degrees, Asians scored highest with a rate of 45.9%.
In terms of languages spoken, 88.57% of Bastrop citizens speak English only, Spanish is spoken by 8.53% of the population, and other non-English languages are spoken by the remaining 2.9%.
According to the U.S. Census 2018 ACS 5-year Survey, there were 794 veterans, of whom 743 were male and 51 were female. The wars they served in were as follows:
First Gulf War - 309
Second Gulf War - 199
Vietnam - 182
Korea - 22
World War II - 12
Bastrop Place of Birth:
95.04% are native born, of whom 68.61% were born in Texas. Of the 4.96% who are foreign born citizens, most are from Latin American countries, and 2.94% are non-citizens.
THE TEXAS INDEPENDENCE TRAIL
A map of the Texas Independence Trail is made up of 28 contiguous Texas counties where key events occurred during the Texas Revolution. It is a circuitous, criss-crossing sort of map that identifies 40 different sites in southeast and central Texas relevant to Texas’s struggle for independence from Mexico in 1835 and 1836. It is one of ten regions that comprise the Texas Heritage Trails Program of the Texas Historical Commission.
There are the familiar spots that every boy and girl who took Texas History courses in middle school can give a fairly accurate description of: Washington-on-the-Brazos, where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed; the Battle of the Alamo, the most hallowed battleground in Texas, if not world, history; the Massacre at Goliad, where over 425 captured Texian prisoners of war under the command of Colonel James Fannin were summarily executed on the orders of infamous Mexican General Santa Anna; San Jacinto Battleground, where the vastly outnumbered, rag-tag Texian Revolutionary Army under the command of General Sam Houston, routed the superior forces of General Santa Anna while they were taking a siesta, later capturing the cowardly Santa Anna as he attempted to make his escape disguised in a woman’s dress; and the San Jacinto Monument, the tallest war monument in the world. But these account for only five of the 40 sites designated on the map of the Texas Independence Trail.
Every trail must have a beginning, and this trail’s first identified locale to visit is Bastrop, Texas. It is not a chronological map, per se, but one likely conceived by the Texas Historical Commission in its attempt to give the true Texas history buff a significant starting place in his or her quest to visit those
locales where decisive events occurred during the Texas Revolution. The THC could not have chosen a better starting place than Bastrop. Notably, the end of the Trail, number 40, is Cuero, Texas, also much heralded for its preservation of historic buildings. Both the Alpha and the Omega of this historic trail take seriously their responsibilities to preserve the past. Respect must be paid.
As mentioned earlier. Bastrop was destroyed by the invading Mexican army during the Runaway Scrape, of which Wikipedia provides a succinct summary: “The Runaway Scrape events took place mainly between September 1835 and April 1836, and were the evacuations by Texas residents fleeing the Mexican Army of Operations during the Texas Revolution, from the Battle of the Alamo through the decisive Battle of San Jacinto.” Santa Anna’s was essentially a scorched earth policy, a precursor to Sherman’s March through Georgia during the American Civil War. Many Texians decided to burn down their own towns and destroy their crops and livestock to deprive the invading army of food and other provisions.
CHURCHES, A MUSEUM, AND OTHER INDOOR ACTIVITIES
There is no shortage of Christian houses of worship in Bastrop, whether your denomination is Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Non-denominational, Lutheran, Mormon, Church of Christ, Christian, or a Bible church. I counted 18. And some of them can claim a lineage back into the 19th century. For instance, the first Baptist Church ever established in Texas was Providence Baptist Church in 1834, about 12 miles south of Bastrop. As best I could ascertain, it relocated to Bastrop proper and changed its name to First Baptist.
The next congregation to form up appears to have been the First United Methodist Church of Bastrop in 1851. Then there was the Bastrop Christian Church founded in 1857; they still worship in their church built in 1895. It was followed by Calvary Episcopal Church in 1869, which still congregates in its beautiful sanctuary constructed in 1888, the first structure in town to have been designated a Recorded Texas Historic Landmark. As best I could determine, the next denomination to form a congregation was Ascension Catholic Church, which still worships in their 1907 parish. I could uncover no older congregations than these five. If I have overlooked some church that falls in this age range, please accept my humble apologies.
The only facility I could uncover that could rightly fall under the category of “museum” is the Museum and Visitor Center of the Bastrop County Historical Society, aka the Bastrop County Museum and Visitor Center. The Society was founded in 1952 and is located in the renovated historic City Hall. Here can be found exhibits that cover a 200-year period, from Native American relics to artifacts and documents from early European settlers, on up through the 1960s, an era which is fair game since it is now 50 years old. Special exhibits and dioramas tell history in chronological sequence. One of the newest exhibits is called “Cowboys, Cows, and Cattlemen.”
I wonder if a special exhibit is devoted to the Vietnam War, where 60,000 of my comrades-in-arms lost their lives? The only Bastrop County soldier I could uncover in my research who died during that war was U.S. Army Spec-4 Donnell Phillips, who was killed in action at the Battle of Ia Drang Valley, the first major confrontation between American military and the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) in the Vietnam War. The battle was made famous by the Mel Gibson Film, We Were Soldiers [Once . . . and Young]. The official Army photograph of Phillips, who was from Smithville, shows the face of a brightly smiling, young African American who had volunteered to serve his country. I apologize to the memory of any other Bastrop County Vietnam War K-I-A’s I may have overlooked due to inadequate research on my part.
It is hard to believe that was 50 years ago. I reckon that makes me an old man. And as novelist Cormac McCarthy observed in the title of one of his finest books, there just ain’t No Country for Old Men. I hasten to add that the novel was adapted into a multi-Academy Award-winning film starring fellow Texan Tommy Lee Jones, who was born in San Saba, only a hop, skip, and a jump down the road from Bastrop. Just an aside. folks.
Founded in 1998 as the Bastrop Fine Arts Guild, but now known as the Lost Pines Arts Center, this 12,000 square-foot indoor/outdoor facility is located in the century-old Powell Cotton Seed Mill and silos. Fine art from all over the world, with special emphasis on local artisans, is on exhibit here, much even created in the studios here. Classes for both adults and children are offered in various art forms.
OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES IN AND AROUND BASTROP
Situated in the heart of the 6,000-acre Lost Pines Forest is Bastrop State Park, which was established in 1933. It is located less than two miles from Bastrop and consists of 200 acres and features an 8.5-mile hiking trail good for backpacking and primitive camping. Adjacent to it is a lake, which is suitable for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Equipment can be rented at the nearby Bastrop River Company. There is also an 18-hole golf course spread through the forest and a swimming pool that is open during the summer months. Wildlife consists of the endangered Houston Toad, white-tailed deer, squirrels, rabbits, and armadillos. For adrenaline junkies there are zip lining at Zip Lost Pines and rock climbing at McKinney Roughs.
The park and the Lost Pines Forest surrounding it are still in recovery mode from the 2011 Central Texas Wildfire that destroyed 95% of the park. It makes for an invaluable learning experience for youngsters, however, enabling them to witness firsthand the devastation that can occur from a forest fire but also to see the resiliency of nature in recovering from such a disaster. Fortunately, the facilities constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) were untouched by the wildfire; they have been designated a National Landmark.
The Lost Pines are so-called because of their genetic match with the loblolly pine trees that are found in the East Texas Piney Woods 100 miles to the east. Geologists attribute the separation of these genetic twins to a massive prehistoric glacier that tore the forest into two parts.
Located three miles northeast of Bastrop is Lake Bastrop, a 900-acre reservoir created from the Colorado River Basin. A
perfect spot for fishing and other forms of water recreational activities, it also offers cabins, tent camping, and RV campsites.
Within walking distance of the downtown district is Fisherman’s Park, which is the largest and most popular of Bastrop’s city parks. Situated along the Lower Colorado River, it offers fishing (as the name implies) as well as a kiddie splash pool, basketball courts, canoeing, kayaking, two covered pavilions, a fenced playground area, a boat dock and ramp, fishing pier, 21 picnic tables, BBQ pits, sand volleyball and tennis courts, and a soccer field. It makes for a great respite from all the shopping at the antique stores and specialty shops in century-old downtown Bastrop.
Finally, there are at least three annual festivals: Spring’s Sherwood Forest Faire; the Bastrop Music Festival in May; and the Veterans Day Cruise-In and Car Show held each November. As one can readily see, there’s a fistful of things to do in this Texas town of 10,000 stout-hearted souls.
HEALTHCARE FACILITIES AND HOTELS
There is no shortage of professional medical care available in Bastrop: Ascension Seton Bastrop Hospital; the Bastrop Family Medical Center; St. David’s Emergency Center; Physician’s Premier Emergency Room; Lakeside Hospital; Fast Aid Urgent Care; Lost Pines Family Health Clinic; Ascension Health, with two locations; and Seton Physical Therapy and Fitness Center.
Similarly, for the weary traveler in need of a place to lay his head, B and B’s, hotels, inns, and motels in all price ranges abound. There’s no sense saving the best for last in this enumeration of Bastrop’s finest hostelries. The four-starred Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort and Spa is a riverside retreat set on 405 acres in nearby Cedar Creek, Texas. It offers a water park as well as the Hyatt Wolfdancer Golf Club, an 18-hole championship golf course designed by world-renowned golf course architect Arthur Hills.
The remaining nine which round out the top ten such establishments are arranged in no particular order here, so the sequence of the list bears no significance to the quality, or price, of the inn or hotel shown: Comfort Suites Bastrop; Hampton Inn Suites Bastrop; Quality Inn Bastrop; Best Western Bastrop Pines Inn; Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites Bastrop; Days Inn by Wyndham Bastrop; the Perry Riverhouse; Casa del Rio Bed and Breakfast; and Yerber at Bastrop.
EATERIES AND WATERING HOLES
There are more places to eat and drink in Bastrop than you can shake a stick at. A fellow could go cross-eyed trying to keep count of all the places to chow down or wet his whistle. In such lists I try to avoid the national chains and fast-food restaurants, because everybody has already pretty much got their favorites. My focus is always on the locally owned and operated establishments, and I will make this comment about such eateries in Bastrop: they sure seem to have their fair share of barbeque and Tex-Mex type joints. But that’s okay by me since I am Texas-born and bred and those are about the only kinds of places I like to eat in anyway. Here’s what I came up with, again in no particular order that infers the quality of the food or drink.
Fitties BBQ; Southside Market and BBQ, Texas’s oldest BBQ joint, dating back to the 1880s (I’m just sayin’ . . .); Morelia Mexican Grill; 602 on Main (the number is not the address but rather the last three digits of Bastrop’s zip code); Pine Creek Chop House; Johnson’s Bakery; La Hacienda; The Roadhouse; Paw-Paw’s Catfish House; Neighbor’s Kitchen and Yard; Refresqueria 95 Serves Tacos; Baxters on Main; Bastiano’s Pizzeria and Creamery; Texas Grill Restaurant; Cedar’s Mediterranean Grill; Los Cocinas; Jalisco Mexican Restaurant; Billy’s Pit Barbq; El Nuevo Mexico; Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant; Maxine’s Café; and Bassano Del Grappa Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria. Now that’s a mouthful!
Back 9 Bar; Old Town Restaurant and Bar; Bastrop Beer Company; Pit Stop Sports Grill; Copper Shot Distillery; Consilina Pizzeria; Leon’s Country Store (an old-fashioned Texas honky-tonk); Radiant Mama Juice Bar; and (who would’ve thought it?) Kyoto Sushi (kind of makes me hanker for a sake martini). Of course, all the aforementioned restaurants also likely serve alcohol, so Bastrop probably has as many places, per capita, to wet your whistle as it does buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, per capita, in the great State of Texas.
My general impression of the Baron de Bastrop is that he was some kind of wheeler-dealer. Just take a look at his legacy. Any town that has experienced a 40% population growth rate in the last decade has got something going for it. I trust that my little article on Bastrop has shed some light on why that is.
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