Williamson County
Historical Commission

contact Wayne Ware (512) 863-2202


San Gabriel Park Historical Marker
E. of Austin Ave., N of San Gabriel River, in San Gabriel Park, Georgetown



click on thumbnail image for an enlarged view

San Gabriel Park, Georgetown

 

 

GPS Coordinates
North 30o 39' 01.2" - West 97o 40' 14.6"

UTM 14 R - east 0627397 - north 3391399

 

Marker Text
The land and springs around this site made it a favored camping site for local Indian tribes for centuries before the Spanish discovered it. Raids, drought and conflict led the Spanish to abandon the area in 1756. The Mexican State of Coahuila and Texas granted a colonization contract to Robert Leftwich in 1825. Conflicting contracts were granted to Stephen F. Austin and Sterling C. Robertson. George W. Glasscock, Sr. (1810-1868) purchased the land while speculating for Thomas B. Huling and Company. In 1839 Glasscock received two headrights including this land as part of his share of assets when the company dissolved. The site had become a popular gathering place for settlers when Sam Houston spoke here in 1859. It became known as "The Fairgrounds." Large annual fairs, reunions and religious revivals drew crowds from surrounding areas. The county's first public hanging took place here in 1886. Williamson County Old Settlers' Association, formed in 1904, used the area for annual gatherings, eventually leasing 33 acres and building reunion structures. Helen Glasscock, the widow of George Glasscock, Jr., sold the site to I. M. Williams in 1912. A devastating flood in 1921 swept away the fairgrounds. Georgetown citizens requested that the city buy the site from the Williams family and name it San Gabriel Park in 1933. Under the direction of R. E. Ward, the city improved the park in the 1930s and 1940s. A river wall, low water crossing, large building and rest rooms were erected with funding and labor from the Federal Works Progress Administration. Rodeo pens, sports fields and further land acquisitions continue to ensure that the park provides recreation and shelter for area citizens. (1999)


view PDF
a speical thanks to the Willismson County Sun for this slice of history
"San Gabriel Park recognized one of state's natural treasures"
 



 

San Gabriel Park

This narrative  was researched by
Frances Shell and John J. Leffler, and written by John J. Leffler.

 

What is now known as San Gabriel Park is in Georgetown, Texas, near the confluence of the North and South Forks of the San Gabriel River. The vicinity was visited by Indians for thousands of years, but the site's historical uniqueness began to unfold in 1848, when Georgetown was founded as the seat of newly-created Williamson County. For many years the property was owned by George W. Glasscock, Sr., who in 1848 had donated land for Georgetown's original townsite. As Georgetown grew, the beautiful site along the San Gabriel became a fairground and a popular area for socializing and civic events. In 1933 the City of Georgetown purchased about 154 acres along the San Gabriel, including the old fairgrounds, and the area became a public park. Since that time the park's acreage has expanded, and the city has made a number of improvements on the property, which is still a locus of local social and civic activities.

 

Archeological evidence has established that people have lived in the Williamson County area, including what is now San Gabriel Park, since at least 4500 B.C. The earliest Indians known to have occupied the Williamson County area during the historic period were the Tonkawas. By the early 18th century, Apaches and Comanches also roamed through the area, often traveling along the San Gabriel River. [1] An Indian burial ground was discovered near the San Gabriel River during the 1930s in the western portion of what is now San Gabriel Park. [2]

 

Spanish explorers probably first traversed the Williamson County area in the late 17th century, but did not become familiar with the region until the early 18th. In 1716 the Ramon-Denis expedition crossed the San Gabriel River about thirty miles west of present-day Georgetown, and named the stream the San Xavier; [3] and in 1721, the Aguayo expedition crossed the North and South forks of the San Xavier (San Gabriel), probably a few miles west of Georgetown's present site. [4] The Spanish established three missions and a presidio on the San Gabriel, just east of the border between present-day Williamson and Milam counties, during the late 1740s and early 1750s. Apaches, sometimes traveling up the San Gabriel from the Williamson County area, attacked the missions on a number of occasions. These raids, combined with drought, disease and mismanagement, finally convinced the Spanish to abandon the missions in 1756.5 Nevertheless, the Spanish continued to travel through the region. In 1761, for example, Don Felipe de Rabago y Teran traveled along the San Gabriel, and may well have crossed through what is now San Gabriel Park. [6]

 

On April 15, 1825, the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas approved a colonization contract with a group led by Robert Leftwich; the huge tract opened to settlement by this agreement encompassed present Williamson County, including the present site of San Gabriel Park. On August 6 of that year, Leftwich's group sold the rights to colonize the area to another group, called the Texas Association, with the stipulation that the area would thereafter be known as Leftwich's Grant. When the Mexican government reconfirmed the contract in 1827, however, it was officially granted to "the Nashville Company," after Stephen F. Austin, acting as an agent for the Texas Association, loosely translated the name of the group as "the Company from Nashville." Later, though Austin was supposed to be negotiating with the Mexican government on behalf of the interests of Sterling Clack Robertson and other stockholders of the Nashville group, he applied to the government for the area himself; and in February 1831, the contract for the area was awarded to Austin and his secretary, Samuel May Williams. Between 1831 and 1834 the area was known as the "upper colony," but Austin and Williams never deeded any land to actual settlers in the area.

 

In 1834 the Austin and Williams contract with respect to the Nashville Colony was cancelled, a new contract was awarded to Sterling Clack Robertson, and the contract area became known as "Robertson's Colony." In 1835, a number of tracts in Williamson County were granted by the Mexican government under the terms of Robertson's contract; the second of these, a

one-league tract granted August 10, 1835 to one Orvill Perry, included the site of present-day San Gabriel Park.' (See Map 1) Perry never seems to have occupied the San Gabriel league, however, and for reasons that are not clear his grant was apparently vacated by 1839, when it was divided into three separate one-third league tracts. (See Map 1)

 

In 1839 two of these tracts were surveyed for George Washington Glasscock (1810-1868). Glasscock, born in Kentucky, had once been a partner with Abraham Lincoln on a flatboat on the Sangamon River in Illinois, and had fought in the Blackhawk War. In 1835 he arrived in Texas and established himself at Zavala, Jasper Municipality. [8] Glasscock had acquired the rights to the San Gabriel tracts in a roundabout fashion. From 1835 to January 1839, Glasscock had been partners with Thomas B. Huling and Henry W. Millard in a wide-ranging land speculation operation known as Thomas B. Huling and Company. [9] In October 1835, acting for the partnership, Glasscock had bought the headright of one Antonio Flores, an illiterate 21-year old single man born in Texas when it was owned by Spain; Glasscock paid Flores $105 for his headright and power of attorney to use it to obtain the rights to a land grant later. In March, 1838, Glasscock, again acting for the partnership, similarly acquired the headright and a power of attorney from one Nicholas Porter, who had arrived in Texas in 1835; Glasscock paid Porter $250. [10] When Huling and Co. was dissolved as a partnership in January 1839, Glasscock received the Porter and Flores headrights as part of his share of the company's holdings. In June 1839 Glasscock had the tracts surveyed, and the properties were patented to him by the Republic of Texas in 1844, the same year he moved with his family to Travis County. [11]

 

After Williamson County was created in March 1848, Glasscock and Huling together donated about 173 acres, including the southwestern piece of the Nicholas Porter tract south of the South San Gabriel, for the new county's seat of government. The only stipulation was that the new town would be named for Glasscock and be called Georgetown. At about that same time, Glasscock moved to Williamson County and established a farm on the Antonio Flores tract, about a mile east of the confluence of North and South forks of the San Gabriel. By autumn, he had built a house and a water-powered mill on his farm. [12] Glasscock lived in the area for about five years, until 1853, when he moved back to Travis County. He subsequently served in the Texas State Legislature, representing Travis and Williamson counties during the Tenth and Eleventh Legislatures, and was a member of the board of the State Lunatic Asylum for many years. [13]

 

Even after moving to Travis County, Glasscock held on to his property on the north side of the San Gabriel. By the 1860s, a portion of his land, on the north bank of the San Gabriel just east of the conjunction of the North and South forks of the river, had already become a gathering place for the people of Georgetown. At that time, and for many years, this area was known throughout the county for its striking scenic beauty. J.F. Taubee, a Georgetown attorney, recalled in 1932 that the area had been covered by "a beautiful grove, studded with giant cottonwood, elm, pecan and other timbers. Trees ten centuries old grew there--their branches lifted toward the stars; watered by the many bubbling springs of the San Gabriel River. . ." [14]

 

The area's beauty, its immediate proximity to the county seat of government, and perhaps Glasscock's civic-mindedness all combined to draw people to the grove for public gatherings. During the Texas gubernatorial campaign of 1859, for example, a crowd of "pioneers" traveled to the grove by the river to hear Sam Houston gave a "thunderous" speech outlining his "political beliefs and ideals."' By 1870 the area was known as "the fairgrounds." In July of that year, on the occasion of the founding of Georgetown College (now Southwestern University), a large group of officials and spectators marched in a procession from the site of the school's first building to the fairgrounds. (They crossed the San Gabriel on a temporary bridge composed of planks laid across wagons which had been dragged into the river). [16]

 

Glasscock died in 1868, but the land along the San Gabriel remained in the hands of the Glasscock family until the early 20th century. His son, George W. Glasscock, Jr. (1845-1911), inherited the San Gabriel fairgrounds property as part of the approximately 2,243 acres in the Nicholas Porter and Antonio Flores tracts he received under an inheritance settlement concluded in 1870. [17] In January 1873, George Jr. sold the fairgrounds area, as part of a larger, 1,434-acre land deal, to his brother Andrew J. Glasscock. Then, in June 1882, not long after he moved to Georgetown, George Jr. regained possession of the site when Andrew sold him a tract that included most of the Nicholas Porter and Antonio Flores surveys north of the river." George W. Glasscock Jr., a lawyer, became a prominent citizen in Georgetown. He served as the county attorney and as a county judge, and, beginning in 1884, was elected to three terms in the Texas Senate; he also came to own a great deal of property in Georgetown and in the county. [19]

 

Meanwhile, the fairgrounds area continued to be an important site for county and city activities. Large annual fairs were held there during the 1870s, and possibly for many years afterward; other public gatherings, such as religious revivals and camp meetings, were also held at the site. [20] In September 1879 the Baptist evangelist William Evander Penn presided over a mammoth camp meeting there that lasted for weeks. Many of those attending camped on the spot, while townspeople brought food from their homes and spread tablecloths down by the river. Penn held the crowd "spellbound" as he pointed out "the Way of Life and the path that leads to the home beyond the stars."' One participant vividly remembered the evening services:

 

Who can ever forget them--the flaring lamps, the immense crowd, the deep bass voice of Major Penn, the campfire and the camps, the flag seats full of mourners, the choir on the rostrum flanked on either side by the good old men and women, the fervent prayers, the powerful sermon, the happy conversions. [22]

 

Beginning in the 1880s crowds also flocked to the fairgrounds to witness public hangings. On September 11, 1886, the county's first public hanging was conducted from a scaffold attached to a tree on the east end of the present-day park, near the low-water bridge. About six thousand people gathered to watch a black man executed for killing his wife. One observer was appalled by the carnival atmosphere that prevailed:

 

Boys, youths, and men on horseback! People in gigs, buggies, hacks and wagons! Children and grown people! White and black! No thought seeming" to be given to the fact that the man was of the human species! The terrible solemnity of the dreadful scene about to be enacted seeming to have no effect on the minds of the crowd!. . . . The fact that such scenes occurred here [will] convince everyone who appreciates the value of law and the protection of society. . . . that executions should, by all means, be private. [23]

 

Despite this observer's hope, the fairgrounds hanging tree became for a time the county's official place of execution, though by 1906, when the last public hanging took place, the hangings had been transferred to the county poor farm east of Georgetown. [24] By the early 20th century the annual fairs which had given the site its name also seem to have been discontinued or moved to another area, because by then the San Gabriel grove was variously referred to as "the old fairgrounds," "Glasscock Springs," "Glasscock Park," or "Glasscock Springs Park." [25]

 

Nevertheless, the site continued to be used for picnics, political speeches, and social gatherings. After the Williamson County Old Settler's Association was formed in 1904, the Association chose Glasscock Springs Park as the site for its annual reunion.' The Old Settlers' gatherings were for many years among the great social events in the county. Thousands of

people attended the Association's third annual reunion, held on August 23rd, 24th and 25th, 1906. Many families arrived Thursday and camped by the San Gabriel, "entertaining themselves by singing hyms and folk songs," accompanied by the Phillips String Band. That night the Reverend John Hudson of Round Rock preached "an old fashioned sermon" and "gave a vivid account of frontier preaching in the pioneer days." It was a "weird" scene "viewed by flickering gasoline lights," as the audience "listened intently to stories and hardships that seemed almost incredible to the younger generation." Over the next two days the growing crowds were treated to many more speeches and lots of music (including an "old fiddler's contest"). Meanwhile, scattered around the grounds were exhibits of historical "relics" that brought to life the area's pioneer heritage: old guns, grist mills, weaving looms, and a six-yoke ox team. [27]

 

The Association ultimately leased thirty-three acres of the Glasscock Springs Park area for their reunions, and built a number of structures on the spot. [28] Other groups used Glasspark Springs Park for picnics and celebrations, too. On September 15th and 16th, 1908, for example, a number of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans gathered at the site to celebrate Mexican Independence Day. The festivities included a parade, speeches given in Spanish and English, and band music.[29]

 

After George Glasscock, Jr. died in 1911, his widow, Helen J. Glasscock, received the Glasscock Springs Park area as part of the settlement of his estate." In July of the next year, she sold the area to Isaac Milton Williams as part of a much larger transaction.' Isaac M. Williams (1844-1916), the son of James B. Williams, had moved with his family from Arkansas to Williamson County in 1849, when Isaac was five years old. During the Civil War he had served in Morgan's Cavalry Company and participated in a number of battles, including Gravel Ridge, Cape Girardeau, Old Jackson, and Pine Bluff. After returning from the war in 1864 he had married Ellen Elizabeth Roberts, and had gone back to raising stock and farming. By 1893 he owned about 3,500 acres in what one source called "one of the best ranches in Williamson County." [32] By 1895, Isaac had become one of the wealthiest men in Williamson County; his landholdings alone were worth about $161,000 that year.' After purchasing the property Williams continued to lease part of it to the Old Settlers Association, and quite likely also allowed others to use the area, though he may have charged fees for camping, swimming and picnicking there.[34]

 

In early September 1921, the Glasscock Springs area was changed forever by a devastating flood that tore away many of the old-growth trees that had graced the area: "So powerful was the awful tide," J. F. Taulbee remembered, "that when it receded, the very topography had changed; blotted out were the landmarks that had fixed the spot on which the people had talked with their God, and on which executions had been made a holiday."' The flood completely destroyed the Old Settlers encampment, and the organization subsequently moved their annual reunions to Round Rock. [36] The area still retained much of its former beauty, however, and over ten years later it was still being described as "one of the prettiest spots in Texas." [37]

 

The Glasscock Springs Park property remained in the Williams family for more than twenty years. After I.M. Williams died in 1916, his wife Elizabeth retained title to it; then, in 1925, she passed a life estate in the property, along with other lands, to her seventh child, Willie Williams (1879-1955), "as advancement in the final division of my estate upon my death." The deed stipulated that upon Willie's death, the properties would "pass in fee simple" to his children. [38] While Willie (or Will, as he was also called) possessed the Glasscock Springs area, he sold "camping, bathing, and picnicking privileges" to various parties, some of whom built "camp houses" on the property. [39] (See Map 2)

 

On July 3, 1933, a "large delegation of citizens" attended a Georgetown city council meeting and engaged in "much discussion regarding the purchasing the property by the city of the Old Fair Grounds." [40] The Mayor was authorized to conduct negotiations on the matter, and about a week later Will Williams and his family signed a preliminary contract to sell the Glasscock Springs area. According to the Williamson County Sun, the area had "long been desired as a place of recreation by the city  but had not been acquired "due to imperative improvements along other lines and the lack of money." The Sun thanked Will Williams and his family, who, it said, "have also recognized the need of the place for the public and have generously held the property until the city was able to buy." [41] The city planned to improve the property both as a swimming area and as a source of water for the city. [42] According to the terms of the final contract, the city paid $9,267.60, or about $60.00 per acre, for the 154-acre tract. Henceforth, the area would be known as San Gabriel Park. [43] The purchase was financed by bonds sold by the city.[44]

 

During the late 1930s and early 1940s the city made a number of improvements to the property, and new structures appeared on the site, including a Boy Scout hut, a pavilion, and a building that was used by the National Youth Administration (NYA) as a recreation center. Walls were constructed along the north bank of the river, and the low-water crossing on the east end of the property was rebuilt to provide "a short and practical detour" to Georgetown for people who lived north of the river. While some of the work was contracted out to private companies, during the 1930s some of the work was done by men employed by the federal government's Works Progress Administration (WPA). In 1944, a concrete dance platform was added; in 1946 new rodeo pens were constructed on the northern part of the property for use by the Sheriff's Posse, a civic organization; and a Little League baseball field had been built by 1953, when the City Council agreed to pay for bleachers for fans. [45] Over the ensuing years various other improvements were added. In the 1950s, for example, the old NYA building was enlarged and put into use as a community center; the building was improved again in 1966, and in 1969 the area around the building was landscaped by the city's Garden Club. [46]

 

During the 1990s the City of Georgetown enlarged the old park by acquiring a number of additional parcels along the San Gabriel and began to integrate the area with an extensive system of hike and bike trails. [47] Even as it expands and is redeveloped to meet new needs, San Gabriel Park remains today what it has been for almost 150 years--an important center for recreation and civic activities for the people of Williamson County.

 

This report was researched by
Frances Shell and John J. Leffler, and written by John J. Leffler.

Frances Shell  John J. Leffler

6868 Highway 195     1410 Ruth Avenue

Florence, TX 76527    Austin, Texas 78757

 

 
 
San_Gabriel_Park_end-notes.pdf
 




view more Historical Markers in Georgetown
view more Historical Markers in Williamson County