Bastrop in 1887
During what might have been his fourth tour of Texas, Augustus Koch paused to sketch a bird’s-eye view of Bastrop, a small city of approximately 2,000 persons about thirty miles southeast of Austin. The city is located on the east bank of the Colorado River on a bluff that is generally level until it rises gently to form the low hills east of town, home to the remnants of the “Lost Pines,” which fueled a modest lumber business for several decades. The Spaniards had established a fort at this location in about 1804, and it later became a part of Stephen F. Austin’s “Little Colony.” The Camino Real, or the Old San Antonio Road, ran through the town, which was platted along the conventional lines of a Hispanic town in 1832 (hence the regular layout evident in the bird’s-eye view). Bastrop was incorporated under the laws of the Republic of Texas in 1837.
Despite Bastrop’s location adjacent to a river that periodically flooded and that had no bridge across it until 1890, the city became the site of such varied businesses as the Bastrop Iron Manufacturing Company, the Bastrop Coal Company, and Lone Star Mills during the 1860s and 1870s. By the mid-1880s, three schools, two cotton gins, several general stores, and a number of churches served the community. The main trunk of the Houston and Texas Central Railway passed through the northern part of Bastrop County, missing the city, which did not secure rail service until 1886, when the locally owned Taylor, Bastrop and Houston Railway connected the city to Taylor and thence to Houston.
Koch depicted the town looking east-northeast, with the business district paralleling Main Street near the river. The courthouse, built in 1883–84, is a block to the east in the center of a small square, surrounded by trees. The courthouse characteristically towers over the nearby structures, even the two-story ones, as was the wont of most bird’s-eye-view artists. Compare the courthouse to the nearby Masonic Temple (6 on map, corner of Pecan and Chestnut streets), for example, and the Roman Catholic Church (5, at the corner of Chestnut and Water streets). Historic photographs suggest that the church’s spire might have been almost as tall as the courthouse’s tower. The jail and the sheriff’s office are also shown on the square. Gill’s Branch (or Creek) is correctly illustrated as it forms from two branches that drain the distant hills and meanders along the eastern side of town en route to its confluence with the Colorado River.
In the end, Koch documented a small community made up, according to one early resident, of “pleasant society” and “very intelligent people,” where “the dwellings…are very neat.” Perhaps the comment of an early teacher is a more appropriate description of Koch’s view: “The town was very extensively laid out, but like a half starved cat, it is not filled out yet.”