Brenham in 1873
Augustus Koch’s view of Brenham in 1873 shows a city that emerged from the throes of the Civil War and Reconstruction with some confidence that it would continue to prosper. As with other contemporary views, the railroad occupies a significant place in the geography and future of the city. Washington County citizens organized the Washington County Railroad to link with the Galveston and Red River Railway (later the Houston and Texas Central) and had more than twenty miles of track in operation by April 1861. For a few years, Brenham served as a shipping point for a small region, but the track and equipment deteriorated during the Civil War, and in 1869 the Houston and Texas Central acquired the railroad and extended track to Austin.
Viewed from the south, the Washington County Courthouse in the center of the public square is the dominant structure with its distinctive spire. Contemporary accounts of the city suggest that the courthouse might not have presented such an elegant picture, because the public square was fenced and used as a livestock pen. This lack of detail corresponds with Koch’s practice, seen in most of his bird’s-eye views, of omitting outbuildings, fences (although he does include a number of fences in the left foreground), light poles, and other smaller items that he, no doubt, considered distractions. The McIntyre Hotel, two blocks to the northeast (at the corner of Main and Goat Row), might not have been completed by the time Koch made his sketch, but the Giddings & Giddings bank building at the northwest corner of North and Sandy streets, which was also the location of the Masonic Hall, is an impressive and accurately rendered structure, including the pilasters and arched windows that decorate the upper two stories. The Brenham Banner advertised Koch’s view for $3 in April 1873. The price was lowered to $2 in May.
Koch, as was his habit, also represented the African-American community. More than half of Washington County’s population was enslaved in 1860, and Koch’s view shows the beginnings of racial segregation in the city, with an African-American church shown south of the railroad track (lower left-hand corner of the image). The small structures at the far east end of Sandy Street might, in fact, be the beginnings of Camp Town, a community of former slaves that grew up in the area near where the federal soldiers established their camp during Reconstruction.
Koch’s view is, in some respects, a unique historical record of the city, because fire destroyed a large part of the downtown area later in 1873.