Other Views from 1881

Where is Cuero?

Above: Augustus Koch (1840–?). Bird’s Eye View of Cuero De Witt County, Texas, 1881. Toned lithograph, 14.8 x 22 in. Lithographer unknown. Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth.

Cuero in 1881

Cuero in 1881 was the center of a region of small farmers who raised cotton, corn, sweet potatoes, and livestock. Although there had been a village known as Cuero as early as 1846, the present site of the city was established when the Gulf, Western Texas and Pacific Railway arrived from Indianola and Victoria en route to San Antonio in 1873, and the county seat was relocated from nearby Clinton to the new town. In fact, Cuero remained the terminus of the railroad for a few years, because the Panic of 1873 and the resulting business failures, especially that of railroad magnate Jay Cooke and Company in New York, slowed railroad construction.[1] That explains why, when Augustus Koch drew this bird’s-eye looking from the south to the north in 1881, the town seems to be organized around the railroad rather than the courthouse square, which is a little more than three blocks north of the railroad.

The rather plain courthouse (1 on map) had, in fact, been moved from Clinton in 1876 and appears less elaborate than the jail, immediately to the north. The city’s rapid growth is hinted at by the large pile of lumber at the H. J. Huck Lumber Yard, immediately south of the railroad track, in the left-hand portion of the view. That growth was stimulated when several businesses relocated from Indianola because of the 1875 hurricane. The 1886 hurricane that destroyed that city led to more migration to Cuero.[2] In the same year, the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway connected Cuero to Houston.

Cuero had a population of 1,333 in 1880 and aspirations of becoming a regional transportation and supply center. The city was in the process of recovering from an 1879 fire downtown, and the developing business district may be seen along Esplanade Street, which was laid out almost twice as wide as the other streets. Koch has suggested one of the mainstays of the local economy by including a small cattle herd in the lower left-hand corner of the print. Another is shown in the presence of several mills and cotton gins (immediately south of the railroad tracks in the left-hand portion of the image, and in the lower right-hand corner, 8, 9, and 13). The many windmills included in this view, especially the large one at the Excelsior Manufacturing Company in the lower right-hand corner (13), show how widespread the “wind engine” had become.[3]