Eagle Pass in 1887
Augustus Koch’s bird’s-eye view of Eagle Pass is dominated by the Rio Grande on the left side of the picture; the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway at the right and bottom; and Fort Duncan in the lower right-hand corner. An unnamed creek separates the city from the fort.
Eagle Pass began in 1850 when a settlement grew up around Fort Duncan, which had been established the previous year on the northern side of the Rio Grande. Many outfits headed for the gold rush in California crossed the river near the fort, so many, in fact, that the area became known as Camp California. Hoping that Eagle Pass would be the head of navigation on the Rio Grande, merchants first established a trading post on the site, then laid out the plan for the city. A Mexican garrison founded Piedras Negras on the opposite side of the river from Fort Duncan that same year.
The city had perhaps 2,000 residents when Koch visited and was still known, in the words of an early Methodist circuit rider, as “a Sodom-like city.” Law and order finally prevailed with the coming of the railroad in 1882, and the Episcopal Church, the first Protestant church in the community, was completed five years later in time to be included in the bird’s-eye view. Viewed from the south, the two busiest spots in town seem to be the intersection of Commercial and Main streets, where J. W. Riddle’s store was located; Main Street in front of the courthouse, home to the Maverick Hotel; and across the street, the Post Office. Prior to 1885, the county had rented rooms on Fort Street to use as a courthouse, but in 1883 the Commissioners Court acquired the property at the northeast corner of Madison and Main streets and commissioned architects Wahrenberger and Beckman of San Antonio to design a handsome structure in what became known as Border Victorian style. Koch also called attention to the convent school, the Annunciation Academy (3 on map), in the upper center of the print by drawing it on the same scale as the courthouse. On the east side of town, Koch depicted a stock pen near the railroad depot, suggesting the importance of livestock in the area. Next to the stock pen and near the intersection of the railroad and the unnamed creek are two animal-powered cotton presses.
Before the arrival of the railroad, the Texas and Coahuila Ferry Company was the only commercial link between the two villages. When the railroad bridge was extended across the Rio Grande, however, the heretofore isolated village became one of the main thoroughfares to Mexico. Koch even included portions of Piedras Negras, on the Mexican side of the river, such as the general offices, passenger and freight depots, and roundhouse of the Mexican International Railroad.