Where is La Grange?

Above: Augustus Koch (1840–?). Bird’s Eye View of La Grange, Fayette County, Texas, 1880. Lithograph (hand-colored), 17.9 x 22.6 in. Lithographer unknown. Witte Museum, San Antonio.

La Grange in 1880

Augustus Koch began his second tour of Texas probably in late 1880 with a drawing of La Grange, the county seat of Fayette County. Following Anglo-American immigration into the area in the 1820s, the region had quickly developed a plantation economy built on slavery and the fertile lands along the Colorado River. With increasing German and Wend immigration after the Civil War, the size of farms decreased, but their number and production increased until, by 1870, production levels had reached those of the pre–Civil War period. When the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway arrived in 1880, La Grange farmers could then ship their produce directly to the Gulf Coast.

Depicting the city from a bit west of due south looking northeastward, Koch placed the Colorado River in the lower left-hand corner and the newly arrived Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railway in the upper right-hand corner, with the station prominently featured nearby, on the east side of town. The city is nestled in a 90-degree crook in the river, with the street grids laid out at 90-degree angles to the river rather than on a north-south, east-west axis. A ferry operated at the foot of La Fayette Street until 1883, when an iron bridge replaced it. Koch featured the third courthouse in the print, a rock and cement structure that was constructed in 1855–56. The Sanborn Map & Publishing Company map of August 1885 showed that Koch correctly illustrated the structure along with the fire station immediately behind it and the jail a block to the south. It was replaced in 1890–91 with a beautiful building designed by J. Riely Gordon of San Antonio, who did a number of Texas courthouses.[1] Koch also correctly showed the iron fence around the courthouse, which was built the year before he arrived, and the historic oak tree in the street at the corner of Washington and Colorado, where the men of La Grange assembled before marching off to several wars.[2]

The creek shown curving westward from the upper center of the view was redirected to flow along Jackson Street to supply water for the mills that developed on the east side of town. One mill and cotton gin is already shown operating at the corner of Jackson and Crockett, and others would be built, as the Sanborn maps of 1885 and 1890 show. According to the Sanborn map of 1890, the creek was “mostly dry.”