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Willow City

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Willow City is one of the few communities in Gillespie County settled by English speakers. One of the earliest settlers was a slave-holding preacher with a strong dislike for Germans. The preacher and his neighbors freighted in supplies 90 miles from Austin rather than do business with the Germans in Fredericksburg, just 15 miles away.

Willow City, or Willow Creek as the place was first called, was one of the few settlements between Fredericksburg and points west. To say Willow Creek was on the frontier was not exactly accurate. Willow Creek was far beyond the frontier line.

By 1869 the village had a store, a school and a church along Willow Creek. A room added to the school housed the first Masonic Hall in Gillespie County.

Except for Comanches and rattlesnakes, the first inhabitants of Willow Creek were cattle and sheep ranchers and a motley collection of undesirables. A stranger in town was most likely a cattle thief.

The original road between Fredericksburg and Llano ran through Willow Creek. Twice a week the mail carrier brought mail from Fredericksburg, the nearest post office. He left the mail bag on the porch at J. D. Harrison's general store.

When August Cameron's mail route between Fredericksburg and Burnet came through Willow Creek, things got complicated. With so much mail passing through town, Mrs. Harrison embroidered "Willow City" on one of the mail bags to keep the mail from getting mixed up. The town has been called Willow City ever since.

In 1880 Willow Creek went on a rampage and almost wiped out the entire town. Merchandise from Mr. Harrison's store was strewn along the creek bank for miles. Another store, owned by Mr. Gliddon, washed away completely. But citizens rebuilt Willow City on higher ground about 3/4th of a mile from its original location.

Beginning in 1888, Green Harrison published a newspaper in Willow City called the Gillespie County News - the only English language newspapers in the county. After a few months the Gillespie County News moved to Fredericksburg. The news plant was in an old house where Fredericksburg City Hall now stands.

In 1907, after several changes in ownership, the Gillespie County News was renamed the Fredericksburg Standard.

In 1915 Willow City had 3 general stores, a drug store, 2 blacksmiths, a cedar post yard and a steam powered cotton gin. Two men and a pair of mules died when the boiler at the gin exploded on September 2, 1924.

For a community in the middle of nowhere, Willow City had an active social scene. The Poultry Club met monthly. The Literary Club met twice a month at the school. Elder Dan Moore of Willow City held a religious service at the summit of Enchanted Rock every July 4.

Willow City had its chances to be a boomtown.

In the 1890s prospectors discovered a vein of gold in a quartz hillside near Hudson Mountain, 4 miles east of Willow City. Samples of the ore looked promising, but the vein played out before the gold rush started.

As with other places in the Hill Country, there is just enough gold and silver around to fire the imagination, but not enough to be profitable.

At least 2 railroads announced plans to lay track into Gillespie County from the north. Both railroads would come through Willow City.

But the trains never made it. Railroads have never worked well in Gillespie County. The cost of drilling tunnels and whittling down solid rock hills is too great.

When the new road between Fredericksburg and Llano bypassed Willow City, the little town was left high and dry. Time stood still in the hills and canyons around Willow City. Fifty years later the town still was stuck in the 1920s.

But isolation shielded Willow City and preserved its rare natural beauty.

To this day the countryside around Willow City has a wild charm that is hard to describe to someone who has never seen it. How is it that a country, so much of it covered with rocks, prickly pear, cedar and mesquite, is among the most beautiful places on earth?

TX - Willow City Limits
Willow City Limits
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, November 2017

TX Willow City Loop
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, November 2017
Willow City Loop by Michael Barr

TX - Willow City School
Willow City School - National Register of Historic Places
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, November 2017

Michael Barr
"Hindsights"December 15, 2017 Column

"Texas News Items," Galveston Daily News, October 29, 1879.
"Willow City Was Once The Bustling Frontier Community Of Gillespie County," Fredericksburg Standard, May 1, 1946
"History Recorded In Newspaper's Pages," Fredericksburg Standard, June 30, 1976
"Boiler Exploded at Willow City Killed Two Men Tuesday," Llano News, September 4, 1924


Subject: Cotton Gin Explosion on September 2, 1924 One of the men killed was my grandfather, Phillip Edgar Smith. - Allie Kuhlmann, Universal City, TX, February 28, 2019

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