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AUSTWELL, TEXAS

On Hynes Bay

Refugio County, Texas Gulf Coast

2823'25"N 9650'37"W (28.390413, -96.843555)

Hwy 239 (off Hwy 35) and FM 774
5 miles SE of Tivoli
8 miles N of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
28 miles N of Rockport
38 miles NE of Refugio the county seat
35 Miles S of Victoria
ZIP code 77950
Area code 361
Population: 145 Est. (2019)
147 (2010) 192 (2000) 189 (1990)

Book Hotel Here Refugio Hotels

The bay near Austwell, Texas
The coast near AustwellTE Photo May 2003

History in a Seashell

Founded by Preston Rose Austin and Jesse C. McDowell in 1911, the town's name is a combination of the two. Together, the two communities make up the Refugio County Riviera - a small stretch of scenic beachfront that gives Refugio Countians access to the water without entering Aransas or Calhoun counties.

The town was once the terminus of a spur of the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway. Austin's far-sighted plans for both Tivoli and Austwell connected the two cotton-growing communities with the market in Victoria.

In 1912 Austwell was granted a post office. Although a wharf was built, the bay was too shallow for the town to develop as a port. Austwell was damaged by hurricanes in 1919 and 1942.

Austwell Texas - Tractor Pond
Tractor by the pond
TE Photo May 2003


Austwell Texas - Stream
TE Photo May 2003


Local Personality

Phillip Sawyer
formerly of Alice, Texas

Sawyer and cotton boll incinerator
Mr. Phillip Sawyer,
welder, shrimper, fisherman, boatwright and farmer

TE Photo May 2003

We first saw Mr. Sawyer standing near a mysterious bottle-shaped structure that looks like a cross between a really large milk bottle and a tile silo. We thought he might know what this structure was and indeed - he did.

He also knew the location of at least five other of these structures - in Moulton, Victoria, Shiner and a couple of other places we can't remember. He told us that these were cotton boll incinerators from the 1940s. Before bolls were ground into cattle feed or compost like they are today, they were disposed of by dousing them with diesel fuel and setting them ablaze in these brick chimneys.The flames heated water which generated steam which in turn provided power for the gin.

The fire engine in the photo was declared surplus by the city when they recently got a new engine. Phillip was offered the truck and took them up on their offer. How many miles would a 1954 International Harvester fire engine from coastal Texas have on it after 50 years of service? A mere 800 miles. That comes to about 15 miles per year - including parades.

The boat in the photo is a project of Mr. Sawyer who said he'll be calling it quits on the shrimping business after he launches this (his 14th) boat.

When we drove up, Mr. Sawyer was hunting squash and cucumbers from a garden without benefit of rows. He explained the lack of order by describing his planting method - which is to just throw the seeds randomly about. The garden was remarkably productive considering that the ground was just slightly harder than the granite crust that covers Llano County.



Small World Stories - Coastal Texas Files

Phillip was drafted after finishing High School in Alice, Texas in 1966. Sent to Vietnam and assigned to an engineer battalion, one of his jobs was to keep the company's trucks rolling, despite shortages and nightmarish backlogs of spare parts. Near his unit was a graveyard of army vehicles that were damaged and placed in a compound lined with concertina wire. The vehicles were also guarded. In a combat zone this means armed guards. The guards were to prevent black-marketers from stealing and selling the remaining functioning parts.

One day after crawling through the wire and liberating a battery and tire for a 21/2 ton truck, he was surprised by a guard. Even more surprising was the fact that the guard called him by name. "Sawyer, where are you going with that?" The guard turned out to be an old Alice High friend who Phillip had trouble recognizing at first due to a 30-pound weight loss. After a brief reunion - Phillip left - with two batteries and two tires - thanks to the guard putting down his rifle and helping out.

It is indeed a small world - but like the comedian said - "I wouldn't want to paint it."

Mrs. Sawyer comes from Hershey, Pennsylvania - a place that Mr. Sawyer has never officially visited. He has, however, memorized some staggering statistics on the company's milk and cacao bean stockpiles. Example: It takes the daily milk production of 50,000 cows to make one day's run of chocolate bars

Thanks to Mr. Sawyer's knowledge and hospitality we can now identify boll-burning chimneys, and we've got some idea of fire engine mileage.

We continued on our way - loaded down with Refugio zucchini, yellow squash and onions, all grown in the former yard of a cotton gin.

Personal note to Mr. Sawyer - You were right, the onions really can be eaten like apples.


John Troesser
August, 2003

More People

TX Refugio County 1920s Map
Refugio County 1920s Map showing Austwell & "Hines Bay"
From Texas state map #10749
Courtesy Texas General Land Office

Take a road trip

Texas Gulf Coast

Austwell, Texas Nearby Towns:
Refugio the county seat
Victoria | Rockport
See Refugio County

Book Hotel Here:
Refugio Hotels
Rockport Hotels | Victoria Hotels | More Hotels
Texas Escapes, in its purpose to preserve historic, endangered and vanishing Texas, asks that anyone wishing to share their local history, stories, landmarks and recent or vintage photos, please contact us.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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