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The Mesquite Belt Railroad Town:
Smithville, Texas


MKT 189, 218, and 2 other units lead a train near Smithville May 23, 1986
   Photo by Bill Phillips; copyrighted by George Elwood
   George Elwood's photo collection available at www.rr-fallenflags.org


Smithville  just off State Highway 71 and ten miles southeast of Bastrop in southeastern Bastrop County, was established by Thomas Gazeley, who in 1827 settled near the present site.   Gazeley operated a store there until his death in 1853, and the community that sprang up around the store was named Smithville, after William Smith, another early settler.  J. P. Jones and Frank Smith opened a store in the community in 1867, and four years later the Smithville Presbyterian Church was organized.   A post office was established in 1876, and Smithville was described in May 1879 as a thriving village.  

With the coming of the Bastrop and Taylor Railway eight years later, the community of seventeen families moved two miles west to meet it.   By 1890 Smithville had 616 residents, and its businesses included two hotels, three millineries, and a medical practice.   In the 1890s the community boomed.  

The extension of the railroad line to Lockhart in 1892 brought more business, as did extension of the line to Houston the next year.   The line was renamed the Taylor, Bastrop and Houston in October 1886, and it was merged with the Missouri, Kansas and Texas system in 1891.  

The biggest boost came in 1894, when the Missouri, Kansas and Texas established its central shops in Smithville.   The population quickly doubled, and the town was incorporated in March 1895.   In 1896 it had an estimated 2,500 residents, Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches, two hotels, and numerous other businesses, including four physicians' offices.   In 1900 Smithville had a population of 2,577, which was 10 percent of the Bastrop County population.   A 1909 newspaper account described Smithville, headquarters for three divisions of the Missouri, Kansas and Texas line, as having a population of 3,500 and railroad shops, a roundhouse, and "a fine Y.M.C.A. building."   At that time it had a bank (established in 1907), and the Smithville Times had already been publishing for fifteen years. The population level through the early 1900s hovered between 3,000 and 4,000.   It peaked in the mid-1940s at an estimated 4,200.   Though railroad jobs were beginning to disappear, in 1949 the railroad still employed several hundred workers in Smithville.   The town at this time had a dentist, two lawyers, three doctors, and six ministers and priests.  

By 1962 the population had dropped below 3,000, but it soon rose again.   In the mid-1970s the town had a new library, a city hall, and a storm drainage system and received a statewide award for the best United States Bicentennial program.   By 1984 the Smithville Times was still being published, and the town was a manufacturing and trading center with more than seventy rated businesses and an estimated population of 3,470.   Local products included cedar cabins, fencing, furniture, and ship doors and components.   Smithville also remained a center railroad crew changes, as well as farming and livestock raising.  In the 1980's, the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) built railcar inspection facilities on the site of the old Katy shops, to inspect their fleet of 1600 coal cars that power the Fayette Power Project nearby.  It was the site of an annual three-day festival, the Smithville Jamboree.   In 1990 its population was 3,196.
Click to see LCRA's Smithville website
Click to see LCRA's Fayette Power Project website   


Information from The Handbook of Texas Online; a joint project of The General Libraries at the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas State Historical Association.  
The Handbook of Texas Online

Map of Smithville

Map courtesy of Mapquest



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