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's photo collection available at
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
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