The beginning of Willow City
LOOKING BACK AT ... Hindsights
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 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 three quarters 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 newspaper 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 three general stores, a drug store, two 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 Sept. 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, four 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 two 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?
Michael Barr is a retired
teacher and principal, living in
Fredericksburg where he spends
time writing books, columns and
magazine articles. Contact him at