The Anglo and Scotch/Irish Americans from the eastern United States began to populate the land around Smithville after the establishment of the Austin Colony around present day San Felipe. They brought their culture with them and planned to stay. They spoke the English language and were protestant Christian except for some of the Roman Catholic Irish who joined them. The early settlers were attracted to the fertile land of the Colorado River valley which would provide excellent soil for their crops. The institution of slavery was brought into the area by some of these early settlers from the United States, since some of these early settlers brought their Negro slaves with them to carry on the many chores required to run the large farms that were established in the area. Even the Dutchman, Philip Henrick Nering Bogel, the self-styled Baron de Bastrop for whom the county is named, brought three slaves with him when he came to the area although he didn't settle there (Kesselus, 1986, p. 30).
The Anglo and Scotch/Irish ethnic group are the most visible group in the founding of the town of Smithville. They were the group of entrepreneurs who originally laid out the plans for the town, built plantations to farm the fertile land in the valley around the town, and brought in the railroad which was instrumental in making Smithville what it is today.
Frederick W. Grasmeyer operated a ferry on the Colorado River in 1836 and steamboats plied the river from 1845 to 1865. The village of 'old Smithville' was laid out on 640 acres of land granted to Thomas J. Gazely and Lewis Lomas. There were mercantile stores, dry goods shops and a Masonic Lodge. In 1876, the first settlement was called Smithville and John Pride Jones was the first postmaster. The Taylor, Bastrop & Houston Railroad, later a part of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas System, arrived in 1887 and the town grew up between the tracks and the river. Legend has it that a coin was tossed to decide if the name would be changed to Burlesonville for Murray Burleson, who gave the land for the railroad depot. The coin toss resulted in "Smithville" being retained as the name, apparently in honor of pioneer settler William Smith.
(Smithville Times, 1995, p. 5)
The new town of Smithville was begun in 1886 when "Murray Burleson began buying land from the Loomis and Gazley Leagues for the purpose of settling a town. There were 300 acres in the original town site. . . . where the town on the river bank had been near the farming families it would now be near the railroad (Crockett, 1990, p. 11). In fact, the entire history of the town revolves around the railroad and the town's success was dependent upon the railroad that came through it. "On the 30th Day of March, 1895, by order of the court, there was a petition for the election of officers and to set the boundaries. The town had been incorporated. It was listed as an incorporated city of more that 1000 people" (Crockett, 1990, p. 12).
The Taylor, Bastrop and Houston Railroad was built through Smithville in 1887. On April 10, 1893 the Missouri, Kansas and Texas (Katy) established the terminal at Smithville (Crockett, 1990, p. 27).
In the days of the steam locomotive the engine had to be serviced periodically along the way. Water and fuel were needed for the boiler. Smithville was located in the proper location for such maintenance. The town was located mid-way between Houston and Waco on the M K &T; line. The engines could be serviced in just a few hours and the train could be on its way to complete its journey. There was a roundhouse built to provide extensive maintenance service for the engines and had a covered "rip track" to work on or to take apart the railroad cars that were the backbone of the rail transportation. In those days passenger trains came through as well as freight trains. When the engines stopped for maintenance the passengers got off the train. All trains stopped for twenty minutes for dinner and lunch. In the early days meals were served in the dining hall of the train depot by Charles W. Shadbolt, an experienced caterer (The Smithville Times Special Centennial Edition, 1995, p. 6). Later they could walk across First Street to the restaurants on Main Street. They could even spend the night in the Pines Hotel down the street from the train station.
Smithville prospered! Many jobs were provided by the railroad and Smithville became known as a "fast town" by many of its residents, since the railroad workers received their pay every two weeks. There were establishments in town that took advantage of the paydays and people from all walks of life were attracted to the town to get some of the money that was available. Even when times were bad for many in the area, the railroad kept Smithville alive.
Kesselus, Kenneth (1986). History of Bastrop County, Texas before statehood. Austin, TX: Jenkins Publishing Co.
Smithville Times. (1995). 1995-1996 Newcomers-Visitors Guide to Smithville [Brochure]. J. Tom Graham: Publisher.
History of Smithville 1827-1895. (1995, October 19) The Smithville Times Special Centennial Edition, p. 6.