|The Llano County courthouse, built in 1893 and still in use.|
One of the reasons I write western historical fiction is a deep-seated fascination with the people, places, and events that have made the world what it is today. I can spend hours lost in reference books, libraries, museums, out-of-the-way internet sites ... and simply walking the streets of Small Town America, communing with the spirits of the past.
As big as Texas is, people like me can't swing a dead cat without hitting a thoroughly engaging historical tidbit. While researching locations for future stories, I stumble across all sorts of tiny Texas towns that by all rights should have disappeared, yet they soldier on. Llano, Texas, is one such place.
Llano (pronounced LAN-oh) is located in the Texas Hill Country about an hour north of Austin, very near the geographic center of Texas. Founded in response to a legislative act creating Llano County in February 1856, the town was established June 14 of the same year. A public vote under a live oak tree on the south side of the Llano River chose the town's location: a tract of 250 acres donated by a local rancher.
The area boomed from 1886-1893 after iron ore deposits were discovered in nearby Iron Mountain. With high hopes for the future, the Llano Improvement and Furnace Company embarked upon a mission to build an iron furnace and foundry. Land speculators from Dallas and northern states poured into the area with investment money, wanting to be part of "the Pittsburgh of the West." The population soared to 7,000 in 1890, encouraging the Austin and Northwestern Railroad to extend its line to a terminal on the north side of what promised to be a thriving metropolis. Increased access to transportation attracted granite quarrying and finishing companies intent on profiting from the abundance of granite in the surrounding hills.
Then the bubble burst: The iron ore deposits proved insufficient for commercial exploitation, and the Llano Improvement and Furnace Company abandoned its project. The company's withdrawal threw the town's big plans into disarray. Although charters had been sold to construct a dam, an electric power plant, a streetcar system, and electric streetlights, only a small dam and the streetlights were completed. Speculators and local businesses lost fortunes as a result.
|A wagon hauls a slab of granite through the streets|
of Llano in this undated postcard photo.
The granite processors remained. Today, Llano's primary industries are farming, ranching, and granite quarrying and finishing. The town's population is roughly 3,000 people except during November and December, when the undisputed "Deer Capital of Texas" overflows with hunters.
Do y'all ever find yourselves swept away by the history of a place? Ever wish you could travel back in time for just a few hours to witness the glory days of a thriving Old West town? Tell us about your favorite spots in the comments!