Castroville: An Alsatian Settlement on the Texas Frontier
Castroville was founded by empresario Henri Castro in 1842. Castro’s early life history is described in Julia Nott Waugh’s Castro-ville and Henry Castro Empresario. Born in 1786 to a Jewish Spanish-Portuguese family in St. Esprit, France. Castro came to the United States in 1827 as Consul for the Kingdom of Naples at Providence, Rhode Island, where he took an oath of U.S. Citizenship. His business interests straddled both continents in the following decades, and in the early 1840s, he traveled to Texas. Here, he developed the colonization project that led to Castroville’s founding.
Castro’s agreement with the government of the Republic of Texas, as recounted in Henry Castro and His Homestead (1978) by Cornelia E. Crook, required that the colonization project be completed within three years, lest he forfeit all of the matching grants promised to assist the effort. Castro arranged for immigrants – mostly Catholic Alsatian farmers – to be transported to San Antonio in 1844, from where he accompanied them to the site of present-day Castroville, twenty-five miles west of San Antonio. Unfortunately, Castro had not seen the site for himself prior to arriving with the settlers and was dismayed to find no reliable source of water on the grant. He was, however, able to make arrangements with John McMullen to permit his Castro’s settlers to establish homes on McMullen’s Grant.
Cornelia English Crook’s 1988 Henry Castro: A study of Early Colonization in Texas takes note of the many challenges facing Castro’s colony in its early years, including raids from surrounding Indian tribes, drought and crop-consuming locusts in 1848, and a cholera epidemic in 1849. Despite these hardships, the settlers slowly built a thriving community. By the early 1850s, it possessed two churches (Catholic and Lutheran), three stores, a brewery, and a gristmill. The town had also become the county seat of Medina County in 1848 and a courthouse was completed in 1855.The town’s architecture had a European cast, with ground floors of stone and second floors with vertical timber. Like Kerrville, Castroville was located in an area rich in cypress trees, which were logged heavily for shingle-making.
Customs, as well as architectural styles, were brought from the Old World to the New. In The Story of Castroville (1961), Ruth Curry Lawler relates that for many decades, the feast day of the patron saint of St. Louis Catholic Church, was celebrated on August 25th (later, this celebration moved to the Sunday nearest the 25th and was called Home Coming Day). She also notes that, although she was unable to identify the reason behind it, she observed that nearly all weddings in the area were celebrated on Tuesdays, and a unique wedding custom required that the groom gift each altar boy with a piece of silver before entering the Rectory to sign the register.
In 1892, the county seat moved to Hondo and residents voted to dis-incorporate their town. Although Castroville remained unincorporated until 1948, the population slowly grew over the course of the 20th century as the community continued to produce corn, oats, wheat, vegetables, and hay. By the 1980s, other businesses included grain processing, farm implement dealers, and a center for applied research in genetics and artificial breeding of livestock.
Those interested in learning more about the history of Castroville and its settlers may also wish to consult Castro’s Colony: Empresario Development in Texas: 1842-1865 (1985) by Bobby D. Weaver or explore the more than one hundred images of Castroville available in UTSA Libraries Digital Collections.
Ruben E. Ochoa, “CASTROVILLE, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hjc05), accessed October 28, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.