Uvalde: From Agriculture to Asphalt
Over the past several months, we have drawn on UTSA’s rare books collection to pay visits to several of the small towns surrounding San Antonio: New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Boerne, Kerrville, Seguin, and Castroville. We conclude this series today with the town of Uvalde, 83 miles west of San Antonio.
Two immigrants from New Jersey — Reading Wood Black and Nathan L. Stratton — established a ranch near the head of Leona River in the early 1850s and in 1855, a town called Encina was laid out near the site. When Uvalde County was organized just one year later, the town became the county seat and was renamed after Juan de Ugalde, one-time governor of the province of San Francisco de Coahuila of New Spain.
Black, who continued to be a prominent citizen of the area, was elected county commissioner in 1856. He opposed secession, but remained in Uvalde during the early years of the Civil War. After the murder of Union prisoners by Confederate militiamen in 1862, Black chose to relocate to Mexico until the end of the War. Upon his return to Uvalde, he resumed his place in the community and was elected to the state congress. However, in 1867, he was murdered by former friend G. W. Wall. Black’s diary was edited and published in 1934 by Ike Moore as The Life and Diary of Reading W. Black.
Black’s daughter Mary Black Nunn is one of about 50 Uvalde residents featured in Florence Fenley’s 1939 Oldtimers: Their Own Stories. Mary was outside playing with her siblings when Wall entered her father’s store and she recalls running inside when she heard her mother scream after her father was shot. Following her father’s death, Mary was sent East to live with his relatives during her teenage years. She learned to navigate hoop skirts and rules of etiquette, but longed for the freedom of her Texas youth and later returned to Uvalde, where she married childhood playmate George Thomas Nunn.
As with many small Texas towns, the construction of railways brought tighter connections to the outside world and opportunities for economic development. In 1881, Uvalde became a shipping point on the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway and in 1911, the Crystal City and Uvalde Railroad reached Crystal City.
Although primarily an agricultural and ranching community, Uvalde has also been home to certain industries, including honey production and asphalt mining. Ten Times Around the World by Uvalde Rock Asphalt Company explains that when rock asphalt first came into use in the 1870s, it was imported from Europe, but its expense (and the events of WWI) prevented that from being a satisfactory long-term solution. As an alternative, this 1923 promotional pamphlet urges readers to consider Uvalde rock asphalt, quoting praise from W. R. Hughes of Standard Engineering (Dallas, TX):
The only deposit of limestone rock asphalt of any consequence that has been developed in the United States is located in Uvalde County, Texas, about seven miles south from Cline station on the Southern Pacific Railroad. The material from this deposit is very much like that from some of the European deposits. However, the limestone is harder and the bitumen has a higher ductility.
The unique landscape along the Frio River has long held a strong attraction for visitors to the area and in the 1920s, the Magers family chose to open part of their land for camping. The Civilian Conservation Corps was later enlisted to construct park facilities and the completed park was donated to the state and opened to visitors in 1941. It is named for John Nance Garner, an Uvalde native and Vice President to Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1933-1941. Both the park (under construction) and Garner’s home can be seen in The Century in Southwest Texas (1937), edited by Arthur J. Simpson.
Thomas W. Cutrer, “BLACK, READING WOOD,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fbl04), accessed November 25, 2014. Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Garner State Park, (http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/garner/park_history) accessed November 25, 2014. Published by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.
Ruben E. Ochoa, “GARNER STATE PARK,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/gkg05), accessed November 25, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Freida R. Rogers, “UVALDE, TX,” Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/heu03), accessed October 28, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.