Blanco County, Texas
Blanco County is located in the Hill Country of south central Texas, bordered on the west by Gillespie County, on the north by Burnet and Llano counties, on the east by Hays County, and on the south by Kendall and Comal counties. Johnson City, the county seat, is four miles north of the center of the county, forty miles west of Austin and sixty miles northwest of San Antonio.
Cities, Towns & Communities
In 1855 settlers in the western part of what was then Comal County began to agitate for a new county. As a result, Kerr County was established in 1856. This, however, did not help the people of northern Comal County. They continued to petition the legislature, and through the efforts of members of the Pittsburgh Land Company, Blanco County was formed on February 12, 1858, from parts of Comal, Hays, Burnet, and Gillespie counties and named for the Blanco River. Some historians believe that Blanco County also acquired two small unattached pieces of Travis County. The total area of the new county was 1,043 square miles.
The act that established Blanco County also stipulated that the county seat should be called Blanco and that an election should be held to determine the location, which should be within five miles of the center of the county. A spot on the north bank of Martin’s Fork of the Blanco River, just across from Pittsburgh, was chosen as the site for the new town. The Pittsburgh Land Company donated a 120-acre tract of land there, and Blanco was founded. A courthouse was erected on the town square in 1860. It was replaced in 1885 by a limestone structure that came to be known as the Old Courthouse, which fell into private hands after Johnson City became the county seat; the Old Courthouse was restored in the early 1990s.
Blanco County was settled predominantly by natives of Tennessee and Alabama, although about a tenth of the residents were natives of Germany. According to the United States census, 1,218 people, including ninety-eight slaves, lived in the new county by 1860, and 184 farms had been established.
During the Civil War the county lost a large part of the land on its southwestern border when the legislature established Kendall County in 1862. The legislature compensated Blanco County by giving it additional parts of Hays and Burnet counties. When all the changes were complete, Blanco County comprised the 714 square miles of land it occupies today, but the town of Blanco was no longer at its geographical center. By 1875 James Polk Johnson and other settlers on the Pedernales River in the northern part of the county began to agitate for a new county seat. For the next fifteen years Johnson and his friends petitioned that the county seat be moved; in 1879 Johnson City was founded near the new geographical center of the county in hopes that it would become the new county seat. After a number of hotly contested elections the people of the north were successful, and in 1891 Johnson City became the seat of county government.
As elsewhere, education in Blanco County began with one-room schoolhouses. In 1874 the Masons of Blanco chartered Blanco Masonic University. The project literally did not get off the ground, however, for once the foundation of the building was laid, there was no money left. A few years later citizens in the community formed a corporation to raise money to build a high school. Blanco High School was chartered in 1883 and built on the unused university foundation. The first class graduated in 1887. The school system grew slowly, as many of the young men who attended seem to have dropped out, possibly to work on family farms or ranches.
The number of farms in the county increased to 519 by 1880, to 645 in 1890, and to 702 in 1900.The population of Blanco County increased as its economy developed. In 1880 it was 3,583. By 1890 it had risen to 4,649 and by 1900 to 4,703.
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries cotton production rose steadily in the county, and by 1910 the fiber had become one of the county’s most important crops. Blanco County’s first cotton gin was established in 1870.
The number of farms in Blanco County reached its peak between 1910 and 1920 and declined thereafter. The county had 753 farms in 1910, 713 in 1920, and 708 in 1929. Population figures for the period reflect the same downward trend; residents numbered 4,703 in 1900, 4,311 in 1910, 4,063 in 1920, and 3,842 in 1929.
The number of farms continued to drop between World War II and the 1970s, when their number again began to rise. In 1950 the county had 567 farms, in 1959 it had 516, and by 1969 only 472 remained. By 1982, however, there were 488 farms in the county. Population since World War II followed the same pattern. After the brief increase during the depression, the number of people in Blanco County dropped to 3,780 in 1950, then to 3,657 in 1960 and 3,567 in 1970, before rising to 4,681 by 1980. In 1990, 5,972 people lived in the county.
Tourism has also become an important part of the local economy since the 1960s, as many visitors are attracted to Blanco State Recreation Area just south of Blanco, Pedernales Falls State Park in the northern part of the county, and to the Lyndon Baines Johnson Birthplace, Boyhood Home and Ranch.
Johnson City, TX 30° 16′ 36.7248″ N, 98° 24′ 43.0848″ W