Working on Georgetown book

Photos document Georgetown past and present

Donna Scarbrough Josey’s new book, Georgetown (Arcadia Publishing’s Then and Now series), offers rare, vintage photos of Georgetown locales juxtaposed with current shots. Time travelers from Georgetown’s late nineteenth or early twentieth centuries might easily recognize some sites. Basic bones of many buildings around the Square remain intact. Grand old homes like the Leavell house on College Street or the Sansom house on South Main Street affirm Georgetown’s enduring sense of place. Southwestern’s Main Building still anchors the town’s eastern flank, and the San Gabriel River still offers recreational fun. Old churches still stand, vital and welcoming.

These same travelers, however, might be mystified when they look elsewhere. Where is the regal three-story Grammar School between Austin Avenue and Main? How can someone access “Ship-Rock’s” heights on the South Gabriel as cars speed past St. David’s Hospital on a big road called I-35? Where’s the polo practice field that used to be there? What happened to expanses of ranchland along the long, unimproved highway to Lampasas? Can that commercial mishmash called Williams Drive really be the same area? Today’s residents can let imagination drift back over the past century, knowing that answers are at their fingertips to explore.

Over two years ago, just after publication of her first book, Georgetown, in Arcadia’s Images of America series, Donna was already at work on her latest book, spending hours with various photo collections and her ever-present magnifying glass, reading newspaper accounts from years ago on microfilm, and consulting old Sanborn maps. She repeatedly visited sites shown in old pictures, taking new pictures from multiple angles. When it came time to choose from the wealth of images, she used only two or three of the eighty-five or so that appeared in her earlier book. Donna made selections based on “which ones would best tell the story” and on superior quality. “Writing this book certainly put my history ‘sleuthing skills’ to the test,” she says. “I worked tremendously hard on being sure, following many leads, connecting with new people and new sources.”

The Internet helped Donna find Johnny Brummett in Washington. His parents built the San Gabriel Motor Court around 1935, and the family lived there for several years. Unsurprisingly, Johnny had a great picture for the book. Donna’s connection with Bill Atlee was more circuitous. Back in the 1980s, a letter came to The Williamson County Sun from Colorado with some pictures that Bill’s father Luis had photographed. “Sleuth Donna” found the old address via Google, obtained a phone number, and connected with an Atlee relative visiting from another state. This woman suggested that Donna call Bill, who happens to be a writer and historian in Sun City!

Early Georgetown merchant John Leavell built this imposing Queen Anne home c. 1880 at 803 College Street. (Author’s collection) Remodeled extensively in 2010, the Leavell house is uniquely situated, with a commanding view down Eighth Street to the square. (Donna Josey photograph)

Early Georgetown merchant John Leavell built this imposing Queen Anne home c. 1880 at 803 College Street. (Author’s collection) Remodeled extensively in 2010, the Leavell house is uniquely situated, with a commanding view down Eighth Street to the square. (Donna Josey photograph)

Donna’s daughter, Grace, helped identify another stubborn mystery picture of a white-streaked monolith towering over a horse-drawn vehicle somewhere along the river. Grace contacted an out-of-town Southwestern alumnus “who always hiked the river.” His information, combined with other research, brought Donna practically into the backyard of longtime friends.

“Evolution of the Railroad District” was the hardest chapter for Donna because that area underwent radical changes over the years—residences, rail-based commerce, neglect, rebirth—and images were difficult to identify. West of Austin Avenue to “the ridge,” a geographic upheaval high above the South Gabriel, it now hosts the library, police station, Williamson County Annex, neat cottages, and parking.

Two other chapters of the book showcase roads and bridges, metaphors, perhaps, for Georgetown’s onward march. Donna opens her book by quoting diarist J. H. Kuykendall’s 1853 thoughts about the Georgetown area: “This is an admirable section and must soon attract attention.” And so it has.

Photographed around 1900, Georgetown’s cotton yard filled almost an entire block in the railroad district. (Author’s collection) Today, this same corner is viewed from the Georgetown Public Library at Ninth and Forest Streets. (Donna Josey photograph)

Photographed around 1900, Georgetown’s cotton yard filled almost an entire block in the railroad district. (Author’s collection) Today, this same corner is viewed from the Georgetown Public Library at Ninth and Forest Streets. (Donna Josey photograph)


Georgetown (Arcadia’s Then and Now series) by Donna Josey is sold locally at the Georgetown Visitor Center and The Williamson County Sun and at Amazon and Barnes and Noble online. Donna can be reached through kbrown@arcadiapublishing.com.


Did You Know That…

Did you know that originally Ninth and Church Streets were Georgetown’s southern and eastern borders, with the South Gabriel River defining northern and western limits?

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