Tuesday, June 17, 2008

San Gabriel River Crossings

Before the development of modern transportation, rivers such as the San Gabriel served as major barriers to travel in Texas: high cliff banks, deep water, and muddy bottoms made crossing with wagons and cattle difficult and sometimes hazardous. Early settlers and later cattlemen quickly discovered sites along San Gabriel where crossing the river was facilitated by shallow water, low banks, and hard bottoms. These “crossings” became widely known and used; frequently mills, stores, and settlements sprung up nearby to take advantage of the traffic. A number of river crossings existed on the San Gabriel and some of these are still used today for low-water bridges.

One of the most important of the San Gabriel crossings was Mankins Crossing, located about 5 miles east of Georgetown, near where highway 29 today crosses the San Gabriel River (turn off highway 29 onto CR 100 and follow it down to the river). The shallow water and solid limestone bottom made fording the river with wagons possible at this site. The site is named for Samuel Mankins, who bought land along the river at this site in 1849 (state historical marker at site). Harvey Stearns build a cotton gin on the west bank of the river at this site in 1892 (Scarbrough, 1973). A concrete low-water bridge that was built in 1931 is still in use today.

Several crossings existed on the North San Gabriel west of Georgetown. The first of these was Booty’s Crossing, which was located about 4 miles west of Georgetown just above the present-day Lake Georgetown dam. This spot was a popular place for swimming, picnics, and fishing (Scarbrough, 1973). Today, Booty’s Crossing Road goes from Williams Drive (FM 223) down to the base of the dam; before the lake was constructed, this road followed the north bank of the river, crossing to the south side at Booty’s Crossing.

The next crossing above Booty’s was Russell Crossing, later called Jenkins Crossing. Frank Russell built a rock house near the crossing in 1868 and later Richard Jenkins settled there. The old rock house remained until 1973, when it was removed for the construction of Lake Georgetown (Scarbrough, 1973). This crossing is now under the waters of Lake Georgetown and sits right off the beach at Russell Park (Carey Weber, personal communication). Jenkins Crossing was sometimes called “Second Booty’s.”

The third major crossing on the North San Gabriel was Box Crossing, which was named for the Box family who settled the area. This crossing is marked on some maps as Hunt Crossing. It now occurs at the upper end of Lake Georgetown, marked by an old low water bridge that spans the river channel.

The fourth crossing, usually called Hunt Crossing, was named for Hayden Hunt who, along with his brothers, built a log cabin near the crossing in the 1850s. Mart Hunts later ran a cotton gin and corn mill on the north side of the river at this site (Scarbrough, 1973). The Hunt family cemetery still exists on the south bank of the river near the crossing.

A fifth crossing occurred further upstream at the Rock House Community (Carey Weber, personal communication). A great short documentary film called San Gabriel River Crossings, made by Diane Koenig in 1974-75, provides a rare glimpse of the North San Gabriel River canyon before it was filled by Lake Georgetown. A copy of the film is in the library of Southwestern University.

Koenig, Diane. circa 1974-75. San Gabriel River Crossings.
Scarbrough, Clara Stearns. 1973. Land of Good Water (Takachue Pouetsu) : a Williamson County, Texas, History. Georgetown, TX, Williamson County Sun Publishers.
Weber, Carey. Park Manager, Lake Georgetown, US Army Corps of Engineers. Personal communication 17June2008.

1 comment:

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