Bellville, the county seat of Austin County, is at the junction of State highways 36 and 159 and Farm roads 529, 1456, and 2429, in central Austin County. The town was named for Thomas B. Bell, one of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred, who came to Texas in 1822 and built a residence in the Bellville vicinity in 1838. In 1846 voters decided to replace San Felipe as county seat with a new community near the geographic center of the county. Bell offered to donate 108 acres from the Nichols league for the new town. His offer, plus 37½ acres from his brother James Bell, was officially accepted the following year, and the site was surveyed and laid out in 1848. A post office was opened in 1849, and a temporary log courthouse was erected around the same time. In 1850 this courthouse was replaced by a larger structure in the central square. During the early 1850s several merchants, including Hermann Miller and a man named Strother, opened stores around the square. A new brick courthouse was begun in 1854, and other businesses opened in the late 1850s.
The town grew slowly until the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad reached it in the winter of 1879–80. In four months the population increased from 300 to 522. Brick structures replaced wooden ones, and opulent Victorian homes were erected. Bellville became a transporting point for the region's cotton crop. In 1898, at the peak of the county's cotton boom, 8,626 bales of cotton were shipped from the town. By 1884 Bellville had two churches, two hotels, a bakery, a lumberyard, three saloons, twelve general stores, a public school, and two weekly newspapers, the Bellville Standard and the Austin CountyTimes. Other signs of the town's rapidly growing prosperity included a library in 1886, the construction of a new courthouse in 1887, and the opening of the first bank in the early 1890s.
The population, which reached 1,000 in the mid-1880s, was heavily German, and the town's schools provided instruction in both English and German. The local Turnverein (seeTURNVEREIN MOVEMENT) opened an opera house in 1889, and a decade later it built a large music pavilion on the outskirts of town. Other German institutions included a German singing society—the Concordia Gesangverein—the Harloff Beer Hall, the Germania Hotel, and German Methodist and Lutheran churches. In 1891 a German-language weekly, the Bellville Wochenblatt, began publication. Another newspaper was published by a black schoolteacher for several years before 1900.
In 1914 Bellville had two banks, a creamery, an ice plant, and telegraph and telephone connections. Oil was discovered in the county in 1915, and the development of the local oilfields further spurred the town's growth. By 1928 the population was 2,000. It fell during the Great Depression to 1,300 by the eve of World War II, but subsequently grew slowly. By the early 1950s the population once again reached 2,000, and in the late 1980s it surpassed 3,000. The number of businesses similarly declined during the years of the depression, from ninety-five in 1931 to seventy-five in 1940. After the war, however, the town's economy also recovered, and despite occasional drops, the number of businesses gradually increased. In 1991 Bellville had 100 businesses; the largest share of receipts came from retail sales, light manufacturing, and oil production. The population in 1990 was 3,378, and in 2000 it was 3,794.
Austin County: Beilage zum Bellville Wochenblatt, den alten Texanern gewidmet und den jungen Texanern zu Nutz' und Frommen (Bellville, Texas: Bellville Wochenblatt, 1899).
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
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