Castroville, the "little Alsace" of Texas, is located on the Medina River and U.S. Highway 90 twenty-five miles west of San Antonio in eastern Medina County. The town was named for its founder, Henri Castro, with whom the Republic of Texas negotiated an empresario contract on January 15, 1842. Castro's grant began four miles west of the Medina River and comprised frontier lands in Comanche territory. Wanting to locate his first settlement on the Medina River, Castro purchased the sixteen leagues between his grant and the river from John McMullen of San Antonio.
He arranged transport for mostly Catholic Alsatian farmers to the Texas coast, from where the colonists were escorted overland to San Antonio. On September 2, 1844, Castro set out from San Antonio with his colonists, accompanied by Texas Ranger John C. Hays and five of his rangers, to decide upon a site for settlement. The company chose a level, park-like area near a sharp bend of the Medina River covered with pecan trees. Castro recounts in his memoirs that after crossing the river members of his party killed two deer, three bears, and one alligator and caught numerous fish. Subsequently, the colonists endured raids by Comanches and Mexicans, droughts in 1848 and 1849, an invasion of locusts, and a cholera epidemic in 1849.
Castro patterned his town after European villages in which small town lots were surrounded by individual farming plots. The town was surveyed by John James; its streets were named in honor of Castro's relatives and friends and the capitals of Europe. In 1844 citizens of Castroville built St. Louis Catholic Church, the first church in Medina County. Zion Lutheran Church was built in 1853; the first public school classes taught in Medina County were held in this church in 1854. By 1856 Castroville supported three large stores, a brewery, and a water-powered gristmill. The community raised corn, cattle, horses, hogs, and poultry, and sold produce to the military posts in the area.
Castroville architecture and style were distinctly European. A cross was erected on Mount Gentilz (see GENTILZ, J. L. T.). A visitor in the 1850s described Castroville as quite "un-Texan," with its "steep thatched roofs and narrow lanes" and the inn whose interior suggested "Europe rather than the frontier." The houses were not arranged along parallel lines but were spread out over many acres. Stores and residences were constructed without the broad front porches common to the South. The house builders used rough-cut stone or stone and timber combinations and smoothed over the exterior with lime plaster. The European method of building ground floors of stone and second floors with vertically placed timbers was characteristic of two-story construction. Many of the structures erected in Castroville's earliest days continued to house people and businesses 150 years later. Local builders made use of large cypress trees growing along the Medina River to produce shingles for home use or for market. (see GERMAN VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE.)
The first post office in Medina County opened in Castroville in 1847 with M. Laroch as postmaster. In 1848 the Texas legislature established Medina County and designated Castroville its county seat. In 1853 Castro donated two lots for the site of the new courthouse, which when completed in 1855 served as a school. A rock dam, still intact in 1945, was built in 1854 to furnish power for a gristmill.
During the Civil War wagon trains loaded with freight stopped overnight at Castroville on their way to Mexico, and the town thrived. By the mid-1860s Castroville was the twelfth largest city in Texas. In 1884 the town had a population of 1,000, a weekly newspaper called the Brackett Weekly News, a steam gristmill and cotton gin, a brewery, Catholic and Lutheran churches, a convent, and a public school. The principal marketable goods produced at this time were cotton, hides, and grain. By 1890 pecans were being marketed, the Castroville Anvil was being published, and a telephone system had been installed. A bank opened by 1896, when the population was 750.
In 1880 the Southern Pacific Railroad, extending its line to the west, passed south of Castroville because the town refused to grant the railroad a bonus. Hondo became the county seat in 1892. Castroville citizens voted that year to disincorporate their town, and it remained unincorporated until 1948. In 1908 the Castroville school had 172 White students, twelve Black students, and four teachers. In 1915 the old courthouse was converted into a school with three large classrooms.
In 1914 Castroville had a population of 700 and a new weekly newspaper called the Castroville Quill. The population dropped to 500 during Prohibition. By 1931 the town had a population of 325 and nineteen businesses. In 1936 the population was 787; 65 percent were German, 15 percent were Mexican American, and 20 percent were French or American. Most farmers in the community lived in town and farmed their small tracts in the surrounding territory. The population in 1940 was 865. By 1953 Castroville had a population of 992 and thirty businesses. In 1962 it had 1,508 residents and forty businesses. The following year the Castroville Public Library, the first public library in Medina County, opened. In 1979 Castroville had a population estimated at 2,146 and thirty-five businesses.
In 1984 the major agricultural products grown in the area were corn, maize, oats, wheat, vegetables, and hay. Agribusinesses in Castroville included a firm that processed whole-grain corn for local tortilla and corn-chip manufacturers, feed mills, and irrigation, tractor, and farm-implement dealers. Castroville is also a center for applied research in genetics and artificial breeding of livestock. By 1989 Castroville had a population of 2,037 and thirty-three businesses. In 1990 the population was 2,159, and in 2000 it was 2,664.
Castroville has been recognized as a national and a Texas historic district. Many of the ninety-seven Historical American buildings in Castroville can be seen on a walking tour; they include the Landmark Inn State Historic Site, the St. Louis Catholic and the Zion Lutheran churches, the Moye Formation Center, the Tarde Hotel, and Henri Castro's original homestead. Castroville celebrates St. Louis Day on August 22 each year.