History and Historical Tours
Welcome to the Georgetown Square, the “Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas’ and a 1997 Great American Main Street Award Winner, which has one of the finest collections of high Victorian commercial architecture found in the state today. In 1976 a local historic ordinance was passed to recognize and protect the significance of the historic central business district and in 1977 the Williamson County Courthouse Historic District, comprised of some 46 contributing structures, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Georgetown, located in Williamson County, was founded in 1848 on land donated by Thomas B. Huling and George Washington Glasscock, Sr., for whom the town was named. Though the young town quickly established itself as a center for government and commerce, it is best characterized during these early years as a “frontier town of the most common type–a mean looking, tough town composed mainly of shacks and log cabins.”
By 1880 things had begun to change. A limestone courthouse stood on the square, early settlers and merchants had begun to prosper, Southwestern University, the state’s oldest college, had located on the eastern edge of town (1873), and the railroad had arrived in Georgetown (1878). It was a time of great promise for the citizens of Georgetown.
Between the years 1880 and 1910 Georgetown experienced a Golden Age during which the town was alive with the activities of physical expansion and economic development. Though that robust year ended in the early 20th century, it left a permanent mark on the city in the wealth of Victorian architecture which abounds in downtown Georgetown today.
The earliest buildings in Georgetown were probably log cabins and crude shacks. When milled lumber became available, it was used to construct simple wood-frame structures which at one time were evidenced on all four sides of the square. The new-found prosperity of the late 19th century and advent of the railroad expanded the horizons of building in downtown Georgetown.
Wood was eliminated as a building material for more permanent masonry. Limestone was quarried near Georgetown as early as the 1860s and became the preferred material in the late 1800s as evidenced by the quantity of limestone found in downtown Georgetown today. Limestone was used almost universally on the party walls and rear facades, while occasionally more expensive brick was imported for the important storefront. Other prominent materials in turn-of-the-century Georgetown were cast iron and pressed metal, imported by rail from manufacturing centers and applied to the storefronts.
One company in particular, Mesker Brothers of St. Louis, appears to have been an important source in Georgetown. Bernard and Frank Mesker began their catalog marketing technique and manufacture of highly decorative sheet metal storefronts in 1884 and sold over 5,000 storefronts nationwide within the next 23 years. While Georgetown boasts a few outstanding examples of pressed metal storefront design, virtually every structure includes some amount of metal detailing, particularly in the cornice area.
Georgetown’s success in rejuvenating its downtown area is due in great measure to the city’s participation in the National Main Street Program. This innovative program, piloted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is designed to bring about economic and architectural revitalization in towns across America.
Main Street’s “self-help” approach unites professional architectural and promotional consultation with locally supported financing and management. Georgetown joined the Main Street effort in January of 1982. Within a three year period, more than $7 million had been reinvested in the central business district, making Georgetown one of the most successful Main Street stories nationwide.
Restoration and revitalization efforts continue in Georgetown, not only in our downtown commercial district but also in our historic neighborhoods. We invite you to explore our city and to enjoy the unique architectural assets and natural resources which set Georgetown apart from other Texas communities.