Founded 186 years ago, Gonzales is one of the earliest and most historic Anglo-American settlements in Texas and the first west of the Colorado River. It was named for Rafael Gonzales, the governor of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. Tracing its beginning back to 1825, the town of Gonzales played an important role in Texas’ fight for independence from Mexico.
Because Gonzales was the site of the first gunshot of the Texas Revolution, it became known as the “Lexington of Texas.” The story began in 1831 when the Mexican government gave a small cannon to the Gonzales settlers for protection against Indian attacks. When hostilities broke out between the Texas settlers and the Mexican government, a contingent of Mexican soldiers was sent from San Antonio to retrieve the cannon. The Texans, however, were prepared and had created a flag with the words “Come and Take It” written on it. They successfully resisted the Mexican troops in what became known as the “Battle of Gonzales.”
In 1836, Susanna Dickinson, the widow of one of the Alamo defenders, and Joe, the slave of Colonel William B. Travis, fled to Gonzales with news of the massacre at the Alamo. General Sam Houston was in Gonzales organizing the Texas army and anticipated the town would be the next target of the Mexican troops. He had the town burned to the ground and ordered the Texans to retreat, in what became known the Runaway Scrape.
After Texas won its independence from Mexico in 1836, the town of Gonzales was rebuilt on the original site which is near the Guadalupe River. It was designated the county seat of Gonzales County, and by 1850 had a population of 300 people. The population of the town grew to 1,703 in the 1860s, and reached 4,297 in 1900.* The town’s newspaper, The Gonzales Inquirer, was established in 1853, one of the first in Texas.
Just like other counties in Texas at the time, Gonzales wanted a grand, impressive courthouse that represented the wealth of the county.
Construction began in 1894 on the Gonzales County Courthouse, which is still standing. It is the second building to serve as the county courthouse; the first one burned in1893. The three-story building– designed by prominent architect J. Riely Gordon in Romanesque Revival style–was built with red brick and white limestone trim. Gordon also designed the Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio
The building has many architectural features such as cupolas, verandas, and arched entrances at the corners of the building. The imposing clock tower overlooks all the other structures in the town. The courthouse, which was the most important building in the county, was completed on April 8, 1896, at a cost of $64,450.
The courthouse went through a detailed historic restoration in 1997, and today it still serves the people of Gonzales County, standing majestically in the town square. On the same square is the historic Gonzales jail, now a history museum. The courthouse and the museum, as well as an authentic 1840s log house, are popular sites where heritage tourists visit.
Gonzales is located about seventy miles east of San Antonio; it maintains the same street pattern today, just as had originally been surveyed. The 2010 population of the town is estimated to be 7,500.
*In comparison to other Texas cities in 1860– San Antonio had an estimated population of 8,235; Galveston, 7,307; Houston, 4,845; New Braunfels, 3,500; and Dallas, 2,000.
(The Gonzales County Courthouse was featured in a television documentary series, “The Golden Age of Texas Courthouses,” produced by Sunset Productions and Texas Foundation for the Arts, in association with HoustonPBS.)