Oakville's Beginnings

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A Brief History of Oakville

  

The Settlers~

Arriving in the Coastal Bend of Texas in the early 1800’s, Irish immigrants became the first settlers of a region that includes what is now known as the town of Oakville, Texas.

The county seat was chartered in 1856 under the Charter Oak Tree which still stands today. For many years prior, Oakville had been a bustling place of commerce because it was the crossroads of ox-cart caravans and mule trains that crawled the muddy roads of Texas between the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and Brownsville to San Antonio. It was the half-way point and merchants & travelers used it as a rest stop on such long, hazardous journeys of the day.

 

The Misbehaved~

A fair share of activities associated with the Wild Texas West went along with the territory as well. Oakville, boasting a population of over 400 at it’s zenith, is purported to have had 7 saloons to supply the local cowboys with amusement and entertainment before they began their long months of cattle driving the famous longhorns on the Chisholm Trail. Many tales of drunken carousing by the cattle crews indicates that a lot of liquor was sold and, afterwards, the jail was the place to sober up.


Oakville and the region became a real hotbed of lawlessness during the Civil War – And afterwards some of this spilled over into frontier violence in the form of horse thievery, cattle rustling and more until the Texas Rangers cleared out the outlaws and brought them to the Live Oak County Jail in the county seat of Oakville, for justice.

 

The Jail ~

 The standing historic jail was the third jail used in Oakville, the first two proving inadequate - the first one was a mud structure and the second of wood; both of one story construction.  It was decided that something had to be done - for one, angry citizens could shoot the prisoners dead thru the jail bars in the absence of the Sheriff whilst he was away handling business.

The stone jail became a source of community pride.  It was the latest design, the state-of-the-art in incarceration at the time of its construction. At two stories tall, it provided for safe lock-up in the upstairs cells until the judge arrived and provided formal offices for the Sheriff downstairs in which to conduct business.  It also allowed for the sheriff's or jailer's family to reside on the first floor should they elect to do so.  This important building served as the county’s jail from 1887-1919. The jail was constructed of hard native 22” sandstone, rough-hewn blocks, hauled by ox-cart from a nearby quarry. It is a rare style of jail, as there are only 2 in Texas of this style & configuration, built from plans purchased from the Diebold Lock & Safe Co.

 

For the burgeoning community, a jail of this stature was literally an advertisement and enticement to incoming settlers that Oakville would be a success in that it promoted civility and safety for it’s residents. The "modern" stone Oakville Jail of the 1880’s symbolized the arrival of the law to Oakville and to frontier Texas where previously only the  six-shooter, rifle and the Texas Rangers administered justice to the wild and wooly lawless.

 

Many a badman came to lament the day he entered the Oakville Jail. It is told that over 40 men hanged in the notorious sprawling live oak “Hanging Tree” outside on the Town Square.


The Boom~

With the close of the Civil War, Oakville bloomed even more with the promise of prosperity. It became a small boomtown for the kind of trade that ranching needed. It boasted the first newspaper, the first bank and the first Post Office in Live Oak County. A dry goods store, and a blacksmith, as well as a title company and attorney’s services indicated the sure success of the town in the 1860’s.  


By the late 1880’s Oakville not only shipped cattle, horses, cotton & wool, but it also listed a dozen stores, two hotels, a livery stable, steam gristmill and a cotton gin, a school and two churches – one of which is still congregating a few blocks away - the Oakville Baptist Church.

 

The Bust~

Oakville’s promising fate would turn and eventually render her a virtual ghost-town with the enticement by George West for the laying of the railroad through his namesake town nearby; the election to move the County Seat as the commerce center shifted; and then finally the construction of IH-37 that literally cut a highway to effectively the community in two.  Throughout it all, the lone remaining witness of it’s illustrious and exciting history is the stubborn stone Oakville Jail, marking time and history’s passing.


The Legacy~

In 2004, the Live Oak County Jail of Oakville, TX was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

The Jail and the Town of Oakville are designated as Texas Historic Landmarks as is the Post Office that sits on the Town Square.

 

In 2005, the Jailhouse, long deserted for all practicable purposes, was saved from decline and restoration begun.

 

In 2007 the work on the Jail was completed and the continued development and restoration of other local buildings on the Oakville Town Square commenced. 

 

Y'all Come~

Come visit the TexasWild West legacy of the Historic Oakville Jail and Town Square guest lodging.