Georgetown is a city in and the county seat of suburban Williamson County, Texas, United States, with a population of 47,400 at the 2010 census. Southwestern University, the oldest university in Texas, was founded in 1840 and is located in Georgetown about one-half mile from the historic square. Sun City Texas (formerly called Sun City Georgetown) is a large retirement-oriented and age-restricted development that constitutes more than one-third of Georgetown's population.
Georgetown has a notable range of Victorian commercial and residential architecture. 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 Historical District, containing some 46 contributing structures, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Georgetown is known as the "Red Poppy" Capital of Texas for the many red poppy (Papaver rhoeas) wildflowers planted throughout the city in many residents' front yards that bloom each spring. Georgetown's Red Poppy Festival, which attracts up to 30,000 visitors annually, is held in April each year on the historic square.
Georgetown has been the site of human habitation since at least 9,000 B.C., and possibly considerably before that. The earliest known inhabitants of the county, during the late Pleistocene (Ice Age), can be linked to the Clovis culture, a Paleo-Indian culture characterized by the manufacture of distinctive "Clovis points." that first appeared around 9200 B.C., and possibly as early as 11,500 B.C., at the end of the last glacial period. One of the most important discoveries in recent times is that of the ancient skeletal remains dubbed "The Leanderthal Lady" because of its age and proximity to nearby community Leander, Texas. The site is immediately southwest of Georgetown and was discovered by accident by Texas Department of Transportation workers while core samples for a new highway were being drilled. The site has been extensively studied for many years, and samples carbon date the findings to the Pleistocene period, approximately 10,500 years ago (8500 BC). Archeological dig sites showing a much greater evidence of Archaic Period inhabitants have been found in burned rock middens at several sites along the San Gabriel that are now inundated by Granger Lake and at the confluence of the North and South San Gabriel Rivers in Georgetown.
The earliest known historical occupants of the county, the Tonkawas, were a flint-working, hunting people who followed buffalo on foot and periodically set fire to the prairie to aid them in their hunts. During the eighteenth century they made the transition to a horse culture and used firearms to a limited extent. There also appear to have been small numbers of Kiowa, Yojuane, Tawakoni, and Mayeye Indians living in the county at the time of the earliest Anglo settlements. Even after most native Americans were crowded out by white settlement, the Comanches continued to raid settlements in the county until the 1860s.
Georgetown was named for George Washington Glasscock who donated the land for the new town. Early American and Swedish pioneers were attracted to the area's abundance of timber and good, clear water. In addition, the land was inexpensive and extremely fertile. Georgetown, Texas, is the county seat of Williamson County, which was formed on March 13, 1848 after the early settlers petitioned the State Legislature to create it out of Milam County. The county was originally to have been named San Gabriel County, but was instead named after Robert McAlpin Williamson (aka Three-Legged Willie), a Texas statesman and judge at the time.
Primarily to transport cattle and bales of cotton, at one time Georgetown was served by two national railroads, the International-Great Northern Railroad, which eventually was merged into the Missouri Pacific, and the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad. The regional Georgetown and Granger Railroad (GGR) was completed to Austin in 1904. Currently, Georgetown is served by the appropriately named Georgetown Railroad, a 'short line' railroad that uses portions of the former M-K-T and the I-GN to connect with the Union Pacific Railroad at Round Rock and at Granger.
Extensive damage and loss of life throughout the county from a 1921 flood led Georgetown to seek flood control. A low pressure system from a hurricane settled in over Williamson County and brought more than 23 inches of rain in Taylor and 18 plus inches of rain in Georgetown. An estimated 156 persons perished in the flood, many of them farm laborers . The flood and its horrific destruction culminated in the building of a dam on the north fork of the San Gabriel River to create and impound Lake Georgetown, which opened officially on October 5, 1979. Both Georgetown and Round Rock own the water rights to Lake Georgetown for municipal water use.
Population growth and industrial expansion continued modestly in the twentieth century until about 1960 when residential, commercial, and industrial development, due to major growth and urban expansion of nearby Austin, greatly accelerated. In 2008, Fortune Small Business Magazine named Georgetown the No. 2 best city in the nation to "live and launch" a new business.
A densely overgrown 1908–1910 Victorian house was found in Round Rock, Texas, where the La Frontera project now sits. It was cut into pieces and moved to Georgetown and restored. It is known locally as the Burkland-Frisk House as it was built by an early settler in Williamson County, Leonard Frisk, and was later owned by Tony Burkland, a relative of the Frisk family. The house originally set across the street from an identical twin house which was used in the filming of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and which was also cut into seven pieces and was moved to Kingsland, Texas, to become part of the Antlers Hotel (Kingsland, Texas). It was moved in 2006 and restored by the developers of La Frontera, Don Martin and Bill Smalling (1953–2008) and sits on San Gabriel Village Blvd prominently overlooking the South San Gabriel River. The house was a "pattern book" house, ordered from a catalog and assembled on site from a package of materials brought by wagon from a local lumber company. Research indicates it was likely built between 1908 and 1910 and is now used as an office.
In the 1970s, Georgetown's downtown was bleak and featureless. In an effort to modernize and compete with suburban retail development, building owners in the ‘50s and ‘60s obscured one of their most priceless resources – their retail buildings. The Texas-Victorian streetscape was plastered with stucco, aluminum covers, brick, and multiple layers of white paint. But community leaders had already begun taking interest and putting new stock back into their architectural heritage.
Georgetown's resurrected interest in its historic resources came at a time when the cost of borrowing money was soaring. Interest rates near 20 percent might have been a deterrent elsewhere. In Georgetown, every bank offered significantly lower interest loans for the renewal of the town's grand Victorian buildings and facades. And rehabilitation tax credit programs in the 1980s made investing in historic property an even more lucrative enterprise. By 1984, 40 rehabilitations were complete. A mere two years after its Main Street program was founded, more than half the Main Street district had undergone some kind of positive transition.
In the city's historic neighborhoods, adaptive restoration has been widely practiced as well, with special emphasis on the private restoration of older homes. The city was recently named one of the best places to purchase a historic house. Today, Georgetown is home to one of the best preserved Victorian and Pre-WW1 downtown historic districts, with The Beaux-Arts Williamson County Courthouse (1911) as its centerpiece. Due to its successful preservation efforts, Georgetown was named a national Main Street City in 1997, the first Texas city so designated.
Georgetown has three National Register Historic Districts: