By BOB BRINKMAN
The land that is now Williamson County has been inhabited for countless centuries. Tribes such as the Tonkawa, Apache and Comanche roamed the countryside for generations, and archeologists find evidence of habitation that dates back some 11,700 years. The Spanish also had a passing interest in the land, but it took until the 1840s for settlers to establish permanent homes here.
Largely from Arkansas, Tennessee and other states of the Old South, families started grouping along major waterways such as the San Gabriel River and Brushy Creek in what was then western Milam County. When enough people had arrived, they signed one of four petitions circulated through the countryside to form a new county. The petitions were presented to the Texas Legislature with the suggested names of Clear Water or San Gabriel County. The Legislature agreed to create a new county, but chose the name Williamson to honor Robert McAlpin Williamson, a pioneer Texan who was a newspaper publisher, lawyer, judge and state legislator. Because of a childhood illness, one of his legs was bent back and he also had a wooden leg extending from the knee, giving him the nickname “Three-Legged Willie.”
Williamson County was created on March 13, 1848, the 76th county created in the state and one of eleven that the Legislature designated that year, along with Hays, Gillespie and others. The legislative act named John Berry, William Dalrymple, David Cowan, Washington Anderson, J. M. Harrell and J. O. Rice commissioners charged with establishing the county seat and first government. Under a large oak tree just southeast of the present courthouse site, the commissioners met with George Glasscock, Sr. who donated 173 acres he owned along the San Gabriel River to be the county seat, which was named Georgetown in his honor.,
A small settlement along the river was already established, with a post office named Brushy whose name was changed for the new town.
The land was surveyed into lots and streets, and on July 4th a public sale of lots was held, with the proceeds going to the county treasury.
On August 7th the first election of county officers was held, with Greenleaf Fisk as chief justice (later termed county judge), Whitfield Chalk as sheriff, George Williams as county clerk, Ira Chalk as district clerk, John Gooch as county treasurer, and Harrell, Anderson, D. H. McFadin and Richard Tankersley as the first county commissioners.
The first grand jury was held in October 1848 under the live oak tree where the county seat came into being.
The first permanent courthouse was a small log cabin, about sixteen feet on a side, on the main street facing west toward the town square. From such humble beginnings Williamson County sprang, with a population that grew steadily until actually declining between 1900 and 1970. Today Williamson County’s population ranks it 14th among 254 counties in Texas, a mixture of old and new, historic and high-tech, and a land with amazing stories to tell.