La Vernia is located at the junction of U.S. Highway 87 and FM 775 in northwest Wilson County. It is 24 miles southeast of San Antonio. La Vernia’s neighboring communities are Sutherland Springs seven miles to the southeast, St. Hedwig seven miles to the northwest, and Kicaster eight miles to the southwest.
La Vernia, Wilson County’s fastest growing city was incorporated on May 21, 1966. From 1990 to 2000, within its two square mile corporate limits, the population increased by 62% from 576 to 931 residents. However, the community serves a large number of rural subdivisions adjacent to its corporate boundaries. Within a five mile radius of the city the population has grown from 3483 in 1990 to 7712 in 2006, an increase of 104%. Historically, this is the largest population to reside in this area.
Community life in La Vernia celebrates the family, schools, and churches. The first school in La Vernia was organized in the 1850s by its earliest settlers; its first teacher was Robert McCoy. The Lavernia Male and Female Academy, organized in 1871, occupied the first floor of the historic Brahan Masonic Lodge.
La Vernia’s pioneers of education include V. L. Grubbs, Charles E. Wright, Miss W. Allensworth, Deed L. Vest, and A. N. McCallum. La Vernia High School, home of the La Vernia Bears, established in 1890, is a source of community pride and spirit. Today, La Vernia Independent School District serves over 3000 students from the greater La Vernia area.
During the earliest days, circuit riding preachers and missionary priests attended to the spiritual needs of the settlers on the Cibolo. Congregations that formed in 19th century exist to this day. First Baptist Church of La Vernia, Immanuel Lutheran Church, La Vernia United Methodist Church, La Vernia Primitive Baptist Church, St. Ann’s Catholic Church, and Zion Fair Baptist Church are legacies from the 19th century.
Rector Chapel Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest, disbanded in the late 1800s. Its chapel building was moved to downtown La Vernia in 1891 where it is now used by the La Vernia Primitive Baptist Church. Today the greater La Vernia area is served by over a dozen churches.
La Vernia’s Blue Bonnet Festival and Hammerfest bicycle rally are popular regional events. The La Vernia Historical Association, The La Vernia Heritage Museum, and its Veterans Memorial Park (currently under construction) attest to the community’s understanding of its place in history.
Fraternal organizations such as the Masons, Knights of Columbus, Lions Club, La Vernia Garden Club, and Hermann Sons are an important part of community life. La Vernia’s active Chamber of Commerce promotes a robust business environment.
By the late 1820s, Spain and Mexico had governed the area along the Cibolo for over two hundred years. San Antonio de Bexar, the seat of government for the state of Coahuila recognized the need to open a road to the DeWitt Colony in Gonzales. It authorized the creation of the San Antonio to Gonzales Road, which crossed the Cibolo twenty-three miles east of San Antonio.
Along this road, on October 2, 1835 near Gonzales, the first shots of the Texas Revolution were fired. In 1836, the last reinforcements for the beleaguered Alamo traveled this route from Gonzales. A few weeks later, the victorious army of General Antonio López de Santa Anna, marched along this route to find Gonzales burned to the ground by Sam Houston and his retreating army in the legendary “Runaway Scrape.”
As hostilities with Mexico concluded in the new state of Texas, settlers used the Gonzales Road to establish farms and ranches in the Cibolo valley. The earliest settlers came from other parts of Texas and the United States. After 1848, they were joined by immigrants from the Prussian states including Germany and Poland.
J. B. Polley, the son of J. H. Polley, one of Austin’s original 300, was a witness to the settling of the Cibolo valley. He chronicled the arrival of the first settlers in the La Vernia area. According to his chronology, the first to arrive were the Bristers who came in July of 1847. Claiborne Rector, who had performed valuable services in the revolution of 1836, came to the area in the fall of 1848. In the fall of 1849, bachelor brothers from Nova Scotia, Dick and Henry James, established themselves on a farm and ranch in the immediate location of the community.
In 1851 what Polley described as a deluge, began and continued until 1857. Among those arriving in 1851 were G. H. McDaniel, D. C. Robinson, J. J. Hankinson, Ross Houston, J. M. McAlister, T. D. James, W. K. Baylor, W. R. Wiseman, W. D. Scull, J. T. Montgomery, J. F. Tiner, Levi Humphreys, James Ripley, J. A. Burnside, and E. F. Potts. Of those coming later than 1851 were Maj. James L. Dial, Henry Yelvington, Lem Perkins, Dorsett Harmon, Maj. R. W. Brahan, Colonel Frazier, Rev. R. M. Currie, Edmund Barker, the Elams, the Floyds, the Gordons, S. W. McClain, James Newton, T. T. Collier, C. F. Henderson, Henry Morgan, Jesse Applewhite, Dr. William Sutherland, Rudolph Helman and a brother, Colonel Saunders, R. T. Spivey, James T. McKee, Dr. R. Stevenson, W. F. Hughes, Rev. Robert McCoy, Owen and Asa Murray, Dr. Owens, J. R. Plummer, J. G. Kilgore, the Barclays, Thomas G. and Levi Maddox, and Tignal Jones. Census and other records confirm the arrival of these settlers and add the names of others such as Thomas Camp.
Many of these settlers were planters from the Old South who brought with them African slaves. These Africans were enumerated as a part of the population in the Federal Census of 1860. According to this census, near Post Oak, the population of white settlers numbered about 475; the African slaves numbered about 416.
European immigrants from the Prussian states are usually associated with the German and Polish-Silesian communities in the area. However, as early as the 1850s many families moved out of those communities, bought land along the Cibolo, and became associated with the community of La Vernia. Immigrants from Prussia, who were in the area, are the Bauers, the Sellingslohs, the Gelvins, the Tewes, the Nauraths, the Dornstins, and the Maughs.
Gulf of Mexico to California
The region east of San Antonio along the Gonzales Road was widely know as the “post oaks,” the common name for the species of oak tree (quercus stellata) that covered the landscape. Small communities that provided the elements of civilization developed among the scattered farms and ranches in the valley; Post Oak, on the Gonzales Road, was one of such communities.
In 1846, as Texas came into the Union, Washington was keen to protect its newly acquired western route through San Antonio to Chihuahua, Mexico and San Diego, California. The U.S. Army established a massive depot in San Antonio to supply it forts west of San Antonio.
In 1848, Bexar County Commissioners supported this effort by authorizing a network of roads to connect with roads from the port of Indianola on the Texas coast. It ordered that the Gonzales Road traveling east from San Antonio be improved to the western bank of the Cibolo to Claiborne Rector’s house. From Rector’s house, a new road would be created coursing south, following old Indian trails and cow paths along the western bank of the Cibolo to a point below the Sulphur Springs (Sutherland Springs) where it crossed the Cibolo and continued to Yorktown and Indianola.
When the Western and Saltmarsh Stage lines established routes through the area in the early 1850s, two communities were beginning to form on the banks of the Cibolo: Bethesda on the east side of the Cibolo in Guadalupe County and Post Oak on the west side in Bexar County. Regular stage service allowed a post office to opened at the junction of the Old Gonzales Road and the Cibolo. In 1853, Post Oak, on the western bank, was chosen for its location. Joseph Brown was the first postmaster. The community of Bethesda gradually receded in importance.
Post Oak becomes Lavernia
The name “Post Oak” was used for the community until 1859 when confusion with other communities named Post Oak caused the Post Office Department to recommend a change. The community postmaster at that time, Connally F. Henderson, submitted an application for the name “Lavernia.” The choice was deliberate and well documented in governmental records, correspondence, and newspapers of the day.
The name has been a unique choice, no other community named Lavernia, has ever existed in the United States. Unfortunately, within three years after choosing the name “Lavernia,” Connally F. Henderson, its postmaster, was buried with other Civil War casualties of the Battle of Gaines Mill in Virginia, taking with him the secret of the name “Lavernia.”
The origin of the name La Vernia is elusive. Its association with the community comes from two separate legends; the most popular is the speculation that the original “Lavernia” was derived from “La Verde” Spanish for the “the green.” This understanding led to the community changing the original spelling of its name from “Lavernia” to “La Vernia” in 1937.
The second legend attributes the origin to the original founders of the community who were university-educated men, readers of the classics, who chose the name “Lavernia” for its spiritual inspiration. Lavernia was the village in the Italian Apennines where on September 14, 1224 tradition has it that St. Francis of Assisi received the stigmata, the marks of Christ’s wounds; an event described by Dante in the “Divine Comedy.”
The earliest settlers were planters from the southern states who brought with them the plantation model for growing cotton using African slaves. For the first few years the settlers experienced good rainfall and harvested large yields. However, the drought of 1857 emphasized the erratic and sparse average rainfall that made farming unpredictable. The unpredictability of the climate coupled with the high cost of slaves in Texas and the ease with which slaves could escape to freedom in Mexico caused many planters to abandon the plantation model and explore other opportunities.
Rounding up and branding the wild cattle in the area became the focus of many in the community, as evidenced by the registration of brands and marks with the Bexar County Clerk. Some families, like the Bristers and Bealls, move west, establishing vast cattle ranches in what would become Live Oak and Atascosa counties.
The early settlers endured the hardships of the frontier: droughts that withered crops, floods that inundated the Cibolo Valley, washing away homes, livestock, and dreams. The most terrifying hardship for the settlers was the return of Indian tribes to their traditional hunting grounds along the Cibolo. Indian incursions were reported in 1848, 1849, and 1850.
Not until 1855, and after the valley was settled, was there another raid. Lucy, an African slave girl for the Elam plantation, was attacked and killed by a mounted party of Indians as she carried water to field hands. About a mile above Post Oak on Dry Hollow Creek a boy, Jewett McGee, the son of a local pastor, and Pendleton Rector were caught in the open by the same group, Rector escaped, young McGee was killed. Men from the community chased the raiders deep into the post oaks with no success.
The Civil War came to Texas at daybreak, on Feb. 16, 1861 when Ben McCulloch with about 1,000 Texan militiamen demanded the surrender of U.S. Troops stationed in San Antonio. This would become a watershed event in the history of La Vernia. The American Civil War although fought on faraway battlefields changed the course of La Vernia’s history.
The leaders of La Vernia were active and influential in Texas State politics and supporters of secession. Claiborne Rector and R. W. Brahan were delegates to the Secessionist Convention of 1861. The community rallied to the cause and men immediately volunteered for service with the Confederate States of America. The men of this community joined the ranks of units mustered all over Texas. They may be found in Terry’s Texas Rangers, Parson’s Texas Cavalry, Luckett’ Brigade, Walkers Division, Irelands Company, and the Cibolo Guards.
However, Company F, 4th Texas Infantry, called the “Mustang Grays” was formed and led by Captain Edward H. Cunningham. Under the command of General John Bell Hood’s Texas Brigade, it stands as a singular legend of the Civil War. Cunningham and his men reported to Richmond Virginia in late September 1861. Hood’s Brigade participated in every major engagement of General Lee’s army except Chancellorsville. It was present at thirty-eight engagements from Eltham’s Landing May 7, 1862 to Appomattox Court House May 7, 1865.
Captain Cunningham served on the headquarters staff of General John Bell Hood. The casualties suffered by this heroic unit were devastating to the community of La Vernia. At Gaines Mill, Virginia John F. Brooks, Charles McAlister, T. J. McCann, and Augustus Dial were wounded; L. P. Lyons, Daniel McAlister, Thomas Cunningham, C. F. Henderson, and M. Pickett were killed. At Sharpsburg, Maryland L. P. Hughes and R. H. Skinner were wounded; B. G. Henderson was killed. At the Wilderness Campaign, Virginia R. W. Murray was wounded; Charles Brown and A. T. Cohea were killed. Haywood Brahan was wounded at Appomattox, Virginia. Eli Park was killed at New Market Heights, Virginia. Jack Sutherland was wounded at Darbytown, Virginia. W. F. Floyd and J.C. Murray were killed at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. John D. Murray and James O. Wiseman were wounded at multiple engagements. J. B. Currie was wounded at Chickamauga, Tennessee/Georgia. Recorded with no injuries were W. A. Bennett, E. T. Kindred, T. P. Camp, Calvin and William Goodloe, William Morris, James O. Wiseman, John Maddox and M. Crenshaw.
After the war, the presence of an occupying United States Army created tensions throughout Texas and the Cibolo Valley was no exception. A wave of violence threatened the community when in early June of 1867 members of the Taylor family from DeWitt County, murdered a freed slave in La Vernia. Federal troops were dispatched to investigated the incident and suppress the violence. Slave patrols, established by the planters before the War, were re-organized as minutemen militias that began policing the surrounding area.
Confrontation with outlaw bands persisted throughout the 1870s and culminated on July 2, 1880 when Dr. James McMahon was murdered at his home. The local surgeon and postmaster was mortally wounded by Richard Newsom a member of an outlaw gang operating from Cottage Hill, a community across the Bexar County line, about six miles west of La Vernia.
Within days after the murder, Guadalupe, Bexar, and Wilson County officials met at Midway School near La Vernia to end the activity of these outlaws. A petition was gathered and sent to Governor Oran M. Roberts seeking his help. This request brought the attention of state and federal authorities to the area. The gang was brought to justice by the end of 1881, allowing the law-abiding citizens of La Vernia to live without the constant threat of organized violence.
Economic and Social Change
After the War, the population of La Vernia declined. The community changed as it sought economic opportunities without the plantation model. With the loss of slaves, some plantation operators moved from the area; A.G. Goodloe move back to Alabama, R. W. Floyd moved to Los Angeles, California, John S. McGee moved back to Kentucky.
Those that remained, sought opportunities in cattle raising, the names Morgan, Newton, Humphries, Tiner, Beall, Wiseman, and McAlister were known from Texas to Kansas for the large herds they sent up the trails.
Haywood Brahan and his brother-in-law Captain Ed Cunningham created and organized the prisoner leasing system for the state of Texas and used convicts to operate Cunningham’s sugar operation in Sugarland, Texas and his ranch on the Cibolo.
Family farms delivered cotton to the gins in La Vernia. Large herds of cattle were organized for drives up the trails to Kansas and beyond. Hotels and liveries serviced the ever-present wagon convoys that passed through on their way to the U.S. Army Depot in San Antonio, and mines of Chihuahua in Mexico. Chihuahua Street, La Vernia’s main street, is a reminder of that time.
With emancipation, the large population of African freedmen dispersed throughout the area creating small communities in Wilson and adjacent counties. The Dosiedo community was formed in the sandy hills, immediately west of La Vernia. In the 1870 Federal Census the families of African descent in the La Vernia area included the surnames Applewhite, Brahan, Brown, Brooks, Buffert, Bulger, Crews, Curtis, Davis, Dosiedo, Dudley, Floyd, Fields, Fortune, Gibson, Green, Griffin, Graves, Hartfield, Jackson, James, Johns, Johnson, Kendrick, Lotte, McAlister, Miller, Minus, Mitchell, McSimmons, Morgan, Reece, Roach, Robertson, Stevenson, Walker, Williams, and Wilson.
The Family Farm
Many of the vast tracts of land owned by the planters were purchased and divided by German and Polish settlers and operated as family farms. The surnames Achterberg, Beyer, Brietcke, Frederick, Gutz, Kosub, Koepp, Linne, Mattke, Sacherer, Pierdolla, Ploch, Stanush, Sczech, Schuwirth, Schievelbein, Suhre, Stoltz, Strey, Vorpahl, Wolfe, Winkler, Witte, Wostal, and Wunderlich are associated with these families. The influx of these industrious settlers brought a modest prosperity to La Vernia.
Commerce and Industry
The 1870 Federal Census enumerated individuals in occupations, other than farming, that revealed a vibrant community. Enumerated were one physician, three merchants, one dry goods clerk, two carpenters, two blacksmiths, several wagonners, teamsters, and wagon makers, a cook, a washerwoman, a nurse, and an innkeeper.
Ten year later, the 1880 census revealed dramatic growth; those claiming an occupation other than farming included three physicians, four carpenters, five merchants, two magistrates, five ministers, three teachers, two saddlers, a well borer, seven potters, a miller, two broom manufacturers, one blacksmith, one bookkeeper, a law student, a butcher, and two shoemakers.
Cotton gins were important to the farmers of the area. H. J. Suhre, J. T. Wolfe, William Wiseman, Hugo Kott, W. E. Tewes, T. H. Abbott, and Henry Linne operated the earliest and most successful cotton gins in La Vernia.
The rich alluvial soils of the Cibolo Valley attracted the farmers to the area, the deposits of clay attracted potters and brick makers. Brothers and Union civil war veterans, Isaac and George Washington Suttles found the clay was ideal for manufacturing superior pottery and bricks in La Vernia. While their presses created bricks for local use, their artisans created salt-glazed pottery that was shipped to customers as faraway as Denver, Colorado. La Vernia’s Suttles pottery is now treasured by pottery collectors.
Innkeepers were an important feature of this community. The first mention of a stage stop and livery was at the house of Claiborne Rector in the early 1850s. Thomas Applewhite operated a stage stop from his homestead for a brief period. Henry and wife Georgiana Morgan were farmers during the 1850s. After Henry’s death in 1867, Georgiana maintained an inn that was considered a reliable place for room and board. Another notable La Vernia inn was the Lay Hotel operated by Judge Francis Marion Lay from 1899 to the early 1900s.
Remembered by residents of the early 20th century as the “Racket Store,” Samuel Pressley Wiseman operated one of the earliest dry goods stores in La Vernia. Mr. Wiseman, as early as 1877, demonstrated his wares for the Sutherland Springs newspaper the Western Chronicle.
Herman Suhre was a well-known merchant and postmaster during the 1870s and 1880s. Brahan and Erskine, Gersdorff and Company operated stores during the 1870s; Kott and Linne, Tewes and Abbott operated stores and Emil Lenz and Emil Koepp operated the popular Two Emils Saloon when Wilson County celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in 1909.
Agriculture was the main preoccupation of the community. Patents registered with the U. S. Patent Office reveal the inventive nature of La Vernia’s farmers. In 1859, T. T. Collier registered a patent for an attachment that increased the efficiency of a cultivator. In 1892, John F. Tiner registered a patent for a Spring Draft Attachment to replace the doubletree used to attach draft animals to wagons.
In 1908, Otto H. Marx registered a patent for Improvements to the Sulky Plow. In 1917, C. W. Neblett registered a patent for a Supporting Structure used to suspend a scale for weighing cotton in the field.
In the 1870s, Major John Montgomery recognized the need for improved grasses for pasturage. He imported and sold a new grass from Africa, Sorghum halapense, commonly known as “Johnson grass,” a legacy that grows in Wilson County to this day.
150 Years of Freemasonry
Freemasonry has been an important part of La Vernia’s history. Brahan Lodge No. 226, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons was first established in Bethesda across the Cibolo in 1859 by John Rhodes King. The Lodge was named after Robert Weakley Brahan a local physician and planter. After the original building burned, the lodge was moved to La Vernia in 1867. Brahan Lodge, a red sandstone structure, constructed in 1871 is still a meeting place for Masons. At times, this registered Historic Texas Landmark has served as a school for the community.
Road and Bridges
After the Civil War, through the 1870s, the business of the community slowly expanded. Roads connecting La Vernia with outlying communities and farms were laid out and their rights-of-way formalized by the Commissioners of Wilson County. Built on the Cibolo, the community’s access to reliable crossings was essential to commerce and travel.
At times crossings were moved due to flood damage and maintenance requirements. Scull’s Crossing, Wiseman’s Crossing, McAlister’s Crossing, Montgomery’s Crossing, and Rector’s Crossing were the names and locations of crossings. Until the installation of steel bridges after 1900, the steep banks of the Cibolo made maintenance difficult and crossing treacherous. In 1915, the Mueller steel bridge was constructed at McAlister’s crossing and today stands as a Historic Texas Landmark.
Railroad Comes To La Vernia
The settlers of the Cibolo Valley understood and embraced the need for connecting their community to centers of commerce. In 1853, landowners like James McAllister and Claiborne Rector in La Vernia donated land for a railroad connecting the community to shipping on the Texas coast.
The Texas legislature chartered the San Antonio River Navigation Company in 1856 that would allow navigation up the San Antonio River to Goliad and points beyond. A navigable San Antonio River has been a dream of south Texas ever since. Members of the Canfield family of La Vernia and the Cibolo valley were named as charter members in the legislation.
The Civil War ended the efforts to realize these dreams. However, the railroad finally did arrived in 1895 when the San Antonio and Gulf Shore Railroad was built from San Antonio to Victoria with a stop in La Vernia. The railroad served the community as its connection to the greater world until 1957 when service was discontinued and the tracks removed.
La Vernia is proud of Jane Yelvington McCallum (1877-1957), suffragist leader and Texas Secretary of State (1927 – 1933), born to Alvaro Leonard and Mary Fullerton (LeGette) Yelvington in La Vernia, Texas, on December 30, 1877.
La Vernia’s growing list of historical markers includes: The Cibolo Crossing on the Gonzales Road, Thomas Applewhite Homestead, Brahan Masonic Lodge, Chihuahua Road, The City of La Vernia, Concrete Cemetery, Beall Cemetery, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery, La Vernia United Methodist Church, Rector Chapel Cemetery, Suttles Pottery, Mueller Bridge, Grave of Claiborne Rector, and the Deaf Smith Oak Tree.
The legacy of the founders of Wilson County thrives in La Vernia; where the Old South met the Wild West.