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 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 also known as the “Red Poppy” Capital of Texas for the red poppy(Papaver rhoeas) wildflowers planted throughout the city. Georgetown’s Red Poppy Festival, which attracts up to 30,000 visitors annually, is held in April each year on the historic square.
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 24.9 square miles (64.6 km2), of which 22.8 square miles (59.1 km2) is land and 2.1 square miles (5.4 km2) (8.42 percent) is water.
The city is located on the northeastern edge of Texas Hill Country. Portions of Georgetown are located on either side of the Balcones Escarpment, a fault line in which the areas roughly east of IH-35 are flat and characterized by having black, fertile soils of the Blackland Prairie, and the west side of the Escarpment which consists mostly of hilly, karst-like terrain with little topsoil and higher elevations and which is part of the Texas Hill Country. Inner Space Cavern, a large cave, is a major tourist attraction found on the south side of the city, just west of Interstate 35, Interstate 35 and is a large-scale example of limestone karst formations.
The North and Middle Forks of the San Gabriel River both run through the city, providing over 30 miles of hike and bike trails, several parks and recreation for both residents and visitors.
According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Georgetown has a humid subtropical climate, abbreviated “Cfa” on climate maps. Georgetown, like much of Central Texas, is characterized by its long and hot summers with cooler, mild winters. The average summer temperature typically reaches 100 degrees for several days during July and August. It is common for highs to be near 90 well into October, but by this time, the nights are noticeably cooler.
Winters in Georgetown have highs in the 50s and 60s with a few days dropping near freezing, providing the region with one or two ice storms per season. On the other hand, a few days will reach well above the average. It is not uncommon for the region to experience 80s well into December and 70s in January.
Fall, winter and spring all average about two to three inches of rain per month, while July and August are the driest averaging only one to two inches and sometimes will provide no precipitation at all. Most of what rain does fall during the long summer months comes from the outflow of Gulf storms that are often pushed away from the region by a large summer high pressure.Georgetown sees over 300 days of at least partly cloudy skies per year with over 225 of those days being mostly sunny to sunny.
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 (a.k.a. Three-Legged Willie), a Texas statesman and judge at the time.
Georgetown was an agrarian community for most of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Shawnee Trail, a cattle trail that led from Texas to the rail centers in Kansas and Missouri, crossed through the heart of Georgetown. The establishment of Southwestern University in 1873 and construction of a railroad in 1878 contributed to the town’s growth and importance. A stable economy developed, based largely on agricultural activity. Cotton was the dominant crop in the area between the 1880s and the 1920s. Williamson County was the top producer of cotton in the State of Texas.
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.
In March 2015 Georgetown announced that their Municipal Owned Utility, Georgetown Utility Systems, would begin procuring 100% of its power for its customers from wind and solar farms by 2017, effectively making the City 100% green powered.
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 begun 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. 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:
- Williamson County Courthouse District
- Belford National District
- The University Avenue/Elm Street District