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THE OTHER HILL COUNTRY: Our regional high points

0905
 2017


Some of the Bluebonnet territory is hilly -- and some just has a hill-based name. Take Hills, near Giddings. Named for R. E. Hill, an early non-native settler, this community was founded as a station on the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. In the early 1900s its post office was called Hill’s Spur. The community school was consolidated with the Giddings school system in the 1950s. The area itself is fairly flat. (Sarah Beal photo)

Welcome to “The Other Hill Country” in Texas. Just look around. Small summits poke their heads up all over eastern Central Texas. If you run for these hills, you won’t have far to go. 

The most famous hills in Texas may be west of I-35 in the storied Hill Country, a land of enchanted rocks, llano uplifts and stone walls. But the gentle hills that roll between I-35 and Houston have made their own mark, both on the landscape and on history. Dozens of towns, schools and former encampments are named for hills, perhaps more than anywhere else in Texas. 

There’s Hungry Hill, Monument Hill, Chappell Hill and so many more, including three counties with their own version of a Gay Hill. 

“The things that make these modest elevations appealing to us today are the same things that made them appealing to Stone Age people,” says retired Tarleton State University history professor T. Lindsay Baker, author of more than 20 books on Texas history and the American West. “Even to this day in that part of the state there are farmsteads literally on the top of Stone Age habitation sites.” 

Cultural heritage experts, Baker said, “often find the layering of modern debris, log cabin-era debris and Stone Age debris on exactly the same low hilltops because these are places that are appealing for elevation in order to see who’s approaching and also offer wood and water.”

“Many of them later became crossroads communities. All these little places got names because for some reason or another they attracted humans.”

All the pleasant hills of eastern Central Texas have another thing in common. Their beauty is beloved.

To honor “The Other Hill Country,” we’ve compiled a list of many of the hilly-named places in or near the area served by Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative, along with their elevation above sea level.
 
— Denise Gamino

OAK HILL

ELEVATION:  571 feet
LOCATION: Bastrop County, 4 miles southwest of McDade
ABOUT: The community of Oak Hill developed in 1849 on the old Bastrop-McDade road in northern Bastrop County. Oak Hill farmers grew cotton, corn and other vegetables and raised livestock. The community was disrupted in the early 1940s when the U.S. government selected the land around Oak Hill as the location for Camp Swift, a World War II installation about 7 miles north of Bastrop. Homes and businesses had to be sold, moved or demolished to avoid being used as training targets. Most of the land was returned to former owners after the war, but the government kept 11,700 acres. Today that land off Texas 95 is used for a Texas Army National Guard camp, a federal prison and a University of Texas cancer research center. The Oak Hill cemetery remains, but the town was never rebuilt.
 

FESTIVAL HILL

ELEVATION: 440 feet
LOCATION: Fayette County, 1 mile north of Round Top 
on Texas 237 N
ABOUT: Festival Hill is the campus of the Round Top Festival Institute, created by world-renowned concert pianist James Dick on just six acres in 1976. Today, Festival Hill has grown to 200 acres that include lakes, picnic areas, jogging trails and herb gardens. It also provides lodging, rehearsal, dining and practice space for young musicians, faculty and staff. Among other things, the institute offers a summer education program for young musicians and a series of public performances by Dick, students and musical guests. The 1,000-seat Festival Concert Hall, left, is an acoustical jewel.
 

MONUMENT HILL

ELEVATION: 445 feet
LOCATION: Fayette County, south side of Colorado River, 1 mile south of La Grange off U.S. 77
ABOUT: Overlooking the scenic Colorado River valley, this granite tomb houses the remains of Texans killed by Mexicans in the 1842 “Dawson massacre” near Salado and Texan prisoners executed in 1843 in the infamous “black bean death lottery” of the Mier Expedition into Mexico. The crypt is guarded by a 10-foot bronze angel sculpted by French-born artist Raoul Josset. 
 

HILLS

ELEVATION: 551 feet
LOCATION:  Lee County, 8 miles west of Giddings on U.S. 290
ABOUT: Named for R. E. Hill, an early non-native settler, this community was founded as a station on the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. In the early 1900s its post office was called Hill’s Spur. The community school was consolidated with the Giddings school system in the 1950s. The area itself is fairly flat.
 

HILLS PRAIRIE

ELEVATION: 348 feet
LOCATION: Bastrop County, about 4 miles south of Bastrop
ABOUT: In the 1830s, a few non-native settlers made their home on this prairie near Bastrop. In 1835, a colony of 140 people from Alabama and Georgia moved to the community and named it Hill’s Prairie in honor of Abram Hill, who bought 2,220 acres from the widow of one of the original settlers. In the 1880s, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad passed through the area and named its station Hills Prairie. The town had a general store, post office and two cotton gins in its heyday.
 

GLOBE HILL 

ELEVATION: 494 feet
LOCATION: Lee County, 2 miles east of Giddings and 1.5 miles north of U.S. 290
ABOUT: Globe Hill was a predominantly African-American community populated in the late 1880s by tenant farmers near a rocky promontory called Rocky Hill. Town founder George Coleman Truitt ran a general store and later named the town Globe Hill. The town had a cemetery and a school where church services were held. The school was replaced in the early 1920s with a four-room Rosenwald School sponsored by African-American educator Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and Julius Rosenwald, head of Sears, Roebuck & Company. The Globe Hill Baptist Church opened in 1912. Today, only the cemetery and church still stand. The church is active and hosts a homecoming celebration on the second Sunday of July every year.
 

HOSTYN 

ELEVATION: 438 feet
LOCATION: Fayette County, south of LaGrange and just east of 77 on FM 2436
ABOUT: Hostyn, south of the Colorado River near La Grange, was settled by Anglos, followed by German immigrants in the 1840s and then Czechs in the 1850s. The community, situated in the Bluff area, was originally named Moravan, but a Catholic priest renamed the town Hostyn in 1925. The original Hostyn, in Moravia (now the Czech Republic), is a hilltop pilgrimage site. Religious tradition describes a miracle at that site (2,411 feet elevation), where locals prayed to the Virgin Mary for protection from a Mongol invasion in 1241. A violent storm suddenly erupted and the invaders fled, leaving a new gushing springs to quench the thirst of locals. The site has been called the Lourdes of Moravia and it is a popular pilgrimage and tourist destination. At Texas’ Hostyn, a grotto was built to honor Our Lady of Lourdes.
Carolyn Heinsohn photo
 

CHAPPELL HILL

ELEVATION: 322 feet
LOCATION: Washington County, about 60 miles northwest of Houston on U.S. 290
ABOUT: This unincorporated community halfway between Houston and Austin was part of Stephen F. Austin’s original colony. It was founded in 1847 and named for Robert Wooding Chappell, an early settler and the grandfather of Mary Hargrove Haller, who bought the original 100-acre town site. The Methodist Texas Conference opened the Chappell Hill Male and Female Institute in 1852 and Soule University in 1856. The railroad came in 1859, turning Chappell Hill into a distribution center. Cotton was king but the Civil War upended the local economy. The yellow fever epidemic of 1867 killed much of the population. Today Chappell Hill is known for its prolific wildflower blooms, restored historic homes and festivals. 
 

CHAUTAUQUA HILL 

ELEVATION: 650 feet
LOCATION: Hays County; site of Texas State University in San Marcos 
ABOUT: In 1899 the Texas Legislature approved creation of the Southwest Texas State Normal School in San Marcos. Local residents were so supportive of the project that they donated 11 acres of land on Chautauqua Hill overlooking the town for the institution. Two years later the legislature appropriated $45,000 for construction of a main building on the hilltop. Construction of the castle-like building, now known as Old Main, was hampered because the site was directly over a cave, which had to be filled in with concrete. The building, which opened in the fall of 1903, has a distinctive red roof and four towers that can be seen for miles. The institution’s name has changed several times over the years, but it is now Texas State University. The hill is a few miles from Bluebonnet’s territory, but it towers over the co-op’s landscape.
 

IRON MOUNTAINS 

ELEVATION: 725 feet
LOCATION: Caldwell County; 9 miles northeast of Luling
ABOUT: This small mountain range is the highest spot in Caldwell County. It may have been named to honor the locally organized Iron Guards, part of the 25th brigade of the Texas State Troops during the Civil War. The state troops were funded by the Texas Legislature to provide frontier defense. Folklore tells of hidden silver mines in these mountains, which were known to the Comanche and cattle drivers. A shotgun-style log cabin built in the 1870s near the Iron Mountains by the Rev. William Johnson, a farmer and Baptist minister, was relocated to Blanche Square in Luling for historic preservation. 
 

Other hills in Bluebonnet’s area

Cedar Hill (abandoned)
Elevation: 354 feet
Location: Washington County (on Tommelson Creek in northwestern part of county) 
 
Elevation
Elevation: 539 feet
Location: Milam County (four miles southeast of Milano on Texas 36)
 
Flower Hill 
Elevation: 354 feet
Location: Bastrop County (three miles southeast of Smithville on County Road 316)
 
12. Gravel Hill School (abandoned)
Elevation: 435 feet
Location: Travis County (near Manor)
 
13. Hellers Hill
Elevation: 555 feet
Location: Fayette County (west of Warrenton and one mile west of FM 1291)
 
14. High Hill 
Elevation: 384 feet
Location: Fayette County (14 miles southwest of La Grange and four miles northwest of Schulenburg on FM 2672)
 
18. Hungry Hill 
Elevation: 485 feet
Location: Travis County, eastern side (near intersection of FM 969 and FM 973)
 
22. Mound Hill (abandoned)
Elevation: 450 feet
Location: Washington County (Between Brenham and Somerville, east of Texas 36 off FM 390)
 
24. Oak Hill (a second Oak Hill that was abandoned for Camp Swift)
Elevation: 571 feet
Location: Bastrop County (four miles southwest of McDade)
 
26. Obar Hill
Elevation: 590 feet
Location: Fayette County (one mile south of Flatonia on Texas 95)
 
27. Prairie Hill 
Elevation: 388 feet
Location: Washington County (five miles north of Brenham on County Road 63)
 
28. Rek Hill
Elevation: 343 feet
Location: Fayette County (14 miles east of La Grange and four miles northeast of Fayetteville on Texas 159)
 
29. Rose Hill 
Elevation: 593 feet
Location: Travis County near Manor
 
32. Sandy Hill
Elevation: 343 feet
Location: Washington County (eight miles northeast of Brenham near junction of FM 2621 and FM 50)
 
33. Swiss Alp 
Elevation: 420 feet
Location: Fayette County (11 miles south of La Grange on U.S. 77)
 
34. Union Hill (abandoned)
Elevation: 585 feet
Location: Washington County (just northwest of Burton)

Comparing counties

Peak elevations in Bluebonnet area counties:
1. Hays County, 1,640 feet
2. Travis County, 1,420 feet
3. Williamson County, 1,340 feet
4. Guadalupe County, 965 feet
5. Lee County, 762 feet
6. Bastrop County, 741 feet
7. Caldwell County, 736 feet
8. Milam County, 660 feet
9. Fayette County, 590 feet
10. Gonzales County, 590 feet
11. Burleson County, 580 feet
12. Washington County, 560 feet
13. Austin County, 470 feet
14. Colorado County, 470 feet
 

A trio of Gay Hills

The two Gay brothers of Texas were busy in the 1800s. Between the two of them, they got naming rights to three hills.
“In 1836, two brothers, Thomas and James Gay, went around naming hills and villages for themselves,” according to 1001 Texas Place Names by the late Fred Tarpley, who was a professor of literature at Texas A&M University-Commerce.
At one time, a town named Gay Hill could be found in Washington County (371 feet above sea level), Milam County (490 feet), and Fayette County (370 feet). Gay Hill in Milam County no longer exists, but it was a small community on U.S. 79, 7 miles west of Rockdale. Its businesses were all closed by 1930.
Washington County’s Gay Hill is on FM 390, 12 miles northwest of Brenham. It was an educational and religious center for Presbyterians and was named for the owners of the general store, Thomas Gay and William Carroll Jackson Hill. The town prospered with the Presbyterian’s Live Oak Female Seminary, a Masonic lodge, a Grange farmers’ association group, mills, a cotton gin and Baptist churches. When the railroad came to the area in 1881, Gay Hill moved to its present location 2 miles west of the original site, which is known as Old Gay Hill.
Gay Hill in Fayette County is 6 miles southeast of La Grange on Texas 71. It was named for James Gay and was situated along a low ridge above the Colorado River. 
 

When a hill isn’t a hill

Surprisingly, some of the topmost names in the Bluebonnet area have nothing to do with elevation. For example:
 

BIG LUMP

ELEVATION: 510 ft.
Big Lump is named for Big Coal. Lignite, a type of low-grade coal, was strip-mined a few miles east of Rockdale off U.S. 79 in Milam County in the early 20th century. The community that sprang up around the mine was dubbed Big Lump to honor the large lumps of soft, brown lignite. “Miners at Big Lump were paid 15 cents for filling a mine car with about 1,400 pounds of lignite,” according to the Temple Daily Telegram. “Between 1910 and 1920 as many as 40 to 50 railroad cars loaded with lignite left Rockdale every day. Lignite sold on the open market for $5 a ton.” Lignite temporarily lost its luster when oil and electricity became available in the late 1920s.

MOUNT VERNON 

ELEVATION: 347 ft. 
Mount Vernon, about 6 miles northwest of Brenham, was the county seat of Washington County for three years in the 1840s. Judge John Stamps, a Republic of Texas legislator, built a grand house and named it after George Washington’s estate along the Potomac River outside Washington, D.C. Stamps named the town for his home when other non-native settlers moved nearby. Mount Vernon was a stagecoach stop on the road to Houston, but it lost out to Brenham in an 1843 election for a new county seat. During the Civil War, Confederate soldiers used a training camp at Mount Vernon, but no trace of the town is visible today. 

ROUND TOP

ELEVATION: 445 feet
This small Fayette County community 16 miles northeast of La Grange on Texas 237 was named for a white house with an octagonal tower that served as a U.S. post office after Texas became a state in 1846. European settlers came to the area in the 1820s. One famous resident was Joel Robinson, who helped capture Mexican general Antonio López de Santa Anna in the battle of San Jacinto between Mexico and the Republic of Texas in April 1836. Texas won independence from Mexico in that battle and some accounts describe Santa Anna riding into the Texas camp as a prisoner on Robinson’s horse. Another Round Top claim to fame is its Fourth of July celebration, started in 1851. It is believed to be the oldest continuous Independence Day commemoration west of the Mississippi River.
 

What’s the difference between a hill and a mountain? Officially, nothing

     We can’t claim to have much in the way of mountains in the Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative service area, but all of these hills made us wonder: When is an elevated spot on the landscape a hill, and when is it a mountain?
     These days, there is no official definition.
     Until 40 years ago, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names described a landmass with 1,000 feet of elevation or higher as a mountain. Any high point with 999 feet of elevation or lower was defined as a hill. 
     However, those definitions were discarded in the early 1970s. “Broad agreement on such questions is essentially impossible, which is why there are no official feature classification standards” today, according to the U.S. Geological Survey website.
     The old U.S. definitions were similar to those used by the British Ordnance Survey, a mapping agency. Its classification of a mountain as 1,000 feet or higher was discontinued in the 1920s. That change inspired a 1995 British film, “The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain,” which tells the story of a Welsh village whose mountain is downgraded to a hill by a government cartographer played by Hugh Grant. The offended villagers launch an uphill battle to transform their peak’s altitude as well as the bureaucrat’s attitude. Spoiler alert: the villagers come out on top.

How we measure up

If we placed some of our region’s hills side by side (at sea level) with some well-known monuments, we come out on top.
 
Statue of Liberty, 305 ft.
Chappell Hill, 322 ft. (Washington County)
 
Capitol of Texas, 308 ft.
Gay Hill, 371 ft. (Washington County)
 
Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, 350 ft.
Flower Hill, 354 ft. (Bastrop County) 
 
Enchanted Rock, 425 ft.
Festival Hill, 440 ft. (Fayette County)
 
Kingda Ka, world’s tallest roller coaster at Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson, NJ, 456 ft.
Hungry Hill, 485 ft. (Travis County)
 
Washington Monument, 555 ft.
Hellers Hill, 555 ft. (Fayette County)
 
San Jacinto Monument, 570 ft.
Rose Hill, 598 ft. (Travis County)
 
Gateway Arch in St. Louis, 630 ft.
Iron Mountains, 646 ft. (Caldwell County)
 
Trump Tower in NYC, 664 ft.
Round Mountain, 712 ft. (Caldwell County)
 
Tower of the Americas in San Antonio, 750 ft.
Chautauqua Hill (Old Main, Texas State University) 650 ft. (Hays County)
 

Source list

Sources, List of hills, expanded information about some hills: “African-American Settlement Survey, Travis County, Texas-October 2016”; Chappell Hill Chamber of Commerce; Google Earth; San Marcos Record; “1001 Texas Place Names” by Fred Tarpley, Texas Historical Commission, the Texas Water Development Board. Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Caldwell County Historical Commission, the Czech Tourism Authority, Texas Escapes, Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, Texas State University, Texas Water Development Board. 
 
Sources, When is a hill not a hill?: Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, Temple Daily Telegram, Texas Escapes, Milam County Historical Commission, Round Top Area Historical Society, and “The History of Brenham and Washington County,” by Mrs. R. E. Pennington, (1915). 
 
Sources, A trio of Gay Hills: Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, “1001 Texas Place Names” by Fred Tarpley, Texas Escapes, and Google Earth.
 
Sources, How we Measure Up: Britannica, Chicago Tribune, Gatewayarch.com, Google Earth, National Park Service, San Marcos Record, Six Flags Great Adventure, Texas House of Representatives, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas, The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Tower of the Americas, and the University of Houston. 
 
Sources, Comparing Counties: peakbagger.com; texascounties.net 

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