From Fayette County, Her History and Her People by F. Lotto, 1902:
Cistern is situated in a fertile mesquite prairie of a rich brown chocolate color. Parts of the prairie are mixed with postoak. A great deal of fine pasture land is still lying out unfenced. About two miles west of Cistern runs the Peach Creek through fertile bottoms. The Peach Creek is a tributary of the Guadalupe River. Cistern is at a distance of twelve miles northwest of Flatonia, at the same distance northeast of Waelder, Gonzales county; ten miles west of Muldoon, nine miles east of Rosanki, Bastrop county, and sixteen miles south of Smithville, Bastrop county. Therefore, it has several market places situated on diverse railroads to bring its products to.
It is located on the top of a hill which commands a wide sweep of surrounding country. The buildings are around a public square. It was settled in the latter part of the fifties. First it went by the name of Whiteside's Prairie, then by the name of Cockrill's Hill, and since 1863 it went by the name of Cistern. The latter name was given to the place, because, on account of minerals, the wells did not furnish good tasting drinking water, and the people all built cisterns for water. The water from the wells generally contains iron and sulphur. The water of Slack's well was especially noted for its health-producing and curing properties and was used by a great many patients. The first settlers were the Cockrills; other old settlers were C. H. Wellborn, deceased; Ira Mullen, deceased; William Brown, Adam Zumwalt.
Cistern has a population of about 150 inhabitants. The population consists of Americans, Germans and Bohemians. They live in the greatest harmony.
The religious side of life is taken care of by Rev. L. P. Netardus of Praha, who holds services in the Catholic Church, and by Rev. Kern, of Black Jack Springs, who preaches to a Lutheran congregation in the Cistern schoolhouse.
The social life of Cistern centers in the Harmony Club. its membership consists of Germans and Americans. The founder of the club was Ad. Plentl. The club owns a fine hall with a beautiful park of four acres. The president of the club is Jacob Marburger.
There are two lodges in Cistern: Cistern Lodge No. 155, O. D. H. S. , with Leopold Michalski, president, and Carl Rietz, secretary, and a lodge of the Woodmen of the World.
Cistern has a general merchandise store, a drugstore conducted by Mr. Wm. Mennike; a saloon also conducted by him; a blacksmith shop conducted by Mr. Alfred Egg; a gin conducted by Mr. Felix Knight, and a physician.
From Historical Sites and Communities:
Cistern was settled in the 1850s and was originally called Whitside's Prairie and Cockrill's Hill. In 1863, the name of the town changed to Cistern. The earliest settlers were the Cockrill's, C. H. Wellborn, Adam Zumwalt and others. Cistern now consists of several stores, a sausage company, a cookie and fruitcake company and a Catholic Church. Cistern once had several stores, a drugstore, saloon, physician, blacksmith shop and a cotton gin.
The following is taken from "An Early History of Cistern," by County Judge Dan Beck. Thanks to Judy Pate and the Arnim Museum for providing it:
The many names of Cistern: Although early settlers called Cistern "Whiteside Prairie." the first permanent settlement on record was made by Starks S. Cockrill in 1852. Hence the area became known as "Cockrill's Hill." By 1857, the town had grown large enough to warrant a post office, and the townspeople applied for one under the name of "Milton," after Milton Cockrill, the well-known son of the original settler, Starks S. Cockrill. Ther permit was rejected by the Post Office Department because another town in Texas had already been granted a permit under the name of Milton. "Then, as a number of citizens sat around discussing another name to send in, someone suggesterd 'Cistern,' as everyone had to go to Cockrill and Gosch store to get water from a large rock underground rainwater cistern. If anyone was asked where they were going, the most likely answer would be 'to the cistern.' Therefore, 'Cistern' seemed most appropriate. Cistern was sent in and accepted."
The following is an article which appeared in The Flatonia Argus on September 25, 1980. It was submitted by Mrs. John J. Beck in the memory of Mr. Max Marburger, son James Marburger for his interest in the city of Cistern and leaving behind a narrative of events. Transcription by Gayle Clemons Newkirk (3rd great-granddaughter of Starks S. Cockrill).
An Early History of Cistern
Cistern is located on part of the J.T. Whiteside League on one of the highest hills in western Fayette County. Cistern is at a distance of twelve miles northwest of Flatonia, at the same distance northwest of Waelder, Gonzales County, ten miles west of Muldoon, nine miles east of Rosanky, Bastrop County and fourteen miles south of Smithville, Bastrop County. Therefore, it has several market places situated on diverse railroads to bring products to.
Being situated on a fertile mesquite prairie atop a hill, a wide sweep of the surrounding county can be seen. As late as 1888, Mr. James Marburger boasts of sitting on his front porch and watching his cattle graze over all 2300 acres of his land.
The city was surveyed out in blocks around a public square. Legend has it that the courthouse was one day to be built here. The first settlers called it “Whiteside Prairie”.
The first permanent settlement on record was made by Starks S. Cockrill who came to Cistern from Missouri in 1852. The first store building, a log structure was built by Cockrill on the east side of Highway 95. After this, the settlement was known as “Cockrill’s Hill”. Many old settlers continued saying “The Hill” for many years, even though officially the name had been changed. The last settler to continue referring to Cistern as “the Hill” was Abe (Fatty) Clark, a black man who lived to be 100 years old, passing away June 6, 1951.
A. A. (Pod) Cockrill came to Cistern in 1852. A 19 year old boy full of adventure, he left Missouri on horseback leading several pack horses to join his brother on “Cockrill Hill”.
George J. Michaelis, a veteran of the Seminole Indian war in Florida who had later moved to Georgia, came to Cistern in 1852. After arrival, he saw the need for a cotton gin. Soon thereafter, he left for New Orleans, Louisiana by ox team to purchase the machinery for the gin gristmill, and sawmill. For this long journey, Mr. Michaelis used six to eight oxen to a wagon. With lots of hard work and determination, the mill was set up. Mr. Michaelis began grinding wheat for flour. The wheat was raised in Fayette County and sold for $1.75 a bushel. Post Oak lumber and shingles were sawed, becoming very hard with age and was known as “Michaelis Pine”. With hard work and long hours the cotton gin was able to put out five to seven bales of cotton per day. The cotton was carried to the gin stands in baskets, then carried out to the press in baskets. A horse was hitched to a pole screw, gradually pressing out a large bulky bale of cotton. In September of 1868, Mr. Michaelis built a large two-story building for B. Cockrill to be used for general merchandise, drug store, and saloon. This building, old and dilapidated, still stands with a large rock rainwater cistern enclosed in the rear of the building.
In 1895, Christy Gosch came to Cistern from Mexico bringing 40 to 50 Mexicans and built a large adobe brick dwelling nearby. Becoming dissatisfied, he turned the business over to his brother, Jacob Gosch, and returned to Mexico where he was interested in coal mining.
During the peak of growth, the inhabitants were accommodated with two large general merchandise businesses, with anything from mere grocery staples to the finest of dress wear for men and women. Shoes were shipped in large boxes by the dozens, not boxed in pairs, but tied together and sold in the manner. Vinegar and two kinds of molasses came in 50 gallon barrels along with whiskey, which sold for $.70 a gallon. Hardware, harness, farming tools, and the like were all found in these large stores. Two drugstores, three medical doctors, two saloons, two blacksmiths, and wheelwright shops where wagons and buggies were made to order, a barber shop, molasses press, and three gins were included in the Cistern industrial area.
In 1857, the townspeople applied for a Post Office permit under the name of “Milton”. Milton was the son of Starks S. Cockrill, had become prominent in the community and the same seemed fitting. The permit was applied for and rejected by the Post Office Department as a postal permit had been grated to a place in Texas called “Milton”. Then, as a number of citizens sat around discussing another name to send in, someone suggested “Cistern” as everyone had to go to Cickrill and Gosch store to get water from the large rock underground rainwater cistern for water. If anyone was asked where they were going, the most likely answer would be “to the cistern.” Therefore, “Cistern” seemed most appropriate. Cistern was sent in and was accepted.
On March 31, 1858, the Cistern Post Office was established and Addison D. Kendall was the first Postmaster. The mail was brought into Cistern Post Office horseback from LaGrange by way of West Point and continued on to Jeddo and Waelder. There were seventeen appointed Postmasters that served in the span of nighty-six years the post office was in service. Several rural carriers served the area. On December 31, 1953, the Cistern Post Office was discontinued. Felix A. Zurovec having served the last five years as Postmaster.
In 1875, James Marburger of Haw Creek and Herman Meyer bought the Gosch buildings and business, operating a mercantile business under the name of James Marburger and Company. In 1877, Marburger bought out Meyer and November 8,. 1878, moved his family from Haw Creek to Cistern. The long trip taking a full two days. In 1888, Marburger took down the two old adobe building and built a large corrugated iron mercantile building and a 12-room frame residence 2 stories high. The large residence was torn down and moved by James Marburger’s two grandsons, the Arnim brothers, on August 2, 1945. The corrugated iron building still stands and is used as V & V Sausage Company’s plant.
The first school was built west of the square- a hall type building where lodge meetings were held (Sons of Hermann and Woodmen of the World). Lutheran and Methodist Church services were also held on interval Sundays. The local bands furnished music for dances that were conducted for entertainment. The population at this time was mostly German and American.
Around 1886, the Bohemians began moving in and settled about two miles northwest of Cistern. They built a hall (known as Psencik Hall) where the children attended school. Dances and all social affairs were also held there. The first Catholic mass was celebrated there. The priest traveled from other parishes to offer mass, most of the time being sent from Praha. At times, months passed without a priest being able to come out. The bad roads and weather hampered traveling conditions. In 1868, the present Catholic Church building was erected off the square in Cistern. It was built by Bohlmann of Schulenberg, and was completed in December of 1888. Victoria Kremel was the first baby baptized in the new church on December 9, 1888. Soon after the church as built, the large two story Shade Saloon building was bought and moved on the church grounds to be used for a parochial school. The nuns lived upstairs and classes were conducted on the lower floor.
Water from rainwater cisterns were used throughout the country as well water was no good tasting and contained mineral and sulphur. Therefore, it was not fit for use. The water from “Slack’s “ well was especially noted for its health producing and curing properties and was used by a great many patients. In 1911, a group of men in the community decided to try for water on the public square, using horses to turn the drill bit, and which took weeks of drilling. During the process, a huge rock was hit. It took lots of hard work and determination to drill through this rock, but no one gave up. The drilling continued and at 460 feet good drinking water was found. For the first time since settle, Cistern had plenty of good water.
After World War II and the rage for better jobs and city life, the population began to decline. Farms were turned into grazing land, businesses closed, and so Cistern, like many other places without industrial businesses was left to dream of the past and ponder over hardships and accomplishments of yesteryear. The dream of someday becoming a metropolis has kept hopes and visions alive and progress is again being made. The population is on the increase again. More business places are popping up and people are united together for city benefits.
A Footprints of Fayette article by Katie Kulhanek:
No one has more properly described the community of Cistern than Frank Lotto in his book, Fayette County: Her History and Her People”, which was published in 1902:
“Cistern is situated in a fertile mesquite prairie of a rich brown chocolate color. Parts of the prairie are mixed with post oak. A great deal of fine pasture land is still lying out unfenced. About two miles west of Cistern runs the Peach Creek through fertile bottoms . . . [Cistern] is located on the top of a hill which commands a wide sweep of the surrounding country.”
The first settlement in the current community of Cistern was that of Starks S. Cockrill who had come to Texas from Missouri in 1852. Following Cockrill were settlers by the name of Wellborn, Mullen, Brown, and Zumwalt. Not long after this initial settlement, the town was surveyed and platted into blocks. In her article on the history of Cistern, Mrs. Juanita Beck offers the local legend that the Fayette County Courthouse was to be built in this small town one day.
The town known as Cistern today was not known by that name in the mid-1800s. Settlers called their little community “Whiteside Prairie” because it was a part of the J. T. Whiteside League in Fayette County. The town then changed its name to “Cockrill’s Hill” due to a general merchandise store that Starks Cockrill built. The name would undergo another name change in 1857 when the settlers applied for a post office permit. They asked for the name “Milton” to be given to their community. This was the name of Cockrill’s son who had become prominent in the community. Unfortunately, the application was denied and the citizens had to find another name. After some deliberation, they came to a consensus. The full explanation is as follows. The wells in the area did not have good drinking water because the mineral content was very high and thus, some people were forced to build cisterns. There was one large cistern at the mercantile store that was frequented by most of the townspeople. When citizens asked one another where they were going, the reply was often, “to the cistern”. Thus, the most fitting name for their community was simply, “Cistern”. On March 31st, 1858, the Cistern Post Office opened.
Cistern continued to grow in the 1860s and ‘70s. The community eventually had two general stores, two drugstores, three medical doctors, two saloons, two blacksmith shops (one under the operation of Alfred Egg who specialized in horseshoeing), a wheelwright shop, a barber shop, a molasses press, three gins (one run by Felix Knight), and a resident physician. One of the drugstores was run by William Mennike who boasted (in Lotto’s book) that he carried one of the largest assortments of pure drugs, chemicals, and the best brands of whiskies. As with many of these drugstores in other small communities, Mr. Mennike kept fresh beer on tap.
Aside from the Anglo settlers, Catholics from Industry, Texas migrated to the area in the late 1870s. In 1890, Sts. Cyril and Methodius was erected for their services. The church had a gothic interior design with noticeable high ceilings and pointed arches. It still stands today and mass is regularly performed there. The founders of Sts. Cyril and Methodius were Czechs by the names of Psencík, Ziegelbauer, Holub, Machácek, Hanzelka, Kreml, Marecové, Hybner, and Valek. A rectory was built in 1907 and the first resident priest was E. Schindler. At the time of 1902, Reverend L. P. Netardus of Praha held services for the Catholics in Cistern. For the Lutheran congregation in Cistern, Reverend Kern of Black Jack Springs made trips to Cistern and preached in the Cistern public schoolhouse.
There were two schools that served the Cistern area. The first school was a public school that was built in the late 1800s. This school later closed down in the mid-1970s. The second school was the St. Wenceslaus Catholic School. One of the former two-story saloon buildings was moved from the square in Cistern to near the Catholic Church. The parochial school opened up in 1918 with a nunnery on the upper floor and classrooms on the bottom floor. By the late 1930s, the Catholic School was attended by sixty-seven children who were under the instruction of two nuns. The parochial school was eventually closed in 1950.
Lotto mentions that by about 1900, the population of Cistern had grown to 150 and consisted of Americans, Germans, and Czechs who lived in “the greatest harmony”. Social life at the turn of the century in Cistern can be summed up once again by Lotto’s words:
“The social life of Cistern centers in the Harmony Club. Its membership consists of Germans and Americans. The founder of the club was Ad. Plentl. The club owns a fine hall with a beautiful park of four acres. The president of the club is Jacob Marburger . . . There are two lodges in Cistern: Cistern Lodge No. 155, O.D.H.S. and a lodge of the Woodmen of the World.”
There were several other important organizations that were related to the Catholic Church that came about after the turn of the century. Cistern also had a KJT society for men (Sts. Cyril and Methodius KJT Society, #2) which had thirty members, a KJZT society for women (Sts. Alberta (Elizabeth) KJZT Society) which had fifty-two members, and a St. Isidore’s Society which had forty-five members. These numbers were taken during the late 1930s.
By 1939, Cistern’s population had seventy-three families. However, like many of Fayette County’s other small towns, the community began to decline in population after the Second World War. It is still a thriving little community today and has various shops that serve the townspeople.
Fayette County, Texas Heritage, Volume I, article by Mrs. Juanita Beck
Fayette County: Her History and Her People by F. Lotto
Nase Dejiny (Our History) by the Nasinec in Granger, Texas
Cistern Black Cemetery
Cistern Catholic Cemetery
Cistern Public Cemetery
Albert Milton Gosch
John Joseph Maurer