More than a century ago Yorktown, which is DeWitt County's
oldest incorporated town, was founded
by Captain John York and Charles
Eckhardt, during the administration of Governor G. L. Wood.
In honor of Captain John York,
in whose breast burned the Spirit of
Empires, the town was named Yorktown. Captain York was born in Kentucky on July 4, 1800, and came to Austin County
with his parents in 1821.
He became a famous Indian fighter and was in command of a company of citizens who, under
Ben Milam, defeated General Cos and 1,500 Mexicans in 1835 at the battle of Bexar.
For his military services, York received many acres of land in the Coleto Creek
area. Being interested in colonization, he felt he could enhance the value of his property by establishing a
settlement of his land.
In 1846, two years previous to the founding of the town, Captain York moved to Coleto Creek, a
short distance from where the present town is now located. Captain York lost his life in October 1848, in a battle with Indians
who had raided the settlement of Yorktown. A historical marker designated York’s grave only seven miles from town.
Charles Eckhardt, the other founder, came from Laasphe, Germany, in 1832 and started a
mercantile business in Indianola, which at that time was a major Texas seaport. Eckhardt participated in the Texas War of
Independence and may have met Captain York during military service. By 1843, Eckhardt’s business was prospering and he had
dealings with merchants as far away as San Antonio and New Braunfels.
Transportation by carts and wagons was tedious and usually averaged only seventeen miles a
day on a rough, crooked trail going through Victoria and Gonzales to New Braunfels. He hoped to find a shorter and better route with
water available about every fifteen miles and blacksmith shops available for wagon repairs.
Charles Eckhardt contracted with John A. King, one of the pioneers of
West Texas, to survey a road from Indianola through Yorktown to New Braunfels, later known as the Old Indianola Trail. From
its inception in February 1848, this road remained the chief thoroughfare for this part of the State to New Braunfels and San Antonio.
This trail shortened the former route by twenty miles and established Yorktown as an important relay station for freighters, prairie
schooners, trail drivers, and stagecoaches bringing mail and passengers. The trail came through upper town near Dr. W. E. McAda’s
present Veterinary Clinic on North Riedel Street. Indianola, which was then the principal seaport of the Southwest, was destroyed by a
hurricane in 1875.
Early in 1848, after the founders had the proposed town surveyed, they offered ten acres and the choice
of a lot free to the first ten families to settle the town site. Many German, Bohemian, and Polish families came and soon changed this
wilderness into one of the most prosperous sections of the entire state.
In May 1848, Peter Metz and John Frank built the first house in the settlement of Yorktown for Charles
Eckhardt. It was built of logs, twelve by twenty feet, with a back room and chimney. This house was later occupied by a brother, Caesar
Eckhardt, who was the founder of C. Eckhardt and Sons Mercantile Company, known for half a century as the leading firm of its kind in
western DeWitt County.
A few months later the first house on the new town site was built by C. G. Hartmann. At this time
the country surrounding was a wilderness,
where all manner of wild game, as well as wild horses and mustangs roamed at will.
Unfortunately, neither of the founders lived to see the town develop beyond this point. In October 1848,
in a battle with marauding Indians, Captain York and his son-in-law, James Madison Bell, were killed. They were buried in a single hand-made
coffin in the Yorktown Cemetery some seven miles east of Yorktown.
In 1852, on an inspection of some of his properties in Central America, Eckhardt contracted yellow
fever and died at sea on his return trip. He is buried in New Orleans. The Eckhardts did not have any children while the Yorks
had ten children.
The town grew in spite of the loss of its founders. The thrifty settlers knew the value of education and
erected their first school building in 1853 and the first church building four years later. The Catholics established a church in 1867 and the
Lutherans in 1872. The huge oak tree on the lawn of the latter church is one of the oldest in the state.
The nearest neighbors to those hardy pioneers were found in the settlements of Indianola, Victoria,
Meyersville, and Clinton to the east, Goliad to the south, Gonzales to the north, and New Braunfels and San Antonio to the northwest.
Freight movements in those days from the port of Indianola and Port Lavaca to San Antonio and other trading centers
passed through Yorktown. Because of its midway position it became an important relay station for prairie schooners and trail drivers.
The town was incorporated in 1871. Fifteen years later the San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railway
constructed their first line into this territory, thus opening to Yorktown the advantage of rail transportation for both passengers and freight
Charles Eckhardt’s first store was a tent and the second a log structure. After his death, his brother,
Caesar and his sons, conducted the business and built the sandstone-steel structure in 1876 and 1878 in lower town on Main Street.
The building now houses the Yorktown Historical Museum. The building has been restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic
Places. Also, the Holy Cross Catholic Church has been around for more than 125 years and its existing building is 77 years old.
St. Paul Lutheran Church was started in 1872 and its present building was built in 1931.
In the next twenty years many other businesses were established including grist mills, cotton gins,
groceries, dry goods,
saddleries, millers, blacksmiths, butchers, hotels, saloons and beer agencies, tailors, barbershops, bottling works, dance halls and opera houses,
physicians and undertakers, and a drug store, confectionery, stage stop and livery stable, and newspaper.
Upon observing its anniversary in 1898, there was a small city park in the center of town with a
homemade ferris wheel, other
playground equipment, a tennis court, a library and a fire station. The city celebrated with a huge parade, crowning of a Centennial Queen and
presentation of a colorful pageant depicting highlights of the first century with a cast of over 300 persons.
Yorktown's Sesquicentennial (150th anniversary), was celebrated on June 5 and 6, 1998 with a parade, arts,
crafts and food booths, live history reenactments, and live entertainment downtown in the Yorktown City Park.