Alexander S. Vaughan came to Texas from Missouri in 1853, settling at Cedar Mills, some four-plus miles south of Bertram. Cedar Mills was in the area where FM 1174 and CR 243 now intersect north of Oatmeal. His arrival occurred only seven years after Texas became a state and 17 years after the Battle of the Alamo.
Alexander and his wife, Nancy Davis Vaughan, reared seven children. Their second-oldest son, Thomas Davis Vaughan, joined the Confederate Army in 1861, and fought at the Battle of Galveston. After the war, Captain T.D. Vaughan and his brother-in-law, J. D. Riley, became partners in a general store at South Gabriel, near the river for which the small community was named. There is a marker on CR 323 at the site of South Gabriel.
Until 1882, Captain and Mrs. Vaughan owned the land in and around Bertram. When the Austin and Northwestern Railroad Company was organized and chartered on April 22, 1881, construction of a narrow gauge railway through the area began, specifically for transporting granite from Burnet County (Marble Falls) to Austin for use in the State Capitol Building. In January of 1882, the Vaughans granted A&NW a 100-foot right of way through the Bertram town-site--a forty-acre square bounded by North, South, East, and West Streets.
The railroad to Burnet to Austin was completed on May 2, 1882. On June 25 an excursion train left Austin bound for the new town of Bertram, named for Rudolph Bertram, A&NW's largest stockholder, bringing prospective buyers of town tracts. Several business establishments and residents had already moved from South Gabriel to Bertram. In July 1882, the Vaughans granted the widening of the right of way to 300 feet, and in 1901 the railway was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad Co. and changed to standard gauge.
The Vaughan-Riley Store that was moved to the new town on August 10, 1882 was followed shortly by the T.H. Reed Store. The Reed building, constructed of rock from the South Gabriel school building, the city's oldest existing commercial building, still stands on the northwest corner of SH 29 and FM 243 East (at the light). The post office was moved from South Gabriel to Bertram on December 8, 1882, but citizens selected June 25, 1882, as the official birthday of the town, honoring the date of the train's first arrival.
Bertram's fairgrounds, the present location of the city's baseball fields, hosted the Burnet County Fair, beginning in 1903. The fair was a three-day event held annually and consisted of agricultural exhibits and competitions, culinary and textile competitions, political speeches, baseball games, carnival rides, and the highlight of the fair--the trot and pace races. Twenty-four horses vied for the 1928 prize money of $1,130. The fairgrounds also often hosted the Burnet County Interscholastic Meet, a contest of literary, athletic, and track and field events.
Bertram prospered as an unincorporated town and trading community until the Great Depression of 1929. In its heyday, the town supported four banks, four cotton gins, two large mercantile stores, three drugstores, two lumberyards, a large hardware store, several grocery stores, three automobile garages with maintenance shops, four gas stations, three barbershops, a hotel, several cafes, a privately owned electrical company, town water works, numerous churches, and a large school. In 1928, during the height of cotton season, the ginning of 11,624 bales kept all four of Bertram's gins operating on a 24-hour basis. Cotton was the major cash crop in the community prior to 1930, and Bertram shipped more cotton, grain, and wool than any other town in Burnet County during this period.
The area underwent change, as did most communities, following the Great Depression and World War II, when many locals left the community. Even through difficult times, the core of Bertram's pioneer citizenry remained strong, resolute, and proud, and now look forward to the growth and revitalization being experienced at the beginning of the 21st Century.
Downtown Bertram, Circa 1930