Cox Springs School Has a Rich History


The white weathered wooden structure which sits along Old Burnet Road in Travis County Texas has a rich and storied history. It is dear to the hearts of the descendants of the farmers and ranchers of this area whose children attended school in this one-room shack…. And also to the local citizens of today that cherish this gem of Texas and American frontier history in their community.

The current schoolhouse building resides in Jonestown (just across the city line of Lago Vista), and dates back to 1929…, while the school itself dates back to 1885 (more on that below in the next section). The structure originally sat on the east corner of Lohmans Crossing Road and Ledge Acres Road, near Cox Springs, in what is now Lago Vista. It is built of timbers from local live oak and cedar trees, as well as wood salvaged from the older Cox Springs School built in 1908. When the Mansfield Dam was constructed across the Colorado River beginning in 1938, rising waters of the new “Lake Travis” meant the schoolhouse had to be moved…  Two local ranchers, the Pearson & Carlton families, spent $100 to cut the structure in half, load it onto flatbed trucks and move it to its new high & dry location on Old Burnet Road in 1940.

Today the building still sits on Cedar stumps that it was placed on in 1940 when the two halves were reattached to form the shack that continued to serve as a one-room schoolhouse for the next two decades. By1960, Lago Vista had a new school in town, and all the students transferred there… ending the use of the building on Old Burnet Road as a schoolhouse. The structure served as a storage facility for the school district for several years after that. When no longer needed for storage, the building was abandoned in 1978 and began to fall into dis-repair, also serving for a short while as a hunting lodge for the local ranchers.

As Austin grew, housing development started in the “Northshore”. Local citizens chipped in to paint the structure, hoping to save it for posterity. Later, Centex Destination Properties stepped in to create “The Hollows” including parts of Jonestown & Lago Vista, and preserved the old building as part of the process.

Now it’s time for this historic building to get a new lease on life. It’s leaning with the wind, and was only held erect by the stone fireplace prior to stabilization work done in July 2021.


The Beginning of Cox Springs School

In about 1885 a school originated for the small group of farmers’ and ranchers’ children residing in the Anderson Bend area along the Colorado River northwest of Austin Texas.

In 1900 the school was moved a few miles north to a new location near Cox Springs, where there was adequate water for drinking. The following is copied from the 1906 Travis County School Annual:

“Cox Springs School — near the Colorado River below Travis Peak.  Schoolhouse about as bad as can be – needs a new one to take its place.  School grounds belong to a private party which causes friction and discontent.  The school should own a tract of land by deed.  There is another school house in the district.  If both were torn down, the lumber, with several new shingles, would build one good house.  The district should levy a local tax to meet these expenses.”

This situation improved in 1908 when 5 acres of land was purchased from the Simpson family and a new building was erected.  About then it was moved up on a hill near the Simpson place, but still near the springs.  This location was on the east corner of Lohmans Crossings Road and Ledge Acres Road. Today, this location is part of the city of Lago Vista, Texas. But, of course, the term Lago Vista means “Lake View”… and there was no lake on the Colorado River at that time.

At these old Cox Springs School grounds the locals held outdoor plays, barbeques and neighborhood get-togethers. A pit was dug for meat cooking and they built a forty-foot-long picnic table to hold all attendees.

In 1917 the school burned down as a result of a faulty flue in the stove.  A new building was constructed but only lasted one year before it, too, burned.  The roof caught on fire in this case in 1918 from unknown causes.  It was reported the fire could not be extinguished due to the steep roof and having only one bucket available for water.  When the third school was rebuilt, they were sure to fasten a permanent ladder to the wall near the stove flue.

While this third schoolhouse was being constructed during 1918, about 40 students were taught temporarily in a log house on the Simpson property.  The new school building was completed around 1929 and housed students in grades 1 thru 11.  This is the same schoolhouse building that still stands on Old Burnet Road in Jonestown near the mouth of Sandy Creek.

The teachers of Cox Springs School had a very strict code of conduct.

Teaching at Cox Springs School

Teachers told stories of the doors at Cox Springs not always fastening tightly, so that on occasion the neighbors’ hounds would sneak inside to the bench in the back of the room where the children’s lunches were kept and helped themselves to a lunch bucket. The students school year was much shorter than now exists. The school year was seldom more than five months long.

The teachers stayed with families in the community.  Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins boarded the teachers until they were no longer able to house due to their advancing age. Mr. and Mrs. Sylvester and the Killebrew families then opened their homes to teachers.

Below is a list of the teachers that taught at Cox Springs before 1940:
Miss Della Kimball:  1917
Miss Brodie:  1918
Nellie Enix:  1918-21
Susan Stonaker:  1921-22
Elsie Culver:  1922-23
Thelma Jones:  1924-25
Mr. Frierson:  1925-26
Elvah Beckham:  1926-27
Archie Mae Brodie:  1927-28
Marion Bennett:  1928-29
Oleta Dobbins:  1929-30
Susie Browning: 1930-31
Ruth Chance:  1931-32
Myrtice Hall:  1932-33
Abbie Russell:  1933-34
Inez Faith:  1936-37
Katie Mae Gaines:  1937-39

Moving the Cox Springs School

In the Fall of 1940 the backwater from the newly constructed Mansfield Dam on the Colorado River, just above Austin, came up over the fertile river bottom lands in the Anderson Bend and Cox Springs area, creating Lake Travis. Lago Vista got it’s name in 1958 by the developer of the town.

This completely destroyed or separated the local farm and ranch communities, including the school districts.  Cox Springs was one of these.  Everyone had sold out their properties to the Lower Colorado River Authority, torn down their homes, cleared their barns and other buildings and fences, and moved away; except for a few families such as the J. J. Carlton and Ivean Pearsen families.  They retained their higher ground lands, now on the north shore of Lake Travis. At this point, the Cox Springs school had lost most of its students. The building was being used only as a place to vote. Someone was camped in it… and the water was still rising.

The building was going to be put up for bids and sold to the highest bidder to be used for barnwood.  The nearest schools were in Travis Peak and Nameless, but there were no adequate roads from the lake area to them.  Mr. Carlton (who had 3 children) suggested the school be reorganized and moved to higher & drier land. Another local landowner, Mr. Pearsen (who had no children) agreed.  The two of them had the school moved in two sections, in 1940 at a cost of $100, to its present location on Old Burnet Road in Jonestown.

There were so few people left in the community that they also sold plots of land and made arrangements for families to move into the area so that there would be enough children to justify having a teacher at the school.

Mr. Carlton dug a well for the for the school yard

Kids in History
Students Coming to School

Students coming to school – Circa 1953

Start of the New School Year

The first day of school at its new location began in mid-October 1941 with just local tax money – without any state aid.  Mr. Faith was the first teacher and was paid about $80 a month for seven months.  When World War II began school ended.  The families of the children going to Cox Springs put ads for a teacher in the Austin papers, but no one would drive that far out since tires and gasoline were rationed.

A teacher by the name of Mr. J. Baker was persuaded to come to the school and teach for just 3 months.  He started a summer term from May through August of 1943 (when it must have been sweltering in that one room).  He stayed and worked with the trustees through the Spring of 1951 and together they accomplished much. The school survived.

In May 1944 an election was held to raise the local taxes from $0.25 on $100 valuation to $0.50.  It passed by a vote of six for and three against. This helped keep the school going.

The school trustees also discovered that a small part of the Volente School District was not being claimed by any district since the lake had covered most of that land.  Volente was now on the opposite side of the lake. This land area was consolidated into the Cox Springs District, giving it a larger allotment from State of Texas aid.  The school had its own district called Cox Springs Common School District (District #2) from 1908 to 1963, then consolidated into the newly formed Lago Vista Common School District.

In 1949 the Gilmer-Aiken Law mandated by the State of Texas that a 12th grade be added to the school.  This brought even more state aid to the district in 1950. However, most 12th graders left Cox Springs to finish “High School” in Leander or other larger schools.

In 1951 a lunchroom was started and an old-fashioned Community Box Supper was held locally to raise funds for equipping the room.  Three teenage girls operated the lunchroom, including meal planning, serving about twenty lunches each day.  They cooked food on a wood burning kitchen range, served each student at his desk and then washed the dishes.  The Carlton family milked their cows and furnished about 4 gallons of milk a week for the children.

Although the school was non-accredited and not qualified to give diplomas, the teachers were qualified to teach higher grades.  Three students who went through the 11th grade at Cox Springs were allowed to graduate without additional training from high schools in Marble Falls, Round Rock and Austin High.

Local Ranchers Supplied Milk to School

Local Ranchers Supplied Milk to School

The Close of the School House

In 1960 the last group of students from grades 1st through 11th  were transferred to Lago Vista schools and Cox Springs closed its doors for students. Thus ended over seven decades of this school providing education in the basics that made the students the people they became. The building was used as a storage warehouse for the Lago Vista Independent School District until 1978, then granted back to the Carlton family who used it as a storage shack and a hunting lodge for years, until the new housing developments of “Northshore”, The Point” and “The Hollows at Lake Travis” brought new folks to the area…. And a desire to preserve this piece of local, Texas and American frontier history.

The old Cox Springs Schoolhouse remains and is now in the modern-day neighborhood called The Hollows in an area called The Bluffs and its current address is 18725 Old Burnet Road, Jonestown, Tx. 78645.