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History of Rio Frio

Rio Frio

In 1868, T. Watkins brought his bride to what would later become known as the Frio Canyon along with seed for trees - walnut, pecan, Lombardy poplar, cottonwood, plum and peach, vegetable seeds and field seeds.

Watkins had been in the area earlier, purchased land, and engaged a German stone mason, Ernst Weigle, to build a limestone house, barns, and a smokehouse of stone dug from pasture land nearby.

After settling in, T. Watkins and Newman Patterson, another land owner, realized how advantageous for the area it would be if a gravity flow irrigation system were developed to supply water to the fertile valley along the Frio River. The Lombardy Irrigation Company was formed. First a dam was built across the river then a ditch was dug and water was diverted to irrigate cotton fields, corn and small grain fields as well as gardens and yards of many homes which were built along its course. It was called the Lombardy ditch.

During its heyday The Ditch, as the growing community was called, supported saw mills, cotton gins, a grist mill and other small industries essential for the developing economy.

Enter the necessity for a school. The first educational endeavor was named, what else, The Lombardy Academy! Located near the river it became THE school for students from the whole area west of San Antonio in the late 1860s. Families from Sabinal and Uvalde either boarded their children or moved into the area to take advantage of schooling offered at Lombardy Academy. Tuition was $10.00 a year in this private school.

The Lombardy Academy built a new school house beside the large live oak tree where it became a public institution in 1871. Four years later when the first Post Office was established The Ditch was renamed Rio Frio. This second school flourished for years with enrollments in excess of seventy students.

A third school, two storied this time was built directly across the road in 1903. It housed the student population for more than two decades. During these years county-wide meets were held pitting students from Camp Wood and Leakey against Rio Frio's best athletes and scholars. A traveling Championship Trophy made the rounds ending up on permanent display at Rio Frio which boasted the most wins!

A German by the name of Schahn bought acreage where the Little Dry Frio empties into the Frio just west of Rio Frio in 1917. This property also included the old saw mill and grist mill powered by water from the Lombardy Ditch and in need of much repair. Mr. Schahn was an experienced carpenter and stone mason. His work was in much demand and with a growing family he soon had many building projects underway and was employing a number of the local men. In 1927 he was called upon to design and build what would become Rio Frio's last school.

Constructed of stone, concrete, and wood this structure was an architectural gem. It featured an auditorium complete with balcony and covered by a self-supporting wooden dome. There were no columns blocking one's view of the stage. Architects and architectural students from far and wide came to marvel at this unique accomplishment. With reluctance proud citizens admitted there were no indoor restroom facilities, but they were quick to point out that the students came from homes where it was customary to have an outdoor privy.

Just as families across the nation suffered during the Great Depression so did the families in the Frio Canyon. But work came in the 1930s as U.S. Highway 83 was being built and the Civilian Conservation Corps was brought in to build Garner State Park. World War II also took its toll on the area. Everyone was elated when the war ended, but alas, the same year it was decided that the school in Rio Frio would consolidate with Leakey, and the students would be bussed there. The new highway had bypassed Rio Frio which until then had been on the main road to LeakeySabinal, and Uvalde.