The founding of Taylor in 1876 happened either by chance or by fate; it’s hard to tell which. First, let’s review a few facts to set the scene. The Battle of the Alamo was fought 40 years prior. The Civil War had ended about 10 years ago. Texas is still mostly empty space. The University of Texas had yet to be established, but the Texas Agricultural and Mechanical College was opening its doors. You couldn’t drive a car, but you could take a train, which happens to be where Taylor’s story beings.
The railroad was built through the area a decade earlier, but no station yet existed in the location Taylor would eventually sit. In fact, conductors despised the stretch of track for its boringness, and often used the middle of the 45 mile trip between Round Rock and Rockdale to take a quick nap, have lunch, or write in their journals.
Jimmy Johanisson, one such conductor, wrote in his diary:
“And now, we have entered the land between the ‘Rocks’. I’ve ventured this line at least a dozen times, and it has never failed to provide an opportunity to dream of a more fulfilling life.”
However, the plain and simple nature of the area would soon change. It just so happened that on the 23rd of May, 1875, a flock of some twenty-thousand ducks returned to their homeland, about sixteen miles east of the Round Rock. The ducks seasonally migrated to several specific locations in North America, but had not come back to the future-Taylor area since before the railroad was built. To this day zoologists cannot explain why the ducks would congregate in the grassy plain. Only a small creek cut across it, and the nearest lake was miles away. But, for whatever reason, the ducks did gather there, and had for centuries.
When the first train plowed through the flock, an estimated two hundred ducks were killed. Trains were relatively new creations and these ducks had not yet learned to avoid them. So dense was the gaggle, the steam engine was brought to a stop so its smoke-stack could be cleared of well-cooked duck carcasses.
While the passengers were inconvenienced by the five-hour delay, they did enjoy snacking on the smoked duck, samples of which were distributed to each railcar. One car on this historic train happened to be filled with a contingent of Czech tailors who, by chance or by fate, specialized in working with duck-feathers. They were so delighted by their luck that they debarked the train and began their new life right there in the center of the flock.
Current Taylor citizen Hana Bohac, born 1925, had a grandfather who was on that railcar. She tells this of Ctirad Bohac’s account of this historic day.
“There were thirty or forty of them in the rail car, playing polka music and eating kolaches on their way from Austin to a Czech settlement in the east, when suddenly they felt the train coming to a stop. At first they feared it was bandits or Indians, but looking out the windows, all they saw were ducks! Thousands and thousands of them! Since ducks were what they had worked with back in Europe, they put it to a vote and decided to settle right then and there. Of course, it was a different kind of duck than back in Austria-Hungry, but they quickly adapted to the local variety.”
By the end of 1875, the Czech tailors had built several shops and homes near the railroad. While an official station still had not been constructed, the train was forced to stop each time it passed due to the ducks on the tracks. The Czechs would greet the delightfully delayed train riders with new fashionable duck vests and trousers, which became quite the central-Texas rage. Before long, the conductors had grown sick of the smoked duck, and a station was added. People came north, south, east, and west, to have their own duck-feathered garments fitted by the now-famous duck tailors.
Other retailers followed quickly to provide services to the customers. Seeing an opportunity, German tailors, who worked mostly in cotton, moved in and decided to grow – instead of import – their preferred medium. By 1876, the City of Taylorsville was incorporated. Intended to market the town’s primary industry, the misspelling of “tailor” as “taylor” would defeat the purpose and cause most to assume it was named after a person named Taylor.
Dropping the “Ville”
Since the name of the town failed to attract business, several companies were forced to save money on their signage, and shorten the name of the town to simply “Taylor.” The budget records of the Taylor Five-and-Dime, the first to use the shortened name, reflect a savings of $30 (adjusted for inflation) on their new sign in 1879. Other businesses would follow suite, and in 1892 the name was officially truncated to Taylor. It is not known if the original founders ever became aware of the misspelling, as it would have been just as easy to change the name to Tailorsville as they originally intended.
The tailoring industry in Taylor would steadily decline over the next decade as duck feathers went out of style. With the Czech’s gimmick no longer pulling in the customers, the German tailors moved on as well. By 1910, the last tailor in Taylor went out of business. However, their legacy remained as the new king was crowned: cotton.