Llano (pronounced LAN-oh) is located in the Texas Hill Country about an hour north of Austin, very near the geographic center of Texas. Founded in response to a legislative act creating Llano County in February 1856, the town was established June 14 of the same year. A public vote under a live oak tree on the south side of the Llano River chose the town’s location: a tract of 250 acres donated by a local rancher.
The area boomed from 1886-1893 after iron ore deposits were discovered in nearby Iron Mountain. With high hopes for the future, the Llano Improvement and Furnace Company embarked upon a mission to build an iron furnace and foundry. Land speculators from Dallas and northern states poured into the area with investment money, wanting to be part of “the Pittsburgh of the West.”
The population soared to 7,000 in 1890, encouraging the Austin and Northwestern Railroad to extend its line to a terminal on the north side of what promised to be a thriving metropolis. Increased access to transportation attracted granite quarrying and finishing companies intent on profiting from the abundance of granite in the surrounding hills.
Then the bubble burst. The iron ore deposits proved insufficient for commercial exploitation, and the Llano Improvement and Furnace Company abandoned its project. The company’s withdrawal threw the town’s big plans into disarray. Although charters had been sold to construct a dam, an electric power plant, a streetcar system, and electric streetlights, only a small dam and the streetlights were completed. Speculators and local businesses lost fortunes as a result.
A series of fires in the late-1890s, probably set to collect insurance money, destroyed much of the town. Consequently, insurance companies refused to provide any coverage in the area until well into the 20th Century.
The granite processors remained. Today, Llano’s primary industries are farming, ranching, and granite quarrying and finishing. The town’s population is roughly 3,000 people except during November and December, when the undisputed “Deer Capital of Texas” overflows with hunters.