Oakville Jail stands as a true Texas treasure

Albert Davila and his wife Mari have lovingly restored the old Oakville Jail and surrounding properties, turning the area into a historic showcase.

When a guest from out of town came to stay with us for a couple of days, we were able to treat him to a couple of local events, including the Lighting of the Park in George West.

Because he and I share a love of history, a visit to historic Oakville was a must. And on that recent Saturday, we had an unexpected treat. 

Albert Davila, owner of the historic property was on site doing some work, and we were able to get a tour of the old Oakville Jail building that is among the treasures of Live Oak County.

Before getting to go inside the jail, we walked the perimeter of the property, enjoying a glimpse at all the historic buildings. Davila said when he purchased the property some 15 years ago, it was only the jail building itself that occupied the area.

Since that time, several local residents have made Davila aware of historic buildings that were available, and he purchased and transported these buildings to add to the grandeur of Oakville.

It is quite an impressive collection and a perfect setting for the Dobie Dichos event which takes place on the property each fall. This year, Dobie Dichos was the last official event sponsored by George West Storyfest before that organization dissolved.

Hopefully, the event, which celebrates the stories, legend and lore of J. Frank Dobie and the history of Texas itself, will continue in 2019 under a different sponsorship.

Davila’s generosity in hosting the event is greatly appreciated by those who have made it an annual tradition.

During our visit to Oakville, Davila told us that after each historic building was added to the Oakville property, he said that it was the last one. 

When an old church is moved from eastern Three Rivers and restored to its glorious past sometime in the coming months, Davila said it really will be the last building that he adds to the property.

While all these buildings are impressive and have their own unique charms, it is the old jailhouse, which dates to 1856, that serves as a centerpiece of Davila’s property.

The jail is truly an impressive structure and was clearly built to last, and thanks to some much needed renovations it is a building that Texans can be proud of and celebrate.

The building has seen plenty of historical events over the years, the most infamous and tragic of which was probably the murder of Deputy Sheriff Harry Hinton, who was killed by a trio of men in the early 20th century  (December 1914) when that group was plotting their escape.

The men were captured, faced trial and were each hung near the jail. A sign on the Davila property notes where the hanging tree is located.

For years, the old jail had served as the home of the Rosebrock family — and today, Jim Rosebrock serves as superintendent of the George West Independent School District.

The old jail was always stately but had fallen on somewhat hard times when Davila purchased it in the early part of the 21st century. He said there were lines of termites marching to and fro, and other creatures had found a home in the structure, as well.

“Termites loved the place, and when we first came in the mice just stared at us, wondering what we were doing in their home,” Davila said.

Below the structure, a colony of rat snakes had staked their claim and were among the residents that had to move out during the restoration process.

Asked what had surprised Davila the most about the old property, he said they kept finding more and more infrastructure items that needed to be repaired, which is certainly not unusual for a building that has stood for more than 160 years.

To put things in perspective, Texas had been a part of the United States for just 11 years when the Oakville jail rose up on the South Texas land, and the Civil War was an event that wouldn’t begin for another five years.

These days, the property is downright elegant. You would think it had started out as the home of a wealthy cattle baron, and not as a place where cattle rustlers, horse thieves and other assorted ne’r-do-wells were incarcerated and awaited justice.

In addition to hosting guests for Dobie Dichos, the building can be rented for weddings, family reunions and other events. Davila said the property is popular with hunting groups and others who accompany them.

He said some of the men staying on the property take advantage of the numerous hunting and fishing sites that grace the area. 

Other men who have come along with them for the weekend but who may not be as interested in bagging game or landing a lunker at Choke Canyon Reservoir, often stay back at the Oakville Jail property and enjoy its amenities while waiting for the outdoorsmen to return.

For some people, Oakville is merely a place to buzz past on Highway 37, a tiny community that many all but ignore on the way to Corpus Christi, San Antonio or the Rio Grande Valley.

However, those who are aware of the unique and enticing charms of Oakville, with the old jail as its centerpiece, know that Oakville is a place to cherish and appreciate. When it comes to remembering our heritage, it is a Texas treasure to truly celebrate.

Jeff Osborne is the editor of The Progress. A Texan since 1973, he has worked for Texas newspapers for 25 years.