There, this 2012 springtime, beneath the sentinel oaks are the historic Gussettville Cemetery (old and new) and the nearby Guy James Cemetery, which lies on private land but can be accessed by walking onto the property. However, one should wear snake-proof boots because of the high grass and weeds. And these cemeteries cradle the historic St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
The Guy James Cemetery is believed to be the first cemetery in use during those halcyon years for the Irish settlers.
“My aunt taught school there, and Lamar James (a grandson of Guy James) was one of her pupils. The school closed about 1942, and he then went to school in George West,” said Leslie Walker, a Lewis family descendant, who is doing extensive genealogical research pertaining to Gussettville.
Driving south on Farm-to-Market Road 799 from U.S. Highway 59 east of George West, a visitor first sees the steeple of the church jutting up through the trees, as if it were hands clasped in prayer, praising God.
Then, a little farther down the farm road, on the right, a short drive on a path takes one closer to observe the entire vista.
The landscape at Gussettville is reminiscent of churchyards in Ireland, where graveyards are commonly seen around churches.
And in those Irish graves overseas rest the past parishioners of the churches, just as the graves in the Gussettville cemeteries hold the histories of the Catholic Irish who first settled in Live Oak County.
Some know the history of Live Oak County: Empresarios John McMullen and James McGloin, and their colonists, traveled from Ireland to avoid English oppression. They were given land grants by the Mexican government to settle in Texas, where hardly anyone lived except for American Indians.
The first Irish colonists arrived in Texas as early as 1829, including Patrick McGloin, and had occupied their promised lands since 1830. The colonists called their townsite San Patricio (St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland) de Hibernia.
Land titles bestowed by the Mexican government to the Irish became 200-acre tracts in what is today Live Oak County, which was formed from San Patricio County in 1856, according to the 1961-62 Texas Almanac.
The county was founded on land controlled by Patrick McGloin, who had a 5,240-acre land grant. The land is where the remnants of Gussettville are today.
Gussettville was first named Fox’s Nation, or Fox Nation, after the Fox family, the first Irish to settle the area.
Later, N. Gussett purchased the land and opened a trading post. The spot, as early as 1846, was a stagecoach stop on the road between Corpus Christi and San Antonio.
By the mid-1850s, it had been renamed Gussettville.
Later, Simeon Wise Lewis – born Feb. 10, 1830, in Ohio – bought the old trading post and stable from Gussett, according to Walker.
Another account shows Gussett owning a couple of stores and a horse racetrack.
Lewis married Margaret Ellen Dolan (from County Leitrim, Ireland) at Gussettville.
After Lewis served in the Confederate Army, he returned to Gussettville and started making saddle trees.
“Apparently, they were well known,” Walker said.
According to the Handbook of Texas online, Gussettville was granted a post office in 1858, and by 1884, a church (St. Joseph’s), school and store marked the community, but the population was only a mere 30 people.
The post office closed in 1886, and then Gussettville slowly faded because it was bypassed by the railroad. All that was left by the 1930s was St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, school (absorbed by George West school in 1945), and a few residences.
The current St. Joseph’s was not the first church at Gussettville, according to Walker.
Some accounts say three churches, including St. Joseph’s, were built.
But more likely, St. Joseph’s is the second church to be built at Gussettville.
In an interview with Lamar James, who is a grandson of Guy James, Walker learned about the demise of the first church.
The first church was built, and a dance was held in it, probably to celebrate its construction. But the bishop at that time would not consecrate the church because it had been danced in.
“It was sold and later burned at the hands of the owners,” Walker said. “The church that replaced the danced-in church is the one standing today.”
The existing church was built in 1874. Two acres of land had been donated for the church by Thomas and wife Ann Shannon in 1869 to Bishop Claude Marie Dubuise and successors.
According to “Texas Roots,” by Margaret Olson, the Rev. Edward Smyth was the missionary in charge in October 1874, and he had the church erected. The carpenters who built the church were Charlie Grant, William Fitzsimmons, James George and James Dunne.
The lumber was brought by an ox-drawn cart along the old trail from Corpus Christi.
As an aside, Gussettville resident Mary Mahoney approached the carpenters and told them she would furnish their meals if they would build her a kitchen after they completed the church.
The deal was agreed upon, but, unfortunately, she died after a short illness and before the completion of her kitchen.
On July 28, 1878, all parishioners went out two miles to meet the most Rev. Dominic Manucy, and the church was dedicated under the title and patronage of St. Joseph.
By the time the church was built, Gussettville had changed from being a totally Catholic community and now had Protestants, as well.
One story handed down by Lewis ancestors told of a young couple – a Catholic bride and a Protestant groom.
The marriage was to be at St. Joseph’s, and the young couple had to wait for a visiting priest to come.
The day the priest was to arrive, the couple was ready to be married at the altar.
But unbeknownst to the couple, the priest was delayed.
A dance had been planned at the reception, so the couple danced instead, but the bride’s wedding dress became dirty. And the groom was unsuccessful at convincing the bride to get married by a justice.
The priest didn’t show up until the next day, so the bride washed her wedding dress in the Nueces River, ironed it, and when it was ready, the wedding took place.
In recent times, damage was done to St. Joseph’s by Hurricane Beulah in September 1967, causing the church to undergo some changes to its windows and its entrance.
“So we have St. Joseph’s, the Gussettville Cemetery, the Guy James Cemetery down the road where the first stores were, the stagecoach stop, two schools and families living on tracts of land and meeting at the church for Mass, weddings, funerals and picnics, as well as doing laundry at the river,” Walker said.
“There could be some truth to the story of my grandmother being born under the Live Oak tree by the church. The ladies could have been doing laundry and not made it back home in time for delivery,” Walker said.
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church is still active.
According to the “The Beginning of Gussettville Church,” “Masses are held on the Feast Day of St. Joseph, All Souls Day, and in conjunction with the Gussettville Cemetery reunion each year in October.”
Walker also was married there 38 years ago on April 20, 1974. So the Lewis family history continues well into the 21st century, as does St. Joseph’s.
“Pretty amazing to think about that now, for me, anyway,” Walker said.