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Brazoria County

“Where Texas Began”

It started at the mouth of the Brazos River, in late December of 1821, the first of Stephen F. Austin’s colonists that came by boat landed in what is now Brazoria County. Many more followed them up the Brazos River to establish their new home in what was then Mexico.  Since that time the Brazos has been a central factor in the growth and development of Brazoria County. Settlements sprang up along the river which was used to carry supplies and equipment from trading centers in the United States and Mexico and to ship agricultural commodities. Eighty-nine of Austin’s “Old Three Hundred” colonists had acquired land grants in what is now Brazoria County by 1824. The earliest communities were Velasco (present day Surfside Beach), East Columbia (Originally known as Bell’s Landing or Marion), Columbia (later West Columbia) and Brazoria. Quintana and Liverpool were also settled before 1832.

Brazoria County took its name from the Brazos River. Brazoria was the county seat when the county was organized on December 20, 1836, and remained so until 1896, when Angleton replaced it. Brazoria County is on the prairie of the Gulf Coast at the mouth of the Brazos River and covers 1,597.44 square miles. Its highest altitude, Damon Mound, is 146 feet above sea level.

Agriculture in the area began to rise steadily as residents earned their livelihood from cotton as early as the mid-1830’s, making some of the plantation owners in the area some of the wealthiest in Texas.  On March 1, 1835, a meeting near Brazoria led to the first Masonic lodge in Texas, Holland Lodge No. 36.

On September 8, 1835, Stephen F. Austin declared war against Santa Anna, Texans began to prepare for a revolution. As tension grew for independence from Mexico, formation of committees of public safety met to discuss the impeding break from Mexico. After the convention at San Felipe and engagements at Gonzales, Goliad, and Bexar, volunteer companies were organized and a provisional government approved on November 13, 1835. Henry Smith of Brazoria County served as the first provisional governor. Formation of a permanent council soon thereafter brought the inauguration of mail routes throughout the area. Rebellion grew in 1835 and 1836, culminating in the Texas Declaration of Independence.

Many residents fought in the Texas Revolution or contributed to the cause. After Santa Anna was captured at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, Santa Anna and members of his army were taken to Velasco, then the location of the provisional government. It was here that Santa Anna signed the Treaties of Velasco with the Republic of Texas on May 14, 1836.

Population grew between 1870 and 1880 from 7,527 to 9,774 due mainly to federal soldiers, Northerners, foreign immigrants and Confederate soldiers from Texas and the Old South. Economic recovery came slowly in the post-Civil War era. The principal crops were corn, grains, sweet and Irish potatoes, fruits, wild grapes, and cotton and sugar for export. Sugar production, reduced in the early years of Reconstruction, burgeoned with the use of convict labor by 1871, but never again reached earlier levels. By 1867 the value of livestock, chiefly cattle, nearly equaled that of agriculture. When cattlemen found northern markets shut off in the late 1860s, hide and tallow factories were established along the Brazos River; Brazoria County packed $100,000 worth of canned beef in 1870. Figs were introduced in the Alvin area around the turn of the century and became an important crop. Four canneries were later built in the community. Live oak moss was ginned at Angleton.

The value of Brazoria County agriculture rose steadily after Reconstruction, and the majority of residents earned their livelihood from the soil until the late 1930s. The use of mules declined with widespread use of tractors after 1925, and the number of farms increased steadily to a maximum of 3,065 in 1940. Houston Lighting and Power service reached the county in 1927. But by 1930 the effects of the Great Depression were obvious. Whereas less than a third of county farmers were tenants in 1880, by 1930 tenants constituted a majority, a condition that lasted until the 1950s. Between 1900 and 1930 Brazoria County was described as a cattle-raising area, with some oil and sulfur production, dairying, and diverse farming. The dairy industry, centered around Alvin, peaked between 1910 and 1930, and cotton in 1920. Corn crops were concentrated near Sweeny, Brazoria, Damon, Danbury, and Angleton, stock farming around Alvin, truck farming in the Sweeny area, figs and poultry near Alvin and Angleton, and pecans around Sweeny and East Columbia.

Rice farming enhanced the economy. Farmers near Danbury and elsewhere started planting rice after 1900 and began to dig rice canals in 1935. From a total of 6,000 acres planted in the crop in 1903, planting grew to 16,000 acres by 1940. In 1948 favorable growing conditions made Brazoria County the nation's number-one rice producing area, with a crop valued at more than $10 million. The average yield per acre almost doubled between 1956 and 1970; an average of 53,000 acres was planted during those years. Rice and grain exports comprised 65,000 tons in 1968; American Rice, Incorporated, at Brazosport, shipped 350,000 tons of rice in 1990.

Brazoria County mineral development began at West Columbia oilfield as early as 1901. Oil production started at Brazoria in 1902, reached 12,500,000 barrels in 1921, declined during the depression, and then resumed. Brazoria County ranked fourth among Texas counties in 1946, with 29,308,106 barrels produced. Sulfur deposits at Bryan Mound, Hoskins Mound, and Stratton Ridge Dome were first mined in 1912, and soon made the county first in United States production of sulfur. The Freeport Sulphur Company employed 800 persons at Bryan and Hoskins Mound in 1930 and extracted 2,000 tons of sulfur daily. By 1944 the firm had extracted 552,000 long tons of ore. The county's contribution to World War I came from factories at Brazoria, Sweeny, and Hasima that produced live oak nails for shipbuilding.

During the 1940s, the number of manufacturing jobs increased rapidly. As the depletion of Bryan Mound sulfur deposits brought an end to the area's principal industry, Dow Chemical Company, drawn to natural resources at Freeport, came in 1939 and soon gave rise to the Brazosport industrial and port community. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, members of the Texas National Guard manned newly established Dow facilities, while the company constructed 2,300 dwelling units in less than two months for its workers. By 1945 exports from Brazosport amounted to 117,610 tons. Another effect of World War II on the county took the form of camps for prisoners of war, which housed German soldiers and members of Rommel's Afrika Corps for a time. A second phase of industrialization began in the 1950s as "customer companies," including Monsanto and processors of chemical fertilizers, established operations nearby to make use of Dow products. Industrial development attracted more workers, including people from East Texas and some African Americans from nearby communities, while real estate developments produced such new Brazosport communities as Lake Jackson. Transportation, meanwhile, included by 1949 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway and the Missouri Pacific, which operated the Houston and Brazos Valley, the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico, the International-Great Northern, and the Texas and New Orleans. The county population grew from 27,069 in 1940 to 46,413 in 1950, and continued to expand. By 1982, at which time 17,800 persons were employed in 2,785 business establishments in Brazoria County, three decades of further growth had more than tripled the population to 185,244.

The shrimping industry grew at Freeport after World War II. In 1967, 610 boats harvested 14,000,000 pounds of shrimp; the 1971 catch was 160 times larger than that in 1970, and the harvest doubled again by 1972. Fishing and recreation industry, which grew up after 1960, fostered ongoing development on the Gulf Coast.

Brazoria County's first school was established in 1827, Brazoria Academy in 1839, Alvin Normal School in 1890, and the University of South Texas in 1897. By 1900 eight independent school districts with 200 teachers and forty school buildings served the county's 6,000 pupils. Alvin Community College, founded in the late 1940s, enrolled 3,900 students in 1990. Brazosport College began in 1968. Common-school districts expanded significantly around 1920, suffered declining enrollments during the Great Depression, but grew again by 1940 as the northern county population increased with the rapid growth of Houston, and the southern and central parts of the county grew through the influence of increasing industrialization.

History provided by: Texas State Historical Association “The Handbook of Texas”, https://tshaonline.org/handbook/about-handbook