You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Texas? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Texas city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Lone Star State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Laredo (Photos)
- Houston (Photos)
- San Antonio (Photos)
- Austin (Photos)
- Georgetown (Photos)
- Dallas (Photos)
- Hempstead (Photos)
- Orange (Photos)
- Cleburne (Photos)
- Rockport (Photos)
For being 263 years old, Laredo doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Texas? That would be Freeport — a brand spanking 1 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Texas… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Texas, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 292 out of 396 in Texas with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 73.7% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Laredo turning out to be the matriarch of Texas at the ripe old age of 263.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
The European colonial settlement of Villa de San Agustin de Laredo was founded in 1755 by Don Tomás Sánchez while the area was part of the Nuevo Santander region in the Spanish colony of New Spain. Villa de San Agustin de Laredo was named after Laredo, Cantabria, Spain and in honor of Saint Augustine of Hippo. In 1840, Laredo was the capital of the independent Republic of the Rio Grande, set up in opposition to Antonio López de Santa Anna; it was brought back into Mexico by military force.
In 1846 during the Mexican–American War, the town was occupied by the Texas Rangers. After the war, the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ceded the land to the United States. A referendum was taken in the town, which voted to petition the American military government in charge of the area to return the town to Mexico. When this petition was rejected, most of the population, who were Tejano and had been in the area for generations, moved across the river into Mexican territory, where they founded Nuevo Laredo. In 1849, the United States Army set up Fort McIntosh (originally Camp Crawford). Laredo was rechartered as a city in 1852.
On August 26, 1836, two real estate entrepreneurs from New York, Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen, purchased 6,642 acres (26.88 km2) of land along Buffalo Bayou with the intent of founding a city. According to historian, David McComb, ‘[T]he brothers, on August 26, 1836, bought from Elizabeth E. Parrott, wife of T.F.L. Parrott and widow of John Austin, the south half of the lower league [2,214 acres of land] granted to her by her late husband. They paid $5,000 total, but only $1,000 of this in cash; notes made up the remainder.’ The Allen brothers decided to name the city after Sam Houston, the popular general at the Battle of San Jacinto, who was elected President of Texas in September 1836. The great majority of slaves in Texas came with their owners from the older slave states. Sizable numbers, however, came through the domestic slave trade. New Orleans was the center of this trade in the Deep South, but slave dealers were in Houston. Thousands of enslaved African Americans lived near the city before the Civil War. Many of them near the city worked on sugar and cotton plantations, while most of those in the city limits had domestic and artisan jobs. Houston was granted incorporation on June 5, 1837, with James S. Holman becoming its first mayor. In the same year, Houston became the county seat of Harrisburg County (now Harris County) and the temporary capital of the Republic of Texas. In 1840, the community established a chamber of commerce in part to promote shipping and waterborne business at the newly created port on Buffalo Bayou.
By 1860, Houston had emerged as a commercial and railroad hub for the export of cotton. Railroad spurs from the Texas inland converged in Houston, where they met rail lines to the ports of Galveston and Beaumont. During the American Civil War, Houston served as a headquarters for General John Bankhead Magruder, who used the city as an organization point for the Battle of Galveston. After the Civil War, Houston businessmen initiated efforts to widen the city’s extensive system of bayous so the city could accept more commerce between downtown and the nearby port of Galveston. By 1890, Houston was the railroad center of Texas.
3. San Antonio
At the time of European encounter, Payaya Indians lived near the San Antonio River Valley in the San Pedro Springs area. They called the vicinity Yanaguana, meaning ‘refreshing waters’. In 1691, a group of Spanish Catholic explorers and missionaries came upon the river and Payaya settlement on June 13, the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. They named the place and river ‘San Antonio’ in his honor.
It was years before any Spanish settlement took place. Father Antonio de Olivares visited the site in 1709, and he was determined to found a mission and civilian settlement there. The viceroy gave formal approval for a combined mission and presidio in late 1716, as he wanted to forestall any French expansion into the area from their colony of La Louisiane to the east, as well as prevent illegal trading with the Payaya. He directed Martín de Alarcón, the governor of Coahuila and Texas, to establish the mission complex. Differences between Alarcón and Olivares resulted in delays, and construction did not start until 1718. Fray Antonio de Olivares built, with the help of the Payaya Indians, the Misión de San Antonio de Valero (The Alamo), the Presidio San Antonio de Bexar, the bridge that connected both, and the Acequia Madre de Valero.
Austin, Travis County and Williamson County have been the site of human habitation since at least 9200 BC. The area’s earliest known inhabitants lived during the late Pleistocene (Ice Age) and are linked to the Clovis culture around 9200 BC (11,200 years ago), based on evidence found throughout the area and documented at the much-studied Gault Site, midway between Georgetown and Fort Hood.
When settlers arrived from Europe, the Tonkawa tribe inhabited the area. The Comanches and Lipan Apaches were also known to travel through the area. Spanish colonists, including the Espinosa-Olivares-Aguirre expedition, traveled through the area for centuries, though few permanent settlements were created for some time. In 1730, three missions from East Texas were combined and reestablished as one mission on the south side of the Colorado River, in what is now Zilker Park, in Austin. The mission was in this area for only about seven months, and then was moved to San Antonio de Béxar and split into three missions.
Georgetown has been the site of human habitation since at least 9,000 BC, and possibly considerably before that. The earliest known inhabitants of the county, during the late Pleistocene (Ice Age), can be linked to the Clovis culture, a Paleo-Indian culture characterized by the manufacture of distinctive ‘Clovis points’ that first appeared around 9200 BC, and possibly as early as 11,500 BC, at the end of the last glacial period. One of the most important discoveries in recent times is that of the ancient skeletal remains dubbed ‘The Leanderthal Lady’ because of its age and proximity to nearby community Leander, Texas. The site is immediately southwest of Georgetown and was discovered by accident by Texas Department of Transportation workers while core samples for a new highway were being drilled. The site has been extensively studied for many years, and samples carbon date the findings to the Pleistocene period, about 10,500 years ago (8500 BC). Archeological dig sites showing a much greater evidence of Archaic period inhabitants have been found in burned rock middens at several sites along the San Gabriel that are now inundated by Granger Lake and at the confluence of the North and South San Gabriel Rivers in Georgetown.
Preceded by thousands of years of varying cultures, the Caddo people inhabited the Dallas area before Spanish colonists claimed the territory of Texas in the 18th century as a part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Later, France also claimed the area but never established much settlement.
In 1819, the Adams-Onís Treaty between the United States and Spain defined the Red River as the northern boundary of New Spain, officially placing the future location of Dallas well within Spanish territory. The area remained under Spanish rule until 1821, when Mexico declared independence from Spain, and the area was considered part of the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. In 1836, Texians, with a majority of Anglo-American settlers, gained independence from Mexico and formed the Republic of Texas.
On December 29, 1856, Dr. Richard Rodgers Peebles and James W. McDade organized the Hempstead Town Company to sell lots in the newly established community of Hempstead, which was located at the projected terminus of Houston and Texas Central Railway. Peebles named Hempstead after Dr. G. S. B. Hempstead, Peebles’s brother-in-law. Peebles and Mary Ann Groce Peebles, his wife, contributed 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of the estate of Jared E. Groce, Jr., for the community. On June 29, 1858, the Houston and Texas Central Railway was extended to Hempstead, causing the community to become a distribution center between the Gulf Coast and the interior of Texas. On November 10 of that year, Hempstead incorporated. The Washington County Railroad, which ran from Hempstead to Brenham, enhanced the city upon its completion.
This community was originally called Greens Bluff for a man named Reason Green, a Sabine River boatman who arrived at this location sometime before 1830. A short time later, in 1840, the town was renamed Madison in honor of President James Madison. To resolve the frequent post office confusion with another Texas community called Madisonville, the town was renamed ‘Orange’ in 1858. The area experienced rapid growth in the late 19th century due to 17 sawmills within the city limits, making Orange the center of the Texas lumber industry. Orange’s growth led to the arrival of many immigrants in the late 19th century, including a moderately-sized Jewish population by 1896. In 1898, the County built a courthouse in the city, which eventually burned down and was replaced by the Orange County Courthouse.
Cleburne is Johnson County’s third county seat. It was formerly known as Camp Henderson, a temporary Civil War outpost from which Johnson County soldiers would depart for war (most of them would serve under General Cleburne). The city was formally incorporated in 1871.
Following the Civil War, a number of people considered developing the Live Oak Peninsula. Joseph F. Smith, who had founded the nearby town of St. Mary’s in 1850, joined with Thomas H. Mathis and his cousin J.M. Mathis, who were agents of the Morgan Steamship line, and founded a wharf at the site of what would later become the town of Rockport, in 1867. The same year, George W. Fulton and his wife, Texas heiress and Joseph Smith’s cousin, Harriet Smith Fulton moved to her extensive land holdings on the peninsula. Fulton also took an interest in the development of Rockport, as well as creating the town of Fulton farther up the coastline. In response, a nascent cattle-slaughtering and packing operation at the wharf expanded rapidly, allowing Rockport to be officially incorporated as a town in 1870; its name arising from the rock ledge that runs along the shore. Thomas Mathis became Rockport’s first mayor after being appointed by the governor. A year later in 1871, the town achieved ‘city’ status after continued growth.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Texas
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Texas. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Texas.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Lone Star State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Texas:
- Freeport (Founded in 2017)
- Irving (Founded in 2017)
- Angleton (Founded in 2017)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Texas
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