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North Houston Rich History

About 50 miles north of the Gulf of Mexico -- guarded by stands of stately oaks and southern evergreens...traversed by gentle streams...and populated by folks with varied and rich ethnic heritage -- North Harris County remains a pathway for modern-day explorers who come in search of a quality lifestyle and a permanent home.

Ever since Stephen Austin brought settlers to claim giant parcels of land along our creek banks, hardy immigrants have gravitated to what has become what the Wall Street Journal heralded as the "fastest growing community in the United States"...and that was back in 1977.



Imagine how Spanish explorer Luis de Moscoso de Alvarado  -- who journeyed here in the mid-1500's and judged the land inhospitable  -- would react if he were to revisit this area today. 

The early inhabitants were the rather primitive, nomadic Orcoquisac Indians who roamed the area, fishing and gathering sea life along the upper reaches of Galveston Bay.  They lived off the abundance of the land,  hunting  bear, deer and buffalo in the winter months.  As a rule, they were considered a docile tribe, until a rumor of cannibalism was spread by a French seaman who witnessed a rather grizzly battle between a young warrior and an enemy Indian.  In contrast to the hostile Karankawas, who harassed the settlers along the Galveston coast, the Orcoquisacs got along well with the influx of settlers until they finally succumbed to diseases introduced by the white pioneers.

The French attempted to colonize the area in the late 1600's, when King Louis XIV laid claim to all the lands of the Mississippi watershed.  The king's emissary, Rene Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle, overshot the mouth of that mighty river, and landed instead at Matagorda Bay on the Texas coast. He explored southeast Texas and camped for a while at the headwaters of Cypress Creek.  He might have returned to settle in the area, but he was murdered by his own men near Navasota.



During the 1700's, the Spanish returned to the area to create a system of missions to introduce religion to the Indians, and establish a military presence to reinforce Spain's authority. They selected a site northeast of what is today Tomball for this purpose.  The Texas missions were destined for failure, however; the Indians resisted confinement and conversion and the Spaniards resented the "mosquito-ridden" site.

The Spanish were successful, however, in laying out the Atascosito Trail, an important military and trade route stretching from South Texas to Louisiana.  (The old Atascosito Crossing is marked by a plaque beside FM 1960 at the west end of the bridge that spans Lake Houston.)  Although Texas was 65 years from statehood at the time of the American Revolution, there is strong evidence that cattle driven along the Atascosito Trail to Louisiana ultimately fed American freedom fighters.



In the early 1800's, the next wave of settlers to find their way to Texas harbored a spirit of rebellion and personified the new democratic spirit in America.  The Scotch-Irish immigrants, who came by way of Kentucky, the Carolinas and Georgia, joined other Anglo pioneers to become the first white settlers in North Harris County. 

When Napoleon snatched the Louisiana Territory from Spain in 1800, the Mississippi River no longer kept settlers from westward exploration.  Almost overnight, American settlers were knocking on the door of Spanish Texas, seeking admission to the area's rich bottom lands and rolling prairies.



Stephen F. Austin, the son of an enterprising Connecticut Yankee, was able to persuade pioneer families to settle in Texas.  A few of Austin's "Old Three Hundred" families settled in north Harris County, and their names are still honored  today. 

The area, then referred to as the Harrisburg municipality, figured prominently in the Texas Revolution.  As Sam Houston and his soldiers crossed the Brazos in that fateful April of 1936, the General gave the command, "Columns Right," which led his soldiers to Harrisburg and the monumental battle with Santa Anna at San Jacinto.  Along the way, they camped near the gigantic "Old Sam Houston Oak," located  close to the area now occupied by the sprawling campus of Compaq Computer Corporation -- at state highway 249 and the crossing of Cypress Creek.

In 1839, the area was renamed Harris County and its boundaries were trimmed on all four sides to its present configuration.  The new Republic of Texas attracted a rush of settlers, hungry to snatch up the suddenly available public lands.  Anyone living in Texas on the day independence was declared -- except Africans and Indians -- were entitled to a grant of land.  Once a certificate was obtained, settlers were free to locate their grant anywhere in what was designated "public domain."  Three of these "leagues" were along Cypress Creek, and covered all the land from present I-45 to Cutten Road, and from FM 1960 north to Louetta.  Today's roads still correspond to many of the old survey boundary lines.



In spite of the grants, most of the new land owners were absentee landlords leaving the north Harris County area to roaming fox and jackrabbits.  After statehood in 1845, farmers and merchants began to arrive to forge new communities.  It was the Germans who gave the area its special characteristics.  They came from a land torn by social and political unrest, and brought their hardy and honest work ethic with them.

Their names are still familiar today: the five Strack brothers came from an area near the Rhine; Adam Klein and his bride, Frederika Klenk, came from Wurtenberg; Carl Wunsche came from Saxony in central Germany.  They put down roots and overcame adversity with faith and ingenuity, despite epidemics of yellow fever.

After the Civil War, free blacks who disembarked at the docks of Galveston followed groups of German immigrants to north Harris County.  One group settled near the present Lakewood Forest subdivision; others came to communities like Kohrville, Hufsmith, Spring, and Independent Grove near Champions.



It was the railroads, however, that revolutionized the north Harris County area.  Jay Gould's International and Great Northern Railroad turned the sleepy little community of Spring into a boom town...complete with saloons, hotels and even an opera house.  The population grew to about 1200 by 1910.  Still standing is the Wunsche Bros. Saloon and Hotel, now a famous tourist attraction known as the Spring Cafe.  In 1932, there was lots of excitement when the infamous pair, Bonnie and Clyde, pulled off a successful bank robbery!

Today, Olde Town spring is one of the area's busiest tourist attractions, featuring antique and craft shops.  The area is especially popular during their annual events and festivals (Home For The Holidays, the Heritage and Crawfish festivals).

The area experienced a bonanza during the Gulf Coast's oil boom.  Following Humble Oil's gusher at Moonshine Hill in 1904, wildcatters drilled a flurry of wells across north Harris County.  Just south of Cypress, they hit a hot, free-flowing artesian well that soon became a tourist attraction, bringing visitors to the Houston Hot Well Sanitarium and Hotel to seek the medicinal benefits of bathing in the mineral baths.

Visitors also came in search of buried treasure  --  $600,000 of it -- that Mexicans traveling from East Texas were rumored to have hidden along Cypress Creek when they were attacked by Indians. Capitalizing on the pleasures of dance-loving pioneers, the popular Tin Hall was built at the turn of the century by the Cypress Gun and Rifle Club to replace its original structure lost in a fire.

Just a "smile's drive away," Tomball became the only incorporated municipality north of FM 1960 in 1906.  The city was named for Thomas H. Ball, a prominent attorney and congressman from Houston, who was credited with bringing the railroad through the area.  His greatest accomplishment, however, was the transformation of Buffalo Bayou into the Ship Channel in 1914.

Another of the area's early leaders was Adam Klein, originally from Stuttgart.  The Klein community was named in 1884 when he successfully petitioned for a post office.  The Klein Independent School District was created in 1938 in his honor, and an historical plaque is posted at the site of today's Klein High School.

The five Strack brothers also settled near Cypress Creek.  There is a story about the oldest brother buying 1200 acres of Cypress Creek land for $1200 -- a tract that included much of the land from the creek to Louetta Road between Stuebner-Airline and Kuykendahl Roads.  Today, Strack Farms still occupies part of his original acreage.

Customers who patronized the Bammel and Kuehnle General  store -- located at the intersection of FM 1960 and Kuykendahl -- took a break from their weekly shopping to sit on the front porch and watch the prairie schooners roll by.



By the late 1950's, Houston was fast emerging as one of America's super-cities; dominant in the petrochemical and aerospace fields.  The newcomers flocked to the area and, due to their preference for wooded home sites, subdivision developers looked north of the city where it seemed to be cooler and less humid.  Thanks to the new road, FM 1960 golfers could easily reach the Champions Golf Club established in 1958 by Jackie Burke and Jimmie Demaret, and it wasn't long before Champions and other premier subdivisions were built in the great northwest area.  The prospect of an International airport in 1966 brought developers to the area in droves.

When Shell Oil Company relocated its corporate headquarters to Houston from New York City, 1400 new families moved to the area -- many to the northwest.  Between 1960 and 1970, Houston grew from 14th to the sixth most populous city in the country.  The quiet countryside then housed 75,000 people by 1970, and 200,000 by 1977.

Houston Northwest Medical Center began providing hospital service in December of 1973; Cypress Creek Emergency Medical Services Association was established in 1975; and the area gained higher education when North Harris County College opened in May 1976.  Greenspoint Mall opened in 1978 followed by Willowbrook Mall in 1981.

Today, north Harris County is home to over 450,000 people.  It offers some of the best schools in the state, and many residents have chosen to locate their businesses in the neighborhood as well.