RICHMOND, TEXAS. Richmond, the county seat of Fort Bend County, is on the Brazos River fifteen miles southwest of Houston. The city's transportation links include U.S. highways 90A and 59, the Southern Pacific Railroad, and the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway. In early 1822 a group of twelve to fifteen men led by William W. Little camped in the vicinity of the present city and were soon followed by other members of Stephen F. Austin's Old Three Hundred.
A log fort built at the bend in the Brazos River became the nucleus of a settlement, which came to be known as Fort Bend, or the "Fort Settlement." The community was evacuated in 1836 during the Runaway Scrape. In early 1837 the town of Richmond was established by Robert Eden Handy and his business partner, William Lusk, and as early as April the partners were advertising to sell lots in the town. Named after Richmond, England, the town was first incorporated by the Republic of Texas in May 1837; in December, when Fort Bend County was formed, Richmond became its seat of government.
In January 1839 a Methodist Episcopal church was organized, and in April the town's first newspaper, the weekly Richmond Telescope and Texas Literary Register, began publishing. The town's early residents included some of the best known Texans of the period, including Erastus (Deaf) Smith and Jane Long ; Mirabeau B. Lamar lived on a plantation within the present limits of the city. By 1851 Richmond included a brick courthouse, two stores, a Masonic Hall, the Methodist church, and the Richmond Male and Female Academy.
A yellow fever epidemic swept through Richmond in 1853, but its future seemed assured in 1855, when the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway extended its tracks into the town. By 1859 the town was a prosperous shipping and market center for the area's cotton plantations and had grown to include a cotton warehouse and two hotels; a brick building for other stores was also being built.
Though a number of men from Richmond and the surrounding area joined Confederate companies during the Civil War and the local economy declined, in other ways the town itself remained largely isolated from the conflict. After the end of the war, many emancipated slaves from surrounding plantations began to move into Richmond's environs; in 1866 an agency of the federal Freedmen's Bureau was established at Richmond, and in 1867 a company of federal troops were stationed there. Allied with white Republicans, the area's blacks controlled local politics until 1889, when whites in the area seized control after the Jaybird-Woodpecker War.
Before the Civil War Richmond became a center of the "cattle empire" that grew between the Brazos and Colorado rivers; cattle were branded on ranges just west of the town before being sent north to market centers in the Midwest. In 1878 the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway extended its tracks through the area but bypassed Richmond; a new, rival community called Rosenberg was built on the railway three miles from the old town. In 1884 2,000 people lived in Richmond. That year, along with the courthouse and four churches, the town had a bank, sugar mills and refineries, and six schools.
Cotton, corn, livestock, hides, sugar, and molasses were being shipped from the town. A wooden bridge across the Brazos was built at Richmond about 1888, and when that collapsed five years later it was replaced by a sturdier steel structure. Nevertheless, partly because of competition from Rosenberg and other new towns growing in the county at that time, Richmond's population dropped to 1,500 by 1890 and 1,180 by 1904. An enormous flood surrounded the town in 1899. Richmond's economy remained dependent on agriculture until the 1920s, when oil production began in the county. By 1934 there were eight producing oilfields and a sulfur mine within an eight-mile radius of the town.
During the 1930s sidewalks were extended through much of the town, and a large municipal pool was built; Richmond's citizens also approved a bond package that funded a number of other civic improvements, including a new city hall, a modern water system, and new fire-fighting equipment. Though local agricultural production suffered during the Great Depression, the surrounding cotton growers still supported two large cotton gins in Richmond, and the town also had a large irrigation pumping plant that supplied water to rice fields in the area.
Despite the improvements, a traveler passing through the town in the 1930s still thought Richmond's "fine old white frame residences of the plantation type" gave the town "the air of the Deep South." The town's population rose from 1,273 in 1920 to 1,432 by 1930, and to 2,026 by 1940. Beginning in the late 1940s people began moving to the Richmond-Rosenberg area to commute to jobs in Houston, and the trend intensified during and after the 1950s. As a result the town's population grew rapidly, rising from 2,026 in 1950 to 3,668 by 1960, to 5,777 by 1970, and to 9,692 by 1980.
As Richmond and Rosenberg grew together the towns increasingly cooperated in development and planning projects. By 1990 there were 9,801 people living in Richmond. The population reached 11,081 in 2000. Historic points of interest in Richmond include the Morton Cemetery, the 1883 John Moore Home, the Long-Smith Cottage, the McFarlane Visitors Center, the historic county courthouse, many historic homes, a Confederate Museum, and the Fort Bend Historical Museum.
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