Each year many people move to the Brenham, Texas area and may not know of the area’s history so this page is furnished to tell some of the story of Brenham and Washington County.

Brenham Downtown
Brenham Downtown Scene

As railroads were built across Texas, towns had to decide whether to support the steamboats and river traffic they knew, or to support the new option of the railroad. In 1858 the town of Washington’s residents declined to pay a so-called bonus of $11,000 to the Houston & Texas Central Railway that was building a line nearby. So the H&TC RR instead built its line to Navasota. The rail traffic surpassed the steamboat traffic, and the town of Washington began to decline.

This brings us to the place that became the city of Brenham.

Located roughly in the center of the county it was originally known as the Hickory Grove Community. In 1843, the community changed its name to honor Dr. Richard Fox Brenham who had practiced medicine in the area. Brenham moved from Kentucky to Texas around 1830, served in the Texas Army in 1836, and later served as a civil commissioner appointed by President Mirabeau B. Lamar of The Republic of Texas to the Santa Fe Expedition of June 1841. Later, Brenham volunteered for the Mier Expedition of December 1842. Brenham became the county seat of Washington County by a vote in 1844.

The railroad construction mentioned above plays a key role in Brenham’s development. As local farms sought           to ship their cotton, corn, and cattle to markets and newly built factories also needed to reach markets but traffic by wagons on dirt roads was slow and unreliable. Local leadership established a short line called the Washington County Railroad in 1861. It connected with the H&TC RR in Hempstead to the east, then through Galveston to many destinations. That railroad connection assured Brenham’s growth to become the largest town in the county.

After the Civil War the town resumed its activities which included modern industry, some of which was brought by numerous new arrivals from Germany, who followed some German pioneers that arrived in the area in the 1830’s. During the 1860’s and 1870’s a wide variety of businesses opened, including silk and cigar manufacturing and a retail and wholesale trade. Other arrivals from around central Europe also contributed skills to expand industry in Brenham. By the 1880’s cotton compresses, cottonseed mills, iron works, machine shops were built. Entrepreneurs opened bakeries, tailoring shops, photography studios and other modern services. Added to the list during the 1890’s were: metal fabricating, food and fiber processing, mattress manufacturing. Banking expanded.

A doubling of Brenham’s population every decade from 1860 through 1900 led to Brenham keeping its standing as an economic locus for the region, including merchandising, processing, and marketing enterprises in the decades from 1910 to 1950. Several churches and a Jewish Orthodox congregation organized over the decades. Likewise, civic clubs appeared such as the Fortnightly Club (still existing) that established the Brenham Public Library in 1899. The local newspaper Southern Enquirer began in 1866, then became the Brenham Banner-Press in 1913 and is still published.

Education has always been important to the residents of Washington County and Brenham. Of the many schools founded in the area, in the city of Brenham were included in 1875 the first tax-supported school system in Texas. Brenham schools quickly earned a great reputation. Mission Institute was founded in 1883 by German Methodists, which became Blinn College. Also, a Lutheran College in 1891 and a Black Female College expanded higher education in Brenham around 1900.

The Brenham Industrial Foundation began in 1953 and brought another round of a variety of businesses and expansions of existing businesses. The 1907 Brenham Creamery Company became Blue Bell Creameries to become Texas’ biggest ice cream producer by 1970. Several new manufacturers, light industry, and processing businesses also find Brenham a great place to thrive.

Brenham’s families also thrive here. When not at work or at Brenham’s excellent schools, many recreational options abound. Several festivals give a change of pace, including the annual Maifest Celebration that began in 1881 and has its roots in the German community’s Volksfests back to 1874. Shining a light on Brenham’s parks, that festival is held in Fireman’s Park, which is one of several nice parks around the city. Several more events invite the public in every season, including Texas Independence Day, Concerts on Downtown Brenham’s Square, the Washington County Fair, The Christmas Parade, and more.

For the athletically inclined there are several sports available including swimming at the Blue Bell Aquatic Center, golf courses, walking/jogging trails, sand volleyball, baseball fields, and the six softball fields and eleven multi-use fields in Hohlt Park. Take a look to see for yourself how you could enjoy living in Brenham and Washington County.