Map of Houston, Harris County, Texas, 1900

In the nearly four hundred years that it took for Texas to take its current shape the space changed from an extensive, unexplored and sparsely settled frontier under the Spanish Crown to its iconic and easily recognizable outline. Mapping Texas: From Frontier to the Lone Star State traces the cartographic history of Texas from the sixteenth to the twentieth century. Over fifty rare maps from the collections of the Texas General Land Office and the personal collection of Frank and Carol Holcomb, of Houston, are on display. Additional maps are on loan from The Bryan Museum in Galveston and the Witte Museum in San Antonio. This exhibit runs at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

P. Whitty, Map of Houston, Harris County, Texas, Houston: P. Whitty, 1900, Map #93390, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

This 1900 city map shows Houston as it was at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was compiled, published, and copyrighted by P. Whitty, a civil engineer and land surveyor in Houston. Whitty served as the City Engineer from 1875–1880, and again in 1886. His map shows Houston’s five wards, railroads, streetcar tracks, round houses, and rail yards throughout downtown.

Buffalo Bayou cut through the middle of the city, providing a crucial economic and transportation resource.

Ever since its incorporation in June 1837, Houston has always been a center for commercial activity. Its founding fathers, Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen, even advertised as much, touting the town as the “great interior commercial emporium of Texas.”[1] The presence of a major bayou nearby allowed Houston merchants to make good on this boast by building a lucrative shipping industry. Later, major rail lines were established in Houston to connect one of Texas’s largest cities to the rest of the state and country. Eventually, this growth led to the commercial behemoth known today as the Houston Ship Channel.

Houston has experienced rapid growth since its early days. Only twelve people resided there in one log cabin in January of 1837, five months after the Allen brothers first published advertisements in hopes of luring people down to southern Texas. By May of 1837, the town consisted of a population of 1500 that resided in the 100 houses that had been constructed in those four short months.[2] As the nineteenth century progressed, so did the town with continuing growth well into the next century.

The map presents the city blocks broken down into individually numbered lots.

At the turn of the twentieth century Houston was a large city, but it wasn’t yet the largest city in Texas at the time this map was created. According to the 1900 U.S. Census, San Antonio, with a population of 53,321, was the largest city in the state, with Houston coming in second with a population of 44,633.[3] The city had expanded from its original four wards to the six shown here, with the citizens of each of those wards electing officials to represent them in city government. The map lays out blocks and lots and the road grid throughout the city.

At first, tradesmen and merchants were scattered throughout all four wards, but later each ward became home to specific trades. The First Ward officials represented mostly the grocer trade and later laborers for the railroad. The Second, Third, and Fourth Wards were the home for those involved in the cotton trade, business owners, and railroad management. The Fifth Ward residents consisted mostly of people employed in the blue-collar trade, represented by mechanics, railroad workers, and bricklayers. The Sixth Ward was a little more diverse with a wide range of residents of European descent, who worked in both the building trades and railroads.[4]

The railyards, vital to the city’s economy, are highlighted in red.

The first railroad line in Texas was chartered in 1850 and built near Houston by Gen. Sidney Sherman. As the number of lines and miles of track increased, many of them passed through Houston. A network of tracks running in all directions can be seen close to the downtown area. Some led to roundhouses, while others continued to other towns and communities. Many of the larger terminals had multiple sets of tracks to accommodate all the heavy rail traffic flowing through Houston. On this map, there are eight different identifiable rail lines.

Various factories set up shop along Buffalo Bayou for easy loading into freight vessels.

Many factories were located along major rail lines and near depots. These strategic locations helped get goods loaded onto freight trains and distributed to markets throughout the state. Ice and stove factories, compress companies, and even a car wheel foundry can be seen either along the bayou or near a rail line.

Cemeteries of various denominations are labeled throughout the Fourth Ward.

Several cemeteries are labeled on this map, and it is very evident that at the time, even in death, people were segregated by ethnicity, religion or trade. There is an Episcopal Cemetery, Hebrew Cemetery, a Catholic Section of Glenwood Cemetery, and a Masonic Cemetery. All are located in the Fourth Ward.

This map is a great way to take a nostalgic step back in time to see what Houston was like in 1900. Present-day viewers can get a glimpse of the influences that were present that helped shape and develop the city into what it is today.

This map was donated to the GLO by Warren H. Outlaw, Jr., in memory of Warren H. Outlaw III. Conservation was funded in 2012 by Friends of the Texas General Land Office.

Can’t make it to Houston? You can view the majority of the maps in this exhibit in high definition on the GLO’s website where you can also purchase reproductions and support the Save Texas History program.


[1] Handbook of Texas Online, David G. McComb, “Houston, TX,” accessed September 22, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hdh03. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Modified on February 15, 2017. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

[2] Ibid.

[3] https://texasalmanac.com/sites/default/files/images/CityPopHist%20web.pdf

[4] https://houstonhistorymagazine.org/2011/07/when-there-were-wards-a-series. “When There Were Wards: A Series” by Houston History Magazine on July 12, 2011 in Communities, Politics, Race & Ethnicity, published by Welcome Wilson Houston History Collaborative.

Save Texas History

Articles from the Texas General Land Office Save Texas History Program

Texas General Land Office

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Official Account for the Texas General Land Office | Follow Commissioner George P. Bush on Twitter at @georgepbush. www.txglo.org

Save Texas History

Articles from the Texas General Land Office Save Texas History Program

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