William Kirby, Harrisburg, Texas, Boston: L. H. Bradford & Co’s Lith., 1854, Map #3044, Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Mapping Texas: From Frontier to the Lone Star State— Harrisburg, Texas

Underwritten by the Texas Historical Foundation

This post was underwritten by a generous contribution from the Texas Historical Foundation.

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 through October 8, 2017.

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 through October 8, 2017.

All Boundaries are Local: Houston and Harris County

The settlement and development of Texas changed the boundaries surrounding Houston. First developed as part of Austin’s Colony, the area that would become Harris County grew to become an important railroad and commercial hub for Texas.

The cartographic transformations of Houston and Harris County, with an emphasis on its industrial-led growth, including railroads and the Houston Ship Channel, are shown in the map collection of the General Land Office. Also shown is the development of Harris County through the distribution of individual tracts issued through various land grant programs.

William Kirby, Harrisburg, Texas, Boston: L. H. Bradford & Co’s Lith., 1854, Map #3044, General Map Collection, Archives and Records Program, Texas General Land Office, Austin, TX.

Harrisburg, Texas by William Kirby

Detail of the confluence of the Brays and Buffalo Bayous.

Now a suburb east of downtown Houston, Harrisburg was once a bustling town in Mexican Texas. New Yorker John Richard Harris received 4,428 acres when he arrived in Texas in 1824 and established his land where Bray’s and Buffalo Bayous met. In 1826 he hired a surveyor to lay out the town he then named after himself.[1] Harrisburg, the geographic predecessor to Houston, became a key port between the United States and Mexico.

On April 15, 1836, Harrisburg had the distinction of being declared the de facto capital of the brand new Republic of Texas when President David G. Burnet (1788–1870) and his cabinet members boarded a steamboat at Harrisburg. Despite being burnt to the ground by Santa Anna the very next day, the town remained the Republic’s capitol until the President disembarked in Galveston eleven days later.[2]

[left] Detail of the railroad ending at the Depot Ground along the Buffalo Bayou. [center] Map detail providing the information on the width of the streets in Harrisburg. [right] Detail of the completed freight track of the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway Company and the graded passenger track that splits off.

In 1847, the Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railway Company purchased the town property for $150,000.[3] Prominently featured on this map is the railway’s freight line as well as a graded passenger track, which connected steamships with Galveston, establishing Harrisburg as the first railroad terminal in Texas. Town blocks that are blank indicate ownership by the B. B. B. & C. Railway Co.[4]

Detail showing the note about the sizes of the blocks in the plan.

Donations from John Daugherty Realtors and Cooke and Skidmore Consulting Corporation in 2002 funded the conservation of this map of Harrisburg.

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, Julia Beazley, “Harris, John Richardson,” accessed March 28, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/fha85.

[2] For more on President Burnet see https://www.tsl.texas.gov/exhibits/presidents/burnet/intro.html ; Michael Kingston, “The Capitols of Texas,” in The Texas Almanac, accessed March 28, 2017, http://texasalmanac.com/topics/history/capitals-texas.

[3] Handbook of Texas Online, Andrew Forest Muir, “Harrisburg, TX (Harris County),” accessed March 28, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/hvh27.

[4] For more on the varied history of the area that was Harrisburg see Carole E. Vaughn, “City’s sale of strip stirs memories of Harrisburg,” Houston Chronicle online, published 5:30am, Thursday, September 27, 2001, accessed March 28, 2017, http://www.chron.com/neighborhood/heights-news/article/City-s-sale-of-strip-stirs-memories-of-Harrisburg-2021525.php

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Save Texas History

Articles from the Texas General Land Office Save Texas History Program