Harris County Towns and Cities

​Pasadena, An Industrial Giant


Clopper noted in his 1828 journal that “overhanging the grassy banks alongthe course of the bayou was timber and flowering shrubs where, in someplaces were overtopped by the evergreen Magnolia rising in the grandeur ofits excellence to the reach of deserved pre-eminence where it unfolds itsfar-scented magnificence.”  Clopper continued to describe the Magnolia,“the dazzling luster of its expansive bloom, the deep sea-green of itsumbrageous foliage (Clopper: 52).

Traveling up Buffalo Bayou in 1846, Dr. Ferdinand Roemer spotted a largequantity of cattle grazing the tall grass and noted “countless flocks ofwater birds, with trees of a variety of oaks, walnut, elm hackberry and athick understory of evergreen shrubs (Roemer: 1935, 55-56).

In 1848, Friedrich Schlect of Germany described the land around BuffaloBayou partway to Harrisburg as the woods “consisted of various types oftimber and oaks, sycamores, cypress, cedars, laurels, cottonwoods,acacias, catalpas, persimmons, magnificent magnolias and many others thatwere new to me.”  Schlect remarked further, “the crowning glory was themarvelous magnolia, a tree that was covered to its very tip withmagnificent white flowers that were the size of a man’s hand.”  Schlectobserved thick vines and tendrils draping the trees to the tops andoutermost limbs as “some of these vines had pretty red flowers (Bignoniaradicans?) and lovely wax leaves.”  Schlect noted the bayou channelcontinued to narrow and curved more, causing the boat to hit the sides ofthe banks (Roemer: 1935, 55-56)

Early land travel was by foot, horse or locally constructed oxcarts.  Thewheels were made of slices cut from cottonwood trees.  Spoked wheelseasily sunk into mud along the prairie trails, certainly after heavyrains.  Travel on land in general, was cumbersome.  Before bridges couldbe established over streams, dangerous quicksand abounded along the banksand thick groves of trees would hinder travelers.  The establishment ofstage lines enabled settlers to travels up to eight miles per hour, asfour to six horses pulled the coaches along.

Pasadena, Texas’ nearest border to the City of Houston lies roughly tenmiles east southeast of downtown Houston, between Interstate 45, East SamHouston Toll way and the Houston Ship Channel.  The Pasadena Court Housesite is located in the far northeast quarter of the original plat ofPasadena in Outlot 29.  Outlot 29 is generally bounded by Shaw Street onthe north, South Richey on the west, and Texas State Highway 225, knownalso as the La Porte Highway, to the south.The first inhabitants in and around the modern day city of Pasadena, Texaswere American Indians, from the tribe called the Karankawa, and sometimesspelled with a C.  These people were fond of fish and shellfish, but alsoprone to cannibalism that made them somewhat less than friendly.  Frenchand Spanish explorers, including Cabasa de Vaca passed here and tradedwith these local aborigines.  Pasadena is situated where Vince’s Bayouempties into Buffalo Bayou, but at this point, Buffalo Bayou is now calledthe Houston Ship Channel.  Bayous are usually deep, narrow rivers ofstagnant water that seem to be unique to Texas (Schlecht, Friedrich, On toTexas, A Journey to Texas in 1848).  Field notes, authored by some of theearly surveyors of Harris County, often gave a lesson on how to pronouncethe word bayou, “buy-O” (George Bringhurst, Harris County Surveyor FieldNotes 1848).

In 1836, before the Battle of San Jacinto, Vince Bayou had a cedar woodenbridge spanning it (The Texas Almanac, 1857).  This was the bridge thatDeaf Smith and his men burned on the orders of General Sam Houston to keepthe Mexican army from using the bridge. A new bridge is noted by theCounty road overseer, as being completed over Vince’s bayou on July 31,1872 (Harris County Commissioners Court Minutes, July 31, 1872).   HarrisCounty paid John Curry $ 450.00 for the construction of this bridge thatyear.   It was near the junction of Vince’s and Buffalo Bayous, which isnow Pasadena, that Mexico’s General Santa Anna was captured, whilemasquerading as a peasant.

The founding of the City of Pasadena was still far in the distant future.Even though settlers began to emerge as early as the 1820’s, the area wasslow to develop.  It remained an open prairie, with scattered use bycattlemen, until the railroad came to La Porte, a few miles down the road,in 1892.

The prairies between Buffalo Bayou, Galveston Bay, Clear Lake and theBrazos River afforded natural water fences for the free-range cattle andranchers.  In C. F. Duer’s diary, he wrote about Allen Vince’s August 1844denial of having given authorization to H. Price to “gather up unmarkedcattle in the cove, but says that he will gather up his scattering cattleout of the cove and let me have them (Pomeroy, Jr., C. David, Pasadena,The Early Years).  Cattle ran free until the Fence Stock Law came about in1930.  When Frederick Law Olmsted came to Texas in 1852 - 1853 with hisbrother, they noted a “fenced pasture, almost the only one we saw inTexas.” (Duer, 126, 127.).  The fenced pasture Olmsted observed was on thenorth side of Buffalo Bayou, south of Carpenter’s Bayou, where thefifty-acre fenced market garden of Colonel John Haywood Manly was growingvegetables for the Galveston and Harris County market houses.   Olmstedalso observed cattle branding.  There was a “season for the annualgathering and branding of the calves with a cattle drive which usuallyincluded several neighbors coming together at an agreed place.  The herdedcattle, “all cattle having their marks and all calves following theircows,” and driven into prepared pens.  The cattle were divided, “eachman’s driven into a separate pen, calves branded and all turned looseagain.”  Olmsted noted that brands of the new owner were placed above theold one, “and such double-brand is prima-facie evidence of a transfer”(Olmsted: 1978, 369, 370).

It was not until 1893 that John H. Burnett founded the town of Pasadenathat was named in honor of Pasadena, California, because of its abundantvegetation.   The railroad was built through the town site in 1894(Pomeroy, Jr., C. David, Pasadena, The Early Years ). Farmers tookadvantage of the railroads arrival by settling the area, raising produce,and shipping their goods by train.  Burnett platted the town in 1895. Thefirst independent school district in Harris County was founded in 1899 bythe residents of Pasadena.

There is also a historic cemetery, Crown Hill Cemetery, approximately onekilometer to the north of the Court House site.  This cemetery wasoriginally known as the Pasadena Cemetery and was established officiallyin 1906; however, it is likely that it had been in use since the 1890’s.Many Mexican-American’s are buried in the cemetery as well as veterans ofthe Civil War, the Spanish American War, WWI, and WWII.

The twentieth century saw Pasadena begin to really emerge as industrialgiant.  Nevertheless, first it had to go through the 1900 hurricane thatdestroyed Galveston and many other cities and towns along the Texas coast. In a way it somewhat helped and pointed to the path the town should takein the future.  The director of the American Red Cross, Clara Barton,shipped one and one half million strawberry plants to the farmers of thePasadena area. Strawberry farming soon became a way of life, and Pasadena,the Strawberry capital of the United States, if not the world.  By the1920’s all of southeast Harris County had come to be known as “PasadenaAcres”.

The farmers not only grew strawberries, but cantaloupes, and cucumbers,along with other produce.  When President Woodrow Wilson opened the Portof Houston with its deep ship channel to the world, it gave Pasadenaanother shot in the arm.  New industries began to move onto the landadjacent to the ship channel.  J. S. Cullinan, founder and President ofthe Texas Company, which had its beginning digging earth storage tanks,moved his company headquarters to Houston signaling the beginning of theoil boom and tagging the area as the Energy Capital of the World.  Otheroil and chemical companies soon followed suit with refineries,manufacturing, generating, and an array of plants producing scientificproducts the likes of that world has never seen.  Buffalo Bayou or theship channel offers water, which can be used to move the vast cargos byhuge freighters from one nation to another, in addition to satisfying thethirsty industrial plants who require the liquid to cool their boilers,engines, and other machinery.  The shoreline became a maze of theseindustrial giants.

Besides J. S. Cullinan and his Texas Company, some of the earliercompanies to establish themselves along the ship channel were the HumbleOil and Refining Company, who struck oil at Goose Creek, now known asBaytown.  After a half dozen name changes, Humble is now known asExxon/Mobil.  Royal Dutch Shell Oil Company began exploration in Texasduring the early 1920’s.  Shell purchased the old Roxana Oil Company andDixie Oil Company, and soon constructed their refinery at Deer Park.Shell also constructed a chemical plant near the refinery.  Between ShellOil Company’s Deer Park plant, and Pasadena, the Beck Land and CattleCompany, otherwise known as the Jones Ranch owned a great deal of the land, which was used for farming and pastureland.  Eventually, the oil andchemical companies purchased the Jones Ranch to erect manufacturingfacilities.

Another ranch in the Pasadena area, the Allen Ranch founded by SamuelAllen, was sold in 1917 to Sinclair Oil Company to build their newrefinery (Pomeroy, Jr., C. David, Pasadena, The Early Years).  It is nowknow as Lyondell-Citgo.  Crown Central Petroleum began their refineryabout one year later, adjacent to the east side of Shaver Street, acrosswhich Champion Paper and Fibre mill was opened in 1937.   1924 saw HoustonLighting and Power Company erecting its Deepwater Power Plant along theHouston Ship Channel.  The town of Deepwater is now a part of Pasadena.Phillips Petroleum began their refinery in 1929.  Across the channel,Warren Petroleum, American Petroleum, and Sheffield Steel later claimed ashare of the north side of the Houston Ship Channel.

The war years and immediately thereafter saw tremendous growth in thearea.  Industry kept pouring in.  1942 saw shipbuilding companies such asHouston Shipbuilding, Brown Shipbuilding and San Jacinto Shipbuilding setemployment records. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company opened for businessin 1943.  Petro Tex and Tenneco soon followed.  1950 witnessed the longawaited opening of the Washburn Tunnel linking Pasadena with Galena Park,thus making the Pasadena Ferry obsolete.  The 1960’s and 70’s were filledwith more new industries moving to new locations on both sides of theHouston Ship Channel. Stauffer Chemical Company, Signal Oil and Gas,United States Steel, Continental Oil Company, Proler Steel, Platzer BoatWorks, Lone Star Cement were a few of the new industries along the bayounear Pasadena.  John Travolta came to town in 1980, for the filming of themovie “Urban Cowboy” at Mickey Gilley’s country and western nightclub.


Janet K. Wagner

Pasadena