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A Brief History of Washington County
Fifty-nine men gathered at Washington-on-the-Brazos March 2, 1836 to determine how to protect themselves from the tyrannical Mexican government. When news of the massacre at the Alamo reached them, the delegates carried out their mission to draft a Declaration of Independence and establish a Constitution for a new nation – the Republic of Texas.
Brenham is the county seat of this historic, scenic region known as the Birthplace of Texas. One of the earliest settled areas in Texas, Washington County was formally organized in 1837. Attracted by liberal land grants, the area drew U.S. pioneers and German and Czech immigrants. Brenham was established in 1844 and named for Richard Fox Brenham, a hero of the Texas Republic. Of the four colleges originally founded in the county, Blinn College, established in 1883, is still a thriving part of the community today.
Historic Downtown Brenham’s Main Street district is the heart and soul of the community and features a wide array of antiques and specialty shops, as well as various dining options.
Burton, eight miles west of Brenham in the cotton farming heartland, prospered throughout the late 1800s. In spite of today’s small population of 325, Burton has managed to hold on to its post office, school district and bank. The old Burton Cotton Gin (the Texas Cotton Gin Museum) has been restored and attracts thousands of tourists each year.
Chappell Hill was founded in 1847 by Mary Hargrove Haller, granddaughter of Robert Wooding Chappell, for whom she named the town. The tiny town prides itself on having established two colleges, Chappell Hill Female College and Soule University, which later became part of what is now Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.
Chappell Hill prospered in the early days as a popular stagecoach stop for travelers between Houston, Austin and Waco. The elegant Stagecoach Inn at Main and Chestnut Streets features Greek Revival-style architecture and highly detailed cornices with downspouts that bear the 1851 date they were added.
The Civil War and Reconstruction era, as well as the yellow fever epidemic of 1867, brought violent changes to Chappell Hill. Nevertheless, the town survived all of this while maintaining its rich heritage. The Chappell Hill Historical Museum illustrates the region’s history with fascinating exhibits and artifacts.
Independence was originally called “Coles Settlement.” The town had its beginning in 1824 on land granted by Mexico to Judge John P. Coles, but was later renamed Independence in honor of Texas’ declaration of freedom from Mexico.
In 1839, the Independence Baptist Church was established and is now the oldest continuously operating Baptist church in the state. Sam Houston was baptized there and legend has it that following his baptism in the creek, Houston said, “I pity the fish downstream.” Houston’s mother-in-law was so thrilled that she had a large iron bell created and presented it to the church with gratitude. The Texas Baptist Historical Center-Museum features this bell, along with many other early Texas history exhibits.
Independence is home to the original site of Baylor University, founded in 1846. The university was moved to Waco in 1886, but the ruins of Old Baylor still stand, surrounded by a peaceful park and playground area. This park is renowned as one of the best places in the state to see bluebonnets in the spring. The well-known Antique Rose Emporium also calls Independence its home.
The town of Washington holds a unique place in Texas history; today you will find Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site and the Star of the Republic Museum on its original site. The museum interprets the saga of the Republic of Texas, and the period also lives at the Barrington Living History Farm complex where visitors can experience an 1850s working farm. The Visitor Center includes interactive exhibits and an extensive gift shop, and the grounds feature interpretive trails and beautiful picnic areas. Plus, each year on the weekend nearest March 2, the Texas Independence Day Celebration is held to recognize this pivotal event in Texas history.