The Changing Face of Houston: Spring Branch Then and Now

Parts of Spring Branch still put residents close to the natural environment.
Parts of Spring Branch still put residents close to the natural environment.

Spring Branch has a long history that would probably surprise many people new to the area. Like many of Houston's older neighborhoods, its character has dramatically changed over the years, and it has evolved with its own unique qualities.

It was originally settled by German immigrants fleeing oppressive conditions back home, who sought the opportunity to own land in the newly formed Lone Star State. Many of those immigrant families set roots in an area near Buffalo Bayou that they named Spring Branch, and operated dairy farms, sawmills, and other ventures as they acclimated themselves to the climate in this part of Texas, which was very different than what they were used to in Germany.

In 1848, the settler families founded the Church of St. Peter, and a few short years later, erected a log cabin in which the church services would be held. Once the permanent church was built, the community turned its eyes toward establishing a school for the area's kids to attend. That school began in 1865, with classes being taught by the church's minister. But as time went on, it was felt that a public school with a trained teacher was needed, so in 1889 a simple schoolhouse was erected to meet that need. That school was built on the site of what is now Spring Branch Elementary School.

Early on, Spring Branch encompassed a huge area extending from Texas 6 to what is now the 610 Loop, and from old Hempstead Highway to Buffalo Bayou. Much of that area was still dominated by farmland until the early 1950s, although the unincorporated land was beginning to see a post-war housing boom that would result in many area homes being built. In the early '50s, the area was beginning to feel the pressure of imminent annexation into Houston. There was a drive by many residents to incorporate as separate municipalities to avoid absorption into the big city, something they thought might negatively affect the quality of life they enjoyed at the time. In short order, the Memorial Villages, a group of six separate communities, managed to incorporate, but in 1957 Houston annexed the remaining area of what is now modern day Spring Branch.  

The Changing Face of Houston: Spring Branch Then and Now
Photo by Chris Lane

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Many of the people I know who grew up in Spring Branch in the 1960s seem to remember it as being a good place, close enough to the Inner Loop areas of Houston to be convenient if they wanted to indulge in things going on in the heart of the city, but retaining a lot of its own more relaxed small town feel. By the end of that decade, apartment complexes started to appear, and as years went by the neighborhoods became more of a patchwork, with nicely maintained subdivisions next door to lower income apartment complexes.

A huge demographic shift began in the early '80s, when large numbers of Hispanics, mostly from Central America, moved into some parts of Spring Branch. Driving down Long Point Road offers a glimpse of the resultant diversity of the area today. The area also has its own "Korea Town," bringing even more ethnic diversity to the area.

Taquerias and noodle houses are around the corner from newer McMansions, and there is definitely an upswing of redevelopment going on. That redevelopment seems to be standard in Houston today, with nearly every Inner Loop neighborhood seeing massive demolition and redevelopment of older homes, so it makes sense that communities just outside the core of the city would also begin to see the same trend.

For a long time, when I mentioned Spring Branch it seemed like a lot of people thought it had been a nice place to live at one time, but that its best days were behind it, and that the neighborhood was spiraling downward. Sure, there were some nice older homes tucked away off the main roads, but other parts seemed to be viewed as permanently blighted. But that's the beauty of a city like Houston, it really is never finished evolving, and areas of town that were once thought to be run down, or even dangerous, have a way of bouncing back over a short span of time.

I'm becoming convinced that almost any neighborhood within 15 or 20 minutes of downtown is going to eventually become a desirable area to live in (if it's not already), and while Spring Branch as a whole never developed a truly bad reputation, it had areas that I was routinely warned against venturing into.

But it looks to me like home prices are going up, and a lot of remodeling and rebuilding is going on, so Spring Branch seems to be experiencing the same trend that the Inner Loop neighborhoods have been seeing for the last decade or two. Of course some of that redevelopment might result in some of the older homes with charm disappearing, and being replaced by giant mansions built up to the property line. That seems to be an unfortunate trend almost everywhere in the city, but it's likely that Spring Branch will retain many of the quality of life perks that have made it a nice area for generations of people to live in.

Time has seen Spring Branch evolve from its roots as an early rural Texas settlement of German immigrants who farmed the area, into a postwar middle class Houston neighborhood, and now into a much more diverse urban environment with nice older subdivisions and newer homes. It's that mix of elements that make Spring Branch so charmingly "Houston" while retaining interesting elements from all stages of its history.

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