Get Lit: Houston History, Now in Handy Book Form!

It’s hard to fathom a time when Houston was a muddy area bound by the bayou on the north, Walker on the south, Bagby on the west and Caroline on the East. That was 1838. Dr. S. O. Young wrote about how the city came to be back in 1912 in A Thumbnail History of The City of Houston, Texas, which is being reissued by Copano Bay Press in a limited run along with True Stories of Old Houston and Houstonians by the same author. (They come together in a set – an expensive set. It’s $124.95 for both; see But if you’re rich and a history buff…)

The book painstakingly chronicles the evolution of government, transportation, commerce, churches, newspapers and education in Houston. It’s not easy to get through, but patience yields some interesting information.

One of the first public buildings was the jail built in 1838: “The jail was something of a curiosity, being simply a square log box with neither doors nor windows. There was but one opening, that being a trapdoor at the top.” Freaky.

Back in the day, this was no one-daily-paper town: “…between 1865 and 1880 there were no less than twenty-one [newspapers] that had appeared.”

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Early water works certainly left something to be desired – in 1879 a “company built a dam across the bayou to shut off tide water and secure as pure water as possible from the upper bayou. It was totally unfit to drink…” Ew! Luckily, soon afterward it was discovered that “pure artesian water could be obtained anywhere in Houston.”

Also, the first official market, at Market Square, “soon became famous for the number of rats that took possession of it. Perhaps, in no part of the world were there ever so many rats gathered together in a limited space as were found in that old place.” Remember that next time you’re at Warren’s. – Cathy Matusow

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