Kingwood is located about 30 minutes northeast of Houston's central core, and has long had its own identity as a "Livable Forest" in contrast to the more typically urban landscape that defines most of Houston. Kingwood is technically part of Houston, but its beginning as a separate community is very evident to anyone driving through the heavily wooded area today.
Houston experienced an enormous growth spurt that began after World War II, resulting in many new developments that expanded ever further outside of the big city. Suburban living was in full swing and very popular with people who were lured by the promise of newer and safer neighborhoods that were outside of town but close enough to commute in for work or other necessary activities in Houston. As weird as it seems in hindsight now that the Inner Loop area is becoming ever more expensive, in the decades following the war, downtown and many of its surrounding neighborhoods were considered run-down and dangerous, and people who had the option were increasingly looking further out, to the edges of town, toward modern, master-planned communities such as Sharpstown. By the late '60s, there were even newer subdivisions being developed further out.
Originally, the land where Kingwood is located was a heavily wooded area owned by the Foster Lumber Company. The Foster family held onto that land from the late 1880s until they sold it to a joint venture consisting of the Friendswood Development Company and King Ranch, who intended on developing it into a unique kind of wooded neighborhood outside of Houston. The plan for Kingwood utilized the forested land in ways that would allow its residents to enjoy the natural amenities of the area, and included many riding and hiking trails to go along with the other normal features of a planned community, such as retail space, schools and churches.
Kingwood was founded in 1970, its name formed from the "King" Ranch and Friends"Wood" Partnership, and its first homes were being sold the following year. It is divided into villages, which are individual neighborhoods within the overall community, and homes are still being constructed in some of the newer ones.
From the beginning, Kingwood seemed to enjoy a reputation as a comfortable wooded enclave of middle- to upper-middle-class homes that was safe from many of Houston's perceived big-city problems, such as crime. Whether that reputation was entirely true or not is debatable, but most people who lived there seemed to like the lifestyle that "the livable forest" provided them just a short drive from Houston. To me, as a teen in the '80s, I would occasionally meet a kid from Kingwood, and whether it was fair, my crowd of Houston friends would always assume that he or she was some pampered "rich kid" coming into town looking for thrills. I don't know why that perception was as common as it was. Kingwood seemed to have a mostly middle- to upper-middle-class population, but it certainly wasn't some exclusively wealthy neighborhood, although that was the general reputation among a lot of us.
And it was true that a lot of teens from Kingwood did seem to come into Houston looking for thrills, but who can blame them? That's the case with kids living in communities neighboring big metropolises pretty much everywhere. In any case, Kingwood seemed a little mysterious to us back then. I asked my friend Ray Baker, who grew up in Kingwood during the '80s, what he remembered about living there:
"My parents had a nice house in Trailwood Village, and I always thought it was a good place to live, and it was a pretty place. I loved all of the trails, and Kingwood felt safe. I remember talking about living in Houston previously, and that was a major concern for them. They also felt like Kingwood had better schools than Houston and that was a major reason they'd decided to settle there. When I was a teen, there seemed like there were a lot of things to do, but it also felt a little isolated out there."
In any case, Kingwood continued to be a popular place for people to live, and its population exploded between the early '80s and the following two decades, more than tripling in size. The 1990s proved to be a period of expansion and also presented Kingwood with a few problems that focused the spotlight on the wooded community. In 1994, Houston's Mayor Bob Lanier decided that Kingwood should be annexed by the Bayou City, citing his belief that doing so would add an annual 4 million dollars in tax revenue for Houston. Needless to say, this move was controversial, and many residents of Kingwood were angered at the idea of being forcibly annexed into Houston. Some residents of the satellite community felt that the City of Houston would not provide the same level of public services that Kingwood provided as its own municipality, and the proposal just rubbed others the wrong way, seeming like a hostile takeover.
Legal maneuvers followed, but in the end, Kingwood was annexed by Houston in 1996. Nearly 20 years later, most Kingwood residents seem to have accepted the outcome, but there are a few folks who still grumble when the subject pops up. Baker continues:
"My parents were pretty upset when that whole annexation fight was going on. They thought it was a dirty deal that only benefited Houston, but it was years ago and doesn't seem to bug them much anymore."
In 1999, Kingwood briefly got national attention in a most unexpected way. In a monthlong crime spree, four female Kingwood high school students robbed five businesses, holding the clerks at gunpoint. Not being criminal masterminds, the culprits were quickly caught, but the fact that four seemingly intelligent middle- and upper-middle-class teenaged girls could get involved in a string of armed robberies shocked people all over the state and made national headlines. But bad things can happen in any community, and while surprising, the robberies were not typical for Kingwood. After the media circus died down, the community seemed to quickly regain its reputation as a pleasant and safe area to live.
Kingwood is more than 40 years old now, and has gone through a few rough patches along the way, but seems to have steadily prospered and expanded as a community during that time, and there's no reason to believe that will change anytime soon. The "Livable Forest" is still a beautiful place to live, with an extensive network of nature trails, businesses and restaurants that keep its residents' quality of life high, and Kingwood will likely continue to be a magnet for people who wish to experience the unique perks that the community has to offer.