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The Changing Face of Houston - The Old Sixth Ward

Houston's wards are the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and were originally formed in 1840. The wards were arranged along geographic lines, and, in the 19th century, the ward system established areas for political representation - a precursor to today's City Council Districts.

Originally there were four wards, each with its own industry and function in Houston society, and the type of work a person did usually dictated what ward they lived in, rather than how well-heeled they were. For that reason, poor laborers were often neighbors to wealthier professionals as long as they worked within the same basic industry. As time wore on, the Fifth Ward was added to accommodate Houston's growth and surging population, and, in 1876, Sixth Ward was created from a section of the fourth. The Sixth Ward had boundaries at Union Street and Washington Avenue to the North, Glenwood Cemetery (a plantation at the time) to the West, Capitol Street to the South, and Houston Street on the East, and was home to many individuals who worked in the railroad industry.

In the late 1800s, Washington Avenue began to see an increase in commercial activity, with new businesses opening up, and lots of people began to settle in the area which was known as Uptown, a distinction from the nearby Downtown. Many of those new residents were German immigrants bringing their cultural contributions to the Sixth Ward.

Then, in 1906, Houston's form of local government changed, and the ward system was abolished among charges of political corruption. The wards live on today in name only, as a form of cultural identity for many Houstonians living in those oldest neighborhoods, although they haven't had official status in more than 100 years. Many Houstonians use the wards to identity certain neighborhoods, and would probably be surprised at their political district origins, and by the revelation that the wards haven't been on an official city map since the 1920s.

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Chris Lane is a contributing writer who enjoys covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues.