by Mike Cox
to imagine today, but back in 1850 residents of New
Braunfels could brag that they lived in the fourth-largest city in Texas.|
That year, barely a half-decade after Texas joined
the union, U.S. Census enumerators found 212,592 people in the state, including
slaves. The census recorded the population of only 23 cities and towns with all
other head counts listed by county.
stood as Texasí largest city in 1850. In fact, for
the next four decades, the island city remained in the top four. Only the catastrophic
1900 hurricane ended Galvestonís
reign in the biggest-city league. But New
Braunfels once having been Texasí fourth city seems stranger than Galvestonís
early-day rankings, considering its status as a major seaport.
already under way on the 2010 census, Austin
is currently Texasí fourth-largest city, behind Houston,
San Antonio and Dallas
in that order. For most of its history, however, the capital city never even made
the top five population-wise.
That said, twice census returns have shown
Austin as bigger than Dallas.
Of course, in various decades, Fredericksburg,
and Waco all were
larger than the capital city.
Since 1850, only four Texas
cities have enjoyed the distinction of being the stateís largest. While Galveston
was Texas biggest city in three federal head counts
(1850, 1870 and 1880), San Antonio
held the top spot in 1860, 1900, 1910 and 1920. Dallas
has hit the top of the list only once, in 1890. Houston
became the biggest city in 1930 and has not relinquished the title since.
decade-by-decade federal population numbers for Texas
cities and towns in not hard, but if anyone has ever put together a population
ranking of Texas largest cities per decade, Iíve
never seen it.
So, for historians, genealogists, and anyone interested
in a little Texas trivia, Iíve compiled the historic
urban population hierarchy and population figures dating back to 1850. The 1850
and 1860 listings contain the top 10 cities, since there are some surprises. From
1870 on, only the top 5 cities are listed:
2. San Antonio (3,488)
interesting to note that while 3,758 people lived in Nacogdoches County in 1850,
they were scattered. That kept the county seat of Nacogdoches,
one of the stateís oldest towns, off the top 10 list.
3. Houston (4,845)
6. Austin (3,494)
7. Brownsville (2,784)
9. Dallas (2,000)
By the 1870s, the cities that would be the stateís major metropolitan
areas had grown to a point where they remained in the top 5 list from there on
out, with the exception of Galveston
The seat of McLennan County dropped off in 1880 following one decade as the fourth-largest
city. Fort Worth joined the municipal
big boyís club in 1890 and El
Paso in 1910.
Census data held some surprises for long-time Texans, including the ascendance
of Arlington and Plano
into the top 10 list. But while thatís a notable change, itís hardly history yet.
"Texas Tales" November
19 , 2009 column
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