Galveston County - Friendswood
This week we'll continue our tour of Galveston County by making a stop in a place that's near and dear to my family - our home town, Friendswood! This city with such an amiable name sits at the farthest northwest corner of the county, and certain portions of town actually reach into neighboring Harris and Brazoria counties. The population of Friendswood was 41,213 according to the 2020 US Census and nearly all of its 20.9 square miles are on land (water accounts for a scant 0.14 sq. mi.). Being farther inland than either of our previous cities, it rises higher in elevation to a level of 31 feet above sea level.
The name Friendswood came from the city's unique founding, as it remains as the only permanent Texas town that was originally established as a Quaker colony - a group also known as the Religious Society of Friends. A group from Kansas had attempted to move to Texas but did not like their first attempted settlement near Lubbock, and therefore sent a representative named Francis Brown to find a more suitable location closer to the coast. In 1985 they purchased over 1,500 acres from a Galveston banker named J. C. League, who we will certainly learn more about in a future post, and the congregation of approximately two dozen families relocated and proceeded to build a community centered around a sawmill and groves producing Satsuma oranges and Magnolia figs. Key to the agricultural success of the founding families were the four creeks draining the area - Clear, Cowart's, Chigger, and Mary's.
The priorities of the community were the church, the family, and education, and as such one of the first significant buildings to be built was the Academy. Built from trees that had been knocked down by the Galveston Hurricane of 1900, the two-story building served as a meeting house, church, and school until 1949, when it was replaced by a stone structure that remains the Friendswood Friends Church to this day. The majority of residents were Quakers throughout the first half of the 20th century, and by the time it was incorporated in 1960 there were still fewer than 1,000 citizens.
Nearby oil discoveries and the development of NASA fueled tremendous growth and change in the small city, and the population boomed to over 5,600 within a decade (including astronaut Donald "Deke" Slayton). The farms and orchards were replaced with neighborhood developments, but much of the spirit of the original community managed to remain. The simple, hard-working, moral lifestyle of the Quakers expressed itself in many ways, including Friendswood being the only dry town in Galveston County in 1963 and the city constructing a municipal building with no debt in 1965 due to the contributions of labor and materials from the community. Today the city is largely residential without much in the way of industry, but the emphasis on education continues with the Friendswood ISD recently being ranked as the #2 school district in the state of Texas.