Galveston County - Hitchcock
Occupying the southernmost portion of Galveston County's mainland is the city of Hitchcock, our second stop as we take a meandering tour through the communities that form this interesting Texas county. Claiming 7,301 residents as of the 2020 Census, this city that lies just across West Bay from the central portion of Galveston Island has a total area of 91.48 sq. mi., of which 60.43 sq. mi. is land. The highest point in the area peaks at just 16 feet above sea level.
The earliest modern history of the town began in the 1840s when settlers, the majority of whom were French, began moving to the area. A man named Jonas Butler purchased land along a bayou there in 1848 and built a house. The burgeoning community that sat on the high bank of the bayou became known as Highland, and the waterway the residents used to reach Galveston in turn adopted the name of the new settlement. The current name of the growing town was not established until the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe Railroad was built in 1873. At that time Emily Hitchcock, a widow of one of Galveston's early leaders (and first harbor master) by the name of Lent Hitchcock, offered to provide land to the railroad in exchange for naming the stop after her late husband. The first post office in the area was originally created under the name of "Hitchcock's" in 1874 before later having the name shortened to its current spelling.
The new railroad station became an important vegetable shipping point that supported local growers, and before the 20th century dawned the town had grown to include multiple businesses and a public school. The population experienced ebbs and flows for several years as the influence of agriculture waned until the 1940s brought a significant amount of growth to the entire region. The local oil industry began to boom and the military established two locations within the town's limits. Camp Wallace was constructed to for anti-aircraft personnel training and had a capacity to support over 10,000 individuals. It was used for the extent of WWII, transferred to the United States Navy in 1945, and then after the war was used as a "Personnel Separation Center" until being closed permanently in 1946. Nearby, the Hitchcock Naval Air Station was a blimp hangar created to help police German submarine activity in the Gulf of Mexico. With a cost of nearly $10 million dollars and floor space of 300,000 sq. ft. the hangar could hold six blimps, and after the war it served as an aviation storage facility until it was sold to a private owner in 1949 and then demolished due to hurricane damage in 1962. The original administration building and four 200' tall support columns still stand today, however, and belong to a local storage company.
Many soldiers who came to Hitchcock opted to stay and become residents after the war. The continued regional prosperity led to the city forming a school district by 1948 and eventually to becoming an incorporated city by 1960. In 1984 the city began hosting the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo at the multi-use park where Camp Wallace once stood. Due to its proximity to the coast the city has been affected by multiple tropical storms over the years, most recently by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. The storm flooded nearly 3/4 of the city and actually threatened for a time to bankrupt Hitchcock. Today, however, the city has rebounded and boasts an aggressive plan for development in an attempt to draw new residents.
Be sure to check back in next week as we dive into the story of another interesting city!