Galveston County - Dickinson

Sitting in the heart of Galveston County we find this week's stop along our virtual tour - Dickinson is a city with a long history and a proud population that I've gotten to know in recent years.  In fact, this community that boasts 20,427 citizens as of the 2020 US Census will be celebrating their annual Little Italy Festival soon at the end of Spring Break.  For information, including location and timing, please click here: https://www.dickinsonlittleitalyfestivalofgalvestoncounty.com/ - I've been fortunate enough to work alongside several of the event planners to build maps and even do a little historical digging along the way.  They're great folks, and I'd highly recommend visiting if you're in the area.


Stretching along a bayou that shares its name, Dickinson is a town that encompasses 10.33 square miles, of which 9.89 is land.  The elevation is low, which you likely realize is a common trait within the county, and sits at just 10 feet above sea level.  Both the city and bayou are named after John Dickinson, one of Austin's "old 300" settlers who first came from America to Texas, who was given a land grant by the Mexican government in 1824.  A settlement was developed shortly after Texas independence was won, and in 1857 the first president of the Galveston, Houston, and Henderson Railroad built a summer home along Dickinson Bayou - the home still stands today, owned by the great great-granddaughter of Nichols.  Two years later a track had been laid through town on its way to becoming the first rail line to reach the Texas Gulf Coast, and it would remain an important transportation line throughout the Civil War as it delivered goods to Confederate blockade runners.

Following the establishment of the town's first post office in 1890 Fred Nichols, E.B.'s son, joined a group of businessmen to promote the area by forming the Dickinson Land and Improvement Association.  Agriculture was important to the region and settlers, many from Italian or African descent, began to arrive.  Despite hardships, such as the burning of the railroad depot and the Great Hurricane of 1900, the population continued to grow and prosper, and it wasn't long before the town began to attract attention as the "Strawberry Capital of the World" in addition to boasting other profitable crops such as oranges and figs.  Many of today's residents of Dickinson still proudly trace their family history to some of the original farmers who helped build the small town into the city it has become.

But fruit wasn't the only thing driving the economy during the early 20th century.  Wealthy tourists began coming to Dickinson from Galveston, which had begun experiencing a significant upheaval related to Houston's emergence as the primary port west of New Orleans, and facilitated their emerging gambling industry.  Although it was illegal, so was alcohol (at least during prohibition) and a number of otherwise-legitimate businesses participated with the most famous residents of Galveston at the time - the Maceo brothers.  With names like the Rose Garden, Golden Pheasant, and the Silver Moon, many clubs were concealed within restaurants or filling stations, and operated successfully until the 1950s when the Texas Rangers finally got the upper hand on the syndicate and shut down all of the major establishments.  

It wasn't long before the region received an economic boost from petrochemicals and aerospace, but that also created new issues.  During the 1970s the community began to be threatened by the encroachment of League City and Texas City annexation efforts, so the residents of Dickinson chose to incorporate in 1977.  The city has continued to grow physically through their own annexation efforts as the 21st century dawned, although several bordering neighborhoods remain officially outside of the city limits.  Most recently, in 2021 the city landed on local headlines as their mayoral election ended in a tie that state law mandated be broken by drawing the winner's name from a hat.

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