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TOWARD BROADER HORIZONS (1870-1880)

The population of the United States had reached 39,818,449 by 1870, and the center of the nation's population continued its westward trend and was located 48 miles east by north of Cincinnati, Ohio. Although the population of Texas increased 35.5 percent during the war decade, it still had not reached the one million mark by 1870, when it was reported as 818,579. Houston and Harris County showed a higher rate of the growth than did the state, with Houston having 9,332, an increase of 93 percent. This surge of growth rocketed Harris County into second place in the state, trailing only Washington County, which reported a population of 23,104.

This decade brought developments that contributed to the nation's subsequent urbanization. It saw the emergence of the refrigerated railroad car; the assembling of the first gasoline-driven horseless carriage; the first professional fire department with paid fireman in Philadelphia; the first regular telephone exchange in New Haven, Connecticut; the first inter-city telephone line between Boston and Lowell, Massachusetts; the first electric light company in New York and the first public street lighting in Cleveland. The Simmons Hardware Company became the first mercantile corporation to formed in the nation, and Montgomery Ward & Company became the first mail-order house, beginning with a one-page catalog being distributed. The formation of the American Chemical Society reflected the growing specialization of scientific scholarship, and graduate programs of study were initiated at Yale and Harvard.

Not all the developments of the decade, however, were this constructive. Carpetbag rule continued in some states of the South until 1877, with Louisiana being the last southern state to regain control of its internal government. The panic of 1873 was precipitated by the failure of Jay Cooke & Company, a banking house involved in financing the Northern Pacific Railroad. Yellow fever epidemics broke out again in New Orleans and in Memphis with thousands of deaths.

However, in Texas, with culmination of reconstruction and "Carpetbag Rule" at the beginning of the decade, the state's civic and economic development was rapidly revived. Inaugurated in 1874 under Governor Richard Coke, a program of reconstruction activities got under way. The famed Texas Rangers were established in 1874, and the unpopular State Police of the reconstruction period became a matter of unpleasant history. The adoption of a new state constitution in 1876 established a foundation for subsequent growth and development, and for the first time urban development became a factor of significance in the state.

Houston hosted the first Texas State Fair, with the Chamber of Commerce handling most of the details. It also cooperated with the recently organized Cotton Exchange to help bring more cargo through the Port of Houston. The city's first northbound out-of-state railroad outlet for freight was established when the Houston & Texas Central Railroad reached Denton in 1873, meeting there the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Line.

After the Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army, completed a survey of the Houston Ship Channel in 1871, Commodore Charles Morgan of the Morgan Steamship Line started digging a channel across Morgan's Point, which was not named for him, but rather for an earlier settler. This action was prompted by the refusal to the Galveston Wharf Commission to reduce rates. It cost Commodore Morgan $92,316 to dig this channel, but he collected fees for its use by stretching a heavy chain across and lowering it only after collecting a toll for each ship. The "Daily Telegraph" reported on September 22, 1876, that: "The Steamship Clinton from Morgan City, Louisiana, with 60 carloads of New York freight for Houston and various points on the Central, International & San Antonio Railroad, arrived at Clinton on Buffalo Bayou yesterday morning." The newspaper editorialized that "this is a practical result, beyond quibble and doubt, of the success of the Ship Channel, and proves its reality to the understanding of all."

The production of lumber from the pine forest of East Texas and from the hardwoods north and west of Houston led a growing diversification of local industry. Lumber ranked high among the port's exports, with merchandise continuing as the major import. About this time, Houston's mayor returned from a trip to New York with ambitious plans for asphalt paving, iron bridges, parks and a new city market. He reported: "Some New York capitalist have Texas on the brain.... the day is not far distant (they believe) which will see Houston the Chicago of the South."

Free Public Schools opened in Houston in 1876, with Colonel Ashbel Smith, former Minister to France from the Republic of Texas, as county superintendent. Teachers receive 10 cents per day per pupil. Trains were allowed to speed up to six miles an hour inside the city, and telephones were just beginning to ring here. The produce-rich Rio Grande Valley was linked to Houston in 1877 by rail service from San Antonio, with fruits and vegetables moving north through Houston to the Midwest markets. Steamer cargo, including lumber, lime, cement, railroad iron, and salt, pushed increasing tonnages across the docks of the Port of Houston.

 

 




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