OUR LEGACY - The Struggle for Dominance
The decade of the 1850 marked an era of significant economic growth in Houston. The city emerged as the regional center of rail transportation and of the cotton trade. Since Houston lay in the gulf coastal plain of Texas, where heavy rains could wipe out carriage roads, dependable rail transportation was a key factor in its economy's development. By 1860, 500 miles of rail track crisscrossed Texas; 350 of these miles and five railroad companies served Houston. Between 1854 and 1860, the volume of cotton shipped from Houston nearly tripled--from 39,923 to 115,010 bales annually. In addition to cotton, Houston exported wheat, cattle, rice, and sugar. As an alternative to rail transportation, some city fathers began to promote water transportation and in 1858 Buffalo Bayou wharf fees were abolished.
Societies of music, art and philosophy sprang up as prosperity stimulated interest in culture and the arts in 1851. By 1854, free public education, as provided by state law, came to Houston. The following year city ordinances instituted "blue laws" that closed bars, billiard parlors and bowling alleys on Sundays. Saloons however, still outnumbered churches. By 1860, 4,845 people claimed Houston as their home; the population of the city had more than doubled in ten years.
The decade, however, was not without its setbacks. Sporadic epidemics of cholera and yellow fever plagued Houston. In 1853, Buffalo Bayou overflowed its banks and caused the first major flood in the city. Six years later, fires ravaged the central part of the city. But with a resiliency that became characteristic, Houston—and Houstonians—Soon recovered.