How Houston's Neighborhoods Got Their Names

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

Houston is a city that prides itself on having no official zoning, and Houston neighborhoods have a decidedly freewheelin' feel. Management districts butt up against municipalities and unincorporated areas, which overlap with wards, which are part of super-neighborhoods, which are often referenced by other names.

Looking at the origins of those names gives a glimpse at the movers and shakers (and Quakers) of Houston's past. It's a past populated with farmers, industrialists, ministers, soldiers and philanthropists, not to mention a postmistress, a murderer, and a saloon-owning Prohibitionist.

This list is extensive but incomplete. The origins of some neighborhood names are long forgotten, and with others it's probably safe to assume a developer just mashed a few bucolic words together for marketing purposes. (Here's looking at you, Glenbrook Valley and Woodland Trails.)

I've included some communities outside of Houston proper, because a sprawl city doesn't have borders so much as subtle transitions into ruralness. And we all know everyone in Katy claims Houston anyway.

Marks Hinton's Historic Houston Streets: The Stories Behind the Names was a big help, as was The Handbook of Texas, and I'd definitely recommend both for further reading.

ACRES HOMES

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Originally marketed as country life with city access, Acres Homes was often divided by the acre instead of the plot, giving homeowners enough room for a garden and maybe even a few chickens.

ALDINE

Aldine was a stop on International-Great Northern Railroad in the 1890s. It was named after a family who owned a nearby farm, although not much information about that family is known.

ALIEF

In 1894 this community was surveyed and named Dairy, Texas. But there already was another town in Texas named Dairy, so the postal service started calling the town Alief in honor of its first postmistress, Alief Ozella Magee.

ALVIN

In 1872, the Santa Fe Railroad hired Alvin Morgan to supervise its cattle operations in the area, and he built the community's first house. The town originally was called Morgan, but Texas already had a Morgan, so Alvin was the next best thing.

ATASCOCITA

This area is named for what is probably the oldest road in the Houston area, a military highway laid out in the 1700s.  Even though the name is old, construction didn’t begin in the area until the 1970s.

BAYTOWN

Baytown is home to Burnet Bay, Crystal Bay, Scott Bay, Mitchell Bay, Black Duck Bay, San Jacinto Bay, Tabbs Bay, and Galveston Bay. That's a lot of bays.

BELLAIRE

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Burlington Railroad executive William Wright Baldwin founded Bellaire after purchasing the Rice Ranch in 1908. Promotional materials in 1909 claimed Baldwin named the community for its fresh breezes, although it might've just been named for Bellaire, Ohio, a town on his railroad.

BRAESWOOD PLACE

The word "Braes" is commonly seen on signs around Houston, and Marks Hinton notes in Historic Houston Streets that it's the Scottish word for hillside. Scotland's hills are significantly steeper than Houston's, but accuracy isn't as important as aspiration when it comes to naming subdivisions. This spelling is sometimes confused with that of Brays Bayou, which is named for James Bray, a surveyor for the Mexican government who was one of the area's first Anglo settlers.

CHANNELVIEW

Channelview is located on the northern side of the Houston Ship Channel.

DENVER HARBOR

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Denver Harbor's original subdivisions were Denver, Harbor, Harbordale, and Liberty Heights, and the name "Denver Harbor" was used to describe the whole community. The place is also known as Podunk, in reference to that word being written on a local water tower in 1939. Authorities repeatedly covered the graffito, but it would usually reappear after a few days.

FRIENDSWOOD

At the turn of the last century, a group of Quakers bought 1,500 acres of land along the county line between Harris and Galveston. For 60 years they called this wooded area home. Quakers are also known as the Society of Friends.

FREEDMEN’S TOWN

Freedmen's Town is Houston's oldest black community. It was established after the Civil War when 1000 freed slaves settled on inexpensive swampy land along Buffalo Bayou.

FIRST WARD, SECOND WARD, ETC.

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After John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen founded Houston in 1836, they divided it into four geographic territories called wards. These wards were divided without regard to population, using geographic boundaries such as streets and the bayou. The first four wards intersected at Congress Street and Main Street. As Houston's population grew, the Fifth Ward was carved out of parts of the First and Second in 1866, and the Sixth Ward was created a decade later from a cut of the Fourth. Each ward elected two aldermen, with the mayor receiving votes citywide. The ward system was abolished in 1915, but that hasn't stopped members of the community, including the Geto Boys, from using the designations.

GARDEN OAKS

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Developer Edward Lillo Crain Sr. loved gardens. True story.

HARRISBURG

Harrisburg is older than Houston. It was given its name in 1826 by a New York entrepreneur named John Richardson Harris. He didn't look far for inspiration.

HEDWIG VILLAGE

In 1906, Hedwig Jankowski joined her sister and other German immigrants in what is now the Spring Branch Memorial area. She met and married Henry Schroeder, and the two set up a farm in what would become Hedwig Village.

HOUSTON HEIGHTS

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The Heights is 23 feet higher than downtown.

HUMBLE

Humble was founded by Pleasant Smith Humble, a ferryboat operator on the San Jacinto River who arrived before the Civil War.

JERSEY VILLAGE

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Jersey Village began in 1953 when a dairy farmer named Clark W. Henry decided to develop the area. One story is that he named the neighborhood after his Jersey cows.

KATY

There are two theories: Either Katy was named for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, which was called the KT by railroad officials, or it was named for a barkeeper's wife. Which theory you choose to believe probably says something about you.

KINGWOOD

Kingwood was created by the Friendswood Development Company in 1971. The land was previously held by the King Ranch, which lent its name to one delicious chicken casserole recipe and owns enough acreage to cover Rhode Island. Take "King Ranch" and add "Friendswood," and you've got "Kingwood."

MEMORIAL

Camp Logan Development outside the Interstate 610 loop began in the 1950s along Memorial Drive. That arterial road was named in honor of the men who served in Camp Logan, a WW1 emergency training center, which is now the site of Memorial Park.

MEYERLAND

Meyerland was developed by George Meyer.

MIDTOWN

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In 1995, the City of Houston established the Midtown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone. The area is located between downtown and the Museum District, and before revitalization it showed serious signs of urban blight. The name "Midtown" was no doubt seen as a better lure for young urban professionals than "that sketchy area around the Greyhound station."

MONTROSE

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Montrose was named after a historic town in Scotland by J.W. Link of the Houston Land Corporation.

MUSEUM DISTRICT

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The Museum District is home to the Museum of Natural Science, the Children's Museum, the Holocaust Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Contemporary Art Museum, among others.

OAK FOREST

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Frank W. Sharp developed this community after World War II, presumably inspired by its trees. Sharp is also the man behind Jacinto City, Royden Oaks, Lamar Weslayan, and Sharpstown.

PASADENA

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Pasadena, California is named for the Chippewa Indian word for "valley." The Texas town's pre-industrial lushness apparently reminded early developers of the California community.

PEARLAND

This community was originally established as Mark Belt in 1893, but within a year the name was changed to account for the pear trees in the region (which was probably a good call).

RICE MILITARY

The Rice family owned a section of land near Camp Logan. Put those two together and you've got Rice Military.

RICE VILLAGE

Speaking of the Rice family, its most famous son was William Marshall Rice, a Massachusetts-born businessman who endowed Rice University in 1891 before being murdered nine years later in New York City by his butler and attorney. His ashes are underneath a statue on the campus, and the adjacent neighborhood also bears his name.

RIVER OAKS

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River Oaks is named for the trees that line the banks of Buffalo Bayou.

SHARPSTOWN

Sharpstown was developer Frank W. Sharp's biggest project, so he went ahead and gave this one his own name.

STAFFORD

William Stafford was among the first settlers to receive land grants in Stephen F. Austin's colony. In 1835 he killed a man and fled to the United States, but three years later was granted clemency on the grounds that the man he killed was "destitute of character" and "much addicted to brawls." Stafford returned to his plantation and died two years later.

SOUTH PARK

South Park is south of MacGregor Park.

SPRING BRANCH

This community is named for the creek that intersected Buffalo Bayou at the spot where German farmers began settling in 1830. How that creek came to be called Spring Branch is unknown.

SUGAR LAND

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This community has been home to sugar mills since at least 1843, and it became a company town of the Imperial Sugar Company in the early 1900s.

TANGLEWOOD

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Tanglewood was developed by William Giddings Farrington. Nathaniel Hawthorne's Tanglewood Tales for Boys and Girls was one of his daughter's favorite books.

TOMBALL

Originally called Peck, Tomball was renamed in honor of Thomas Henry Ball, a big supporter of the Houston Ship Channel. In 1914, Ball ran for governor on the Prohibitionist ticket, but his quest was sidelined by his opponent who hired people to take photos of him in saloons and turned Woodrow Wilson’s endorsement of Ball into Washington interfering in Texas.

UPPER KIRBY

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This district is named for its location on Kirby Drive, which in turn is named for John Henry Kirby, a businessman whose lumber company dominated more than 300,000 acres of East Texas pines.

WEST UNIVERSITY PLACE

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This place is west of Rice University.

THE WOODLANDS

In 1972, the Mitchell Energy & Development Corporation created this community among the pines north of Houston. The area had been the site of timber mills for years.

The U.S.-Canada Border Runs Directly Through This Library

Though the Haskell Free Library and Opera House might not be as well known as the Grand Canyon or the Statue of Liberty, it's undoubtedly one of America's most unique tourist attractions. Completed in 1904, the building is stationed directly between Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, with the official U.S.-Canada borderline running right across the library's floor.

Martha Stewart Haskell and her son, Colonel Horace Stewart Haskell, both Canadians, built the building as a tribute to Mrs. Haskell’s late husband, Carlos. The family hoped that citizens from both countries would use it as a “center for learning and cultural enrichment,” according to the official Haskell Free Library website.

The Haskell is divided between the two countries. While the library’s official entrance is on the U.S. side of the building, most of the books are on the Canadian side. The opera house is similarly split, with most of its seats in the U.S. and its stage in Canada. As Atlas Obscura reported, it is often said that the Haskell is the only library in the U.S. with no books, and the only opera house in the country with no stage.

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Andrew Mayer speaks to Nancy Rumery as he stands on the Canadian side of a line on the floor of the Haskell Free Library and Opera House that marks the border between the U.S. March 22, 2006 in Derby Line, Vermon
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Passports and other forms of identification aren’t required to cross from country to country in the library, though the Haskell’s website notes that the border inside the "building is real and it is enforced.” Visitors are expected to return to their side of the border after a visit; if they don’t, they risk possible detention and fines.

Even beyond the building's unique position, library director Nancy Rumery told CTV News that Haskell staffers—Canadian and American alike—consider the institution to be like any other library in the world.

"We're just trying to be the best library we can, and our community is made up of people from two different countries," she said. "We don't think of it in that big symbolic way that I think a lot of people do. These are all our neighbors and we do our very best to help them on their life-long learning journey."

This article originally ran in 2016.

Are You Smart Enough to Pass Thomas Edison's Impossible Employment Test?

 Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

If you thought Elon Musk's favorite question to ask job applicants was tough, you should see the employment test devised by Thomas Edison. When he wasn't busy inventing the light bulb or phonograph, or feuding with Nikola Tesla, Edison was apparently devising a trivia test of nearly impossible proportions.

As Smithsonian reports, the 146-question quiz was designed to weed out the candidates who would be ill-suited to work at his plant, which was a desirable place to get a job in 1921. College degrees didn't impress him much—"Men who have gone to college I find to be amazingly ignorant," he once remarked—so he needed to find a more effective method of determining prospective employees' knowledge.

The test may have been too effective, though. Of the 718 applicants who took the test, only 57 achieved a passing score of 70 percent, and only 32 scored Edison's desired result of 90 percent or higher. This was certainly frustrating to applicants who considered themselves to be pretty well-educated. An unsuccessful applicant named Charles Hansen, who shared all of the questions he remembered with The New York Times in 1921, called the test a "silly examination." Another applicant said it was "not a Tom Edison but a Tom Foolery test" [PDF].

After the test questions became public knowledge, reporters went out and started polling people to see how well they'd do on Edison's test. Albert Einstein reportedly failed (he didn't know the speed of sound offhand), as did Edison's youngest son, who was a student at MIT at the time.

If you want to challenge yourself, check out a few of the questions below, then scroll down to see the answers that appeared in The New York Times. (Note: The answers given were the correct answers in 1921, but some may have changed since then. Some questions and answers have been edited lightly for clarity.)

1. What city in the United States is noted for making laundry machines?

2. In what country other than Australia are kangaroos found?

3. What region do we get prunes from?

4. Name a large inland body of water that has no outlet.

5. What state is the largest? The next?

6. What is the name of a famous violin maker?

7. What ingredients are in the best white paint?

8. What causes the tides?

9. To what is the change of seasons due?

10. Who discovered the South Pole?

11. How fast does light travel per foot per second?

12. Of what kind of wood are axe handles made?

13. What cereal is used all over the world?

14. Name three powerful poisons.

15. Why is a Fahrenheit thermometer called Fahrenheit?

Feeling stumped? Scroll down to see the answers.

1. Chicago

2. New Guinea

3. Prunes are grown in the Santa Clara Valley and elsewhere.

4. The Great Salt Lake, for example

5. Texas, then California (Note: Today it's Alaska, then Texas)

6. Stradivarius

7. Linseed oil, with a small percentage of turpentine and liquid dryer, together with a mixture of white lead and zinc oxide

8. The gravitational pull of the moon exerted powerfully on the ocean because of its fluidity, and weakly on the Earth because of its comparative rigidity.

9. To the inclination of the Earth to the plane of the ecliptic. In the Earth's revolution around the Sun, this causes the Sun's rays to be received at varying inclinations, with consequent variations of temperature.

10. Roald Amundsen, and then Robert Falcon Scott

11. Approximately 186,700 miles a second in a vacuum and slightly less through atmosphere.

12. Ash is generally used in the East and hickory in the West.

13. No cereal is used in all parts of the world. Wheat is used most extensively, with rice and corn next.

14. Cyanide of potassium, strychnine, and arsenic are all acceptable answers.

15. It is named after Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, the German physicist who invented it.

For the full list of questions and answers, check out Paleofuture's article about the test on Gizmodo.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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