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Houston History

When people think about Houston history, the one thing that usually stands out is the famous battle cry “Remember the Alamo,” but few realize that General Sam Houston rallied his troops with those words along the banks of the San Jacinto River, which runs through what is now the east side of Houston. General Houston surprised Mexican General Santa Anna, ultimately forcing Santa Anna’s surrender in just 18 minutes. Not four months later in Houston's history, brothers John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen purchased nearly 7,000 acres of land along Buffalo Bayou, not far from the battleground, and created Houston. They named the city after the beloved General, who Texans elected President of the Republic one month later. Houston became part of the United States when Texas joined the Union in 1845. The Bayou City boomed from the start, with commerce taking place along Buffalo Bayou and by railroad. Throughout early Houston history, residents suffered from repeated floods due to the city's situation on a floodplain. Attempting to make things better, engineers channelized and concrete-lined many of the region’s natural, meandering bayous; today, only a couple remain unchannelized and are popular with kayakers and birdwatchers—and the source of some conflicts over how best to prevent flooding. Most now agree the best option involves preserving habitat and Houston has an active program to buy out homes along the bayous to turn them back to greenspace. In 1901, the famous oil well Spindletop spewed black gold in Beaumont, just 90 miles east, which heralded our nation’s oil economy. In 1911, Exxon got its start in the Houston region as Humble Oil & Refining Co, a small town where the Houston Bush International Airport now resides. Houston history saw the city grow, becoming an international port city when the Houston Ship Channel was built in 1915. The Texas Medical Center began in 1945 and quickly grew to prominence. It’s now the world’s largest, with MD Anderson and Texas Children’s known internationally. It sits across the street from Rice University—a “southern ivy” school.  The next big leap happened when NASA built the Johnson Space Center in 1961, creating yet another booming industry—aerospace. The city center—“inside the loop”—is mostly surrounded by suburbs, particularly outside the second city loop, Beltway 8.