City of Baytown's History
Baytown shares a bay with the San Jacinto monument, the famous location where General Sam Houston defeated General Santa Ana marking the end of the Texas Revolutionary War in 1836! However, Baytown has a long history stretching back thousands of years.
Over 30,000 years ago the formation of the Gulf Coast began. It was during the later years of the Ice Age that the melting and flowing waters formed the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers; which then created our modern system of lakes and bays we are familiar with in the Baytown area today. Prehistorically, these lakes and bays would have provided the opportunity for the known settlers of the area, the Kawankawa’s Capoque and the Atakapan’s Akoksia tribes, to live in fairly dense seasonal settlements while taking intensive advantage of the shoreline bay subsistence resources, which included plenty of fish and other marine life. The nearby prairie and flood plain environments would have provided the opportunity to hunt larger game including bison, Columbian mammoth and deer, and the gathering of aquatic and terrestrial plant foods.
Fast-forward thousands of years and the Baytown area and its’ inhabitants saw the shipwreck of the famed explorer Cabeza de Vaca. Shortly thereafter, the Baytown area saw the rule of famed pirate, Jean Lafitte, of which treasure was found as recently as the 1960’s in Kemah, TX.
The Baytown area continued its’ rich history into the nineteenth century as monumental events took place in and around it, namely the Texas Revolutionary War. William Scott (one of Stephen F. Austin’s Old 300), Nathaniel Lynch (involved in the Runaway Scrape), Ashbel Smith, David Burnet and Sam Houston all held property in the area just to name a few. As a reminder of these instrumental times, some Baytown residents, today, can view the San Jacinto monument from their homes, the symbol of Sam Houston’s’ victory over Mexico’s former President Lopez de Santa Anna.
As the new Republic of Texas was in its infancy, Cedar Bayou was named as one of its first bay establishments. The general economic development, post war, included rice farming, and the development of brickyards as result of the high quality clays found along the bayous, creeks and streams. Then in 1908, there was an oil boom which spurred the rapid development of the Goose Creek community among others (Wooster, Pelly, and Bay Town) that later became one community known as Baytown in January 1948.
The Goose Creak oilfield became famous as the first offshore drilling operation in Texas and second in the nation. Due to the oilfield’s success, Humble Oil and Refining Company (later to become ExxonMobil) was founded in 1917 by Ross S. Sterling. It was around this time that the Baytown community developed and grew.
Today, Baytown is largely a community centered on industry, including oil, rubber and chemical plants. Home to petrochemical giants, including ExxonMobil and Chevron, Baytown serves an international community through the Port of Houston and Houston Ship Channel which reach 1,053 ports worldwide.
For more information about the Economic and Social development of Baytown, TX – visit the Baytown Historical Museum or the Republic of Texas Plaza!
Baytown has many historical markers to see. See the historical marker map below for a list of the many you can visit!
History In Your Own Backyard
Series featuring Lee College history professor John Britt
1822 - Nathaniel Lynch sets up the Lynch Ferry at the junction of the San Jacinto River with Buffalo Bayou.
1824 - William Scott receives land grant of over 9,000 acres covering much of what is now present day Baytown.
1847 - Ashbel Smith purchased a plantation, known as Evergreen, on Tabbs Bay (outbreak of Civil War, he organized the Bayland Guards for confederate service).
1864 - A shipyard established at the mouth of Goose Creek in the early 1850s by John and Thomas S. Chubb built one ship, the Bagdad, which was launched in 1864 and had to run a Yankee blockade at Galveston to escape.
1866 - 1867 – Ashbel Smith and several associates founded the Bayland Orphans’ Home for Children of Confederate soldiers.
June 2, 1908 - Successful oil strike near Tabbs bay by Goose Creek Production Company.
August 23, 1916 - Opening of Goose Creek Oilfield when contractor Charles Mitchell brought in a 10,000-barrel gusher at 2,017 feet.
1917 - Humble Oil and Refining Company founded by Ross S. Sterling.
August 17, 1917 - The largest well of the field was Sweet 16 of the Simms-Sinclair Company gushing 35,000 barrels a day from a depth of 3,050 feet. This well stayed out of control for three days before the crew could close it.
January 1919 - Goose Creek residents vote to consolidate.
1919 - Construction begins on Humble Oil and Refining Company.
1920 - Pelly residents vote to consolidate.
April 21, 1921 - Humble Oil and Refinery construction completed.
1923 - Humble laid out the streets, provided utilities and sold lots for the community development.
December 1945 - Pelly annexes the area known as Baytown which had never incorporated.
February 1946 - Pelly and Goose Creek vote to consolidate and choose the name “Baytown”.
January 24, 1948 - “Tri-Cities” Unite as Baytown (Baytown Goose Creek and Pelly) when a city charter is approved.
Baytown Vignettes is a historical journal published at Lee College and compiled by local historians John Britt and Muriel Tyssen containing research chronicling "One Hundred and Fifty Years in the History of a Texas Gulf Coast Community. For a PDF version of the journal CLICK HERE.
Touchstone is an undergraduate journal published by the Texas State Historical Association that contains Texas historical research. Periodically Baytown and Gulf Coast research is included in the journal. For an index of Touchstone articles visit https://tshaonline.org/education/students/student-publications/touchstone
Sterling Municipal Library
1 Mary Elizabeth Wilbanks Ave, Baytown, TX 77520
Baytown Historical Museum
220 W Defee St, Baytown, TX 77520
Republic of Texas Plaza
5117 N Main St, Baytown, TX 77521
Baytown Historical Marker Map
For a complete list of the markers found throughout Harris County and Baytown visit the Harris County Historical Markers website and search 77520, 77521, & 77522, the Texas Historical Commission Atlas and search Baytown, or for an Apple mobile app of historical landmarks https://www.enolalabs.com/work/apps/texas-landmarks.