History of Bryan


History of Bryan, Texas

Like many Texas communities in the mid- and late-19th century, Bryan began as a small-town stop along the state's expanding railway system. But almost from the beginning, Bryan was different: It quickly distinguished itself from the many other railway stops across the state by flourishing into a vibrant--and permanent--center of business and trade.

In the nearly 140 years since Bryan's founding, many Texas railroad stops became nothing more than ghost towns. But the optimistic spirit and determination that built Bryan in its early years continues to define Bryan today. It is a community that successfully couples dynamic growth with historic importance.

In the Beginning

Before there was Bryan, there was Millican. The Houston and Texas Central (H&TC) Railroad Co. arrived in this community in 1860, making it the northernmost terminus. It soon became a vital distribution center for freight and Confederate troops throughout the Civil War.

That same year, William Joel Bryan, nephew of Stephen F. Austin, sold a single square-mile tract in a townsite north of Millican to railroad directors Abram Groesbeck and W.R. Baker. The $3,200 purchase would soon become a full-fledged city serving the railway, its employees and its passengers. The townsite was named "Bryan" in William Joel Bryan's honor.

Further expansion of the H&TC railroad was halted during the Civil War, but resumed afterward. Anticipating the arrival of the rail to Bryan in 1866, Brazos County citizens voted 190-42 to move both the county seat and the post office from Boonville to Bryan, which had grown into a village of about 300 residents (at the time, only white residents were included in official records).

On Aug. 19, 1867, the first train steamed into Bryan amidst a gala celebration. But as Bryan residents celebrated, Millican residents faced tremendous hardship. Yellow fever swept through their community only a few weeks after the railroad came to Bryan, and much of the town's population shifted to the new county seat.

In the early decades of the 20th century, small spur tracks ran to the Brazos River bottom, linking the rich cotton-producing lands with the city's five gins, two cotton yards, compresses, warehouses and rail lines to distant markets. In addition, its agricultural and mercantile businesses were linked by rail to major markets across the county. Downtown Bryan therefore grew to become the business hub for a large surrounding area.

By 1870, Bryan had replaced Millican and Boonville as Brazos County's center of commerce. Its population had increased 232 percent in a single decade.

With an independence customary in Brazos County, the town's businessmen chose business locations that better suited their own purposes than the city plan. They built their stores on the west side of the tracks where the lots were cheaper than those surrounding the courthouse. Backing the shops up to the railroad also facilitated loading. Thus Main Street was located at its present site.

A new county seat required a new courthouse. Before construction was begun on that structure, however, a jail was completed on the courthouse square. The 10-by-12-foot one-room building was 15 feet above the ground, resting on four upright logs. The door was reached by a removable ladder. The structure was dubbed "Bryan Sky Parlor." It was replaced in 1877 by a larger jail with steel cages.

The courthouse contract was awarded in 1868 to Harvey Mitchell. The two-story brick building was completed in 1871, but it soon proved unsatisfactory when the foundation began to give way and the soft brick cracked. It was torn down in 1892 when a new courthouse of white sandstone was built.

City Organized

Although Bryan residents voted in 1867 to incorporate, the town was not formally incorporated until an act of the Texas Legislature in 1871. Non-official organizations arose in the early 1870s to promote agriculture, trade and cultural opportunities. Among them were: the Central Texas Agricultural and Mechanical Association, chartered for the purpose of holding at least one county fair each year; the Bryan Real Estate, Building, and Joint Stock Association of Bryan; the Bryan Bridge Company, established to encourage trade by getting a bridge built across the Navasota River on a road to Madisonville; and the Library Association.

The following year, citizens voted to establish a public school system and to levy property tax for its support. The first tax-supported school opened in 1880 under the name of "Bryan Grade School," and its first graduates completed the 10th Grade School four years later. Private schools joining the educational system included Allen Academy in 1899 and Villa Maria Ursuline Academy for girls in 1901.

In the late 1800s, a large number of German, Czech and Italian immigrants settled in the Brazos River Valley. Their children and grandchildren left area cotton farms and moved to Bryan, many entering the business world. Attracted by the community's prosperity, a merchant class developed. Many businessmen were involved in the export of cotton, grain, oil, livestock, wool and hides.

Guy M. Bryan Jr. had established a money-lending office in 1875. By 1890, another major financial institution--the First National Bank of Bryan--had been established, as had utilities in the form of Bryan Compress Company and Bryan Water, Inc. and Electric Light Co., Inc. Bryan's first telephones were installed in 1918.

Bryan also benefited from the Agriculture and Mechanical College (Texas A&M), which opened its doors in 1876. The college was located four miles outside of Bryan on land given to the state by Harvey Mitchell.

Along with physical city development came increased intellectual pursuits. Bryan's first newspaper, Brazos Pilot, began weekly publication in 1876. It was joined by the Bryan Weekly Eagle in 1889. In 1910, Bryan's first daily paper, the Bryan Eagle, succeeded both weeklies.

The Carnegie Library was founded in 1902 with a $10,000 gift from nationally recognized philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. The Carnegie served the community until 1969 when the city opened the Bryan Public Library. Today, the renovated library houses the Carnegie Center of Brazos Valley History. Bryan's is the oldest existing Carnegie Library in Texas.

The Community Thrives and Diversifies

The turn of the century saw a host of new additions and developments in Bryan. A sewer system was built and street lights installed to serve the business district, free city mail delivery was established, and the Bryan-College Station Interurban trolley began operation. By 1915, Main and Bryan streets had been paved, accommodating the increasing number of automobiles.

As the century wore on, Bryan's residential areas began benefiting from the developments previously reserved for the business district. In 1913, a modern sewage disposal plant was built for the western part of the city. From 1919 to 1925, streetlights were installed in residential areas.

The city's North Side historically has been home to Bryan's African-American community. Newly freed African Americans settled in an area around Orleans and Preston streets known as "Freedmanstown," African-American business and professional offices traditionally operated at the northern end of Main and Bryan streets. Today, the Martin Luther King Jr. corridor serves as a primary artery to Bryan's largest African-American neighborhood, with a mix of commercial, religious and residential structures along its entire length.

Individuals of Hispanic descent have had land holdings in Brazos County since before its inception. Increased migration from Mexico occurred during the 1910s and 1920s, then again in recent decades. Today, Bryan takes pride in the rich diversity of its residents. In fact, the demographics of Bryan directly reflect those of the entire state of Texas.

Time Marches On

Throughout the early 1900s, Bryan continued to flourish, partly due to its rich agricultural farmlands, the railroad and the area's abundance of cotton, cattle and oil. Bryan survived the hard times of the Great Depression and continued to grow through the post-war years. In the late 1960s, local business interests established the Brazos County Industrial Park, creating an enhanced atmosphere for industrial development. The Bryan Business Park followed, fueling the area's growth.

In terms of recreation, Bryan added a number of city parks to its landscape, beginning with Oak Grove Park in 1913. In 1922, Bryan High School was the state championship in the first UIL football game ever played. Seven years later, a football field was bought for Stephen F. Austin High School. In 1939, Bryan developed its 18-hole Municipal Golf Course.

The Bryan Air Base was activated in 1942, deactivated in 1945, then reactivated in 1951. In the 1940s, the base served as a temporary campus for Texas A&M College freshmen. A hospital established on the base boasted an obstetrics ward. The air base was phased out in 1959, and in 1962, the property became home to the Texas A&M Research Annex.

In 1958, Townshire became Bryan's first major shopping center. Its first enclosed shopping center, Manor East Mall, opened in 1972. The creation of shopping centers away from downtown, however, created a strain on the Central Business District. Downtown Bryan began a slow decline.

In the late 1980s, a movement toward downtown revitalization began, bringing businesses and interest back to Downtown Bryan. In 1992, Bryan became a Texas Main Street City, receiving design and technical assistance from the Texas Historical Commission.

But Bryan's downtown business district isn't the city's only area that can boast of its heritage. An East Side Historic District was created in the 1980s, and close to 50 Bryan homes and other structures are listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Today, businesses are opening, expanding and relocating in Downtown Bryan, breathing new life into the area. This push toward downtown revitalization is now enabling people to experience the shops, restaurants, hotels and businesses that are working together to restore Downtown Bryan to the thriving hub of its glory days.

Bryan Today

Bryan has greeted the 21st century with a vital and robust economy, quality schools, state-of-the-art healthcare, safe neighborhoods and a history that is reflected in the buildings and pride of its residents. The original square-mile townsite now encompasses more than 43.4 square miles. And Bryan's original population of a few hundred has grown to almost 67,000 residents.

From its contemporary Tejas Center to its revived historic downtown, today's Bryan is defined by renewed growth, development and renovation.


* Brazos County History: Rich Past-Bright Future
* A Guide to Historic Brazos County
* A Practical Guide to Bryan-College Station
Downtown Bryan Master Plan
Like most historic downtowns, Bryan has been impacted in past decades by changing market demands. Our downtown is unique; therefore, it is critical that extraordinary measures be focused towards reviving the greatness of Downtown Bryan that citizens once enjoyed.

The Comprehensive Plan identified the need for a master plan to establish an innovative and unified vision for downtown Bryan. The resulting Master Plan is collaboration between the public, city staff, and consultants. Click on the links below to view and/or download the Downtown Master Plan and Façade Improvement Recommendations.

Downtown Master Plan

Façade Improvement Recommendations:
26th Street
N. Bryan Avenue
27th Street
S. Bryan Avenue
Martin Luther King, Jr. Street
N. Main Street
William Joel Bryan Parkway
S. Main Street
S. Parker Street

Historic Preservation Ordinance

Historic Resources Design Guidelines

City of Bryan 1986 Historic Resource Surveys

West Side Historic Society Resources Survey

Historic Landmark Commission
Meets on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month as needed.

Commission Meeting Dates & Deadlines
Commission Agendas

Current Historic Landmark Commissioners:
•    Pete Bienski III, Chairperson
•    Fred Patterson
•    Jesse Saginor
•    Sheila Fields
•    Stephanie Sale
•    Jeff Wind
•    Brent Hairston

Board, Commission, & Committee Informational Brochure
External Links:


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A crew from Wakefield Sign Company prepares to lift the crown
On Sunday, November 21st, community members gathered as the crown was removed from the top of the Queen Theatre building in Downtown Bryan. The crew from Wakefield Sign Company were able to successfully remove the 200 lb crown despite negotiating 35 mph wind gusts. The crown will be repaired and repainted as part of the Queen Theatre restoration project.

The date for removal of the crown was significant in that it was on November 21, 1939 that the Queen Theatre opened its doors as the building seen today.

The DBA would like to extend  sincere thanks to Wakefield Sign Company for removal of the crown and Maaco for sponsoring the repainting of the crown.


The Crown Rotating!


The stand that it is on was built so that  the crown could be transported to the various people who need to work on it during the restoration.  It will first  go to a sheet metal shop to have the bottom-most skirting replaced.  You can see some of the rust that needs to be taken care of.  It appears that the bottom piece is the only piece needing to be replaced.  All other pieces of sheet metal show no deterioration on the outside nor the inside.

Inside the skirt is a 3/8″ x 2″ steel band riveted to the bottom of the skirting.  On top of the Queen building is a corresponding steel band around which the crown slips as it turns.   Both bands are unprotected raw steel so are badly rusted.  Brazos Industries, Inc. has volunteered to make us two new concentric  bands of steel and Texas Custom Coaters in Navasota, TX will powder-coat the new bands to protect them from rusting in the future.

The second shop that the crown will go to will be the paint shop.  The local MAACO shop has volunteered to re-do the paint job as a contribution to the project.  You can’t see it from this distance very well but the paint job is very crude and lines are not uniform.  At the elevation it was displayed on the theatre, it did not matter but, up close, you can see very irregular brush strokes where it was hand painted.


Work on the Queen is Underway!
by CASSIDY BARTON on JULY 26, 2011

Asbestos abatement and interior demolition has begun inside the historic Queen Theatre in Downtown Bryan. Building Abatement Demolition (BAD) Company, from LIberty Hill, started work on Monday. Terracon Consultants, Inc., out of Austin, are overseeing the abatement portion of the project which is expected to continue through Friday. Building Abatement Demolition (BAD) Company is scheduled to complete demolition the second week of August.Abatement and demolition of the Queen Theatre are the vital first steps in the process of restoring this historic Bryan landmark. Upon completion, the facade will reflect the colors and design of the theater at its 1939 grand opening as the “Queen”. This phase of restoration also includes the repair and reinstallation of the marquee and crown, including neon lighting. The Downtown Bryan Association plans to debut the fully restored facade at the City of Bryan’s Texas Reds Festival, October 7th and 8th.
For more information on the Queen Theatre restoration project and to find out how you can help, please contact Cassidy Barton at 979-822-4920 or via email at executivedirector@downtownbryan.com.


The Queen’s Treasures!

As abatement and demolition work wraps up on the Queen Theatre in Downtown Bryan, a few news stories have run related  to items found in the aging buildings rubble. Read the details of Robin Tolson’s missing wallet, returned by a crew member working on the Queen.  A second individual, Mr. William Robert Bogan, Jr.,  is also soon to be reunited with items  that went missing decades ago.

The Queen Theatre restoration continues to be a project that brings community members together. For more information on the Queen Theatre restoration project or to make a donation, please contact the Downtown Bryan Association at 979-822-4920.


Queen Stucco in Progress!

With abatement and demolition work wrapped up on the interior of the Queen, work has begun on the stucco exterior! Those who drive down Main Street in the next week or so will see scaffolding covering the front of the structure while new plaster is applied.

Those anxious to see the restored facade of the Queen Theatre should plan to be Downtown on October 7th for First Friday/Texas Reds, when the lights on the facade are scheduled to be turned on and the newly restored face of the Queen revealed!

For questions about the Queen Theatre project, or to make a donation, please contact the Downtown Bryan Association at 979-822-4920 or email Save the Queen Committee Chairperson, Ben Hardeman, at chairman@downtownbryan.com.


Plaster & Paint!

Update! The Queen’s crown is just about ready to regain its rightful position. As of now, it looks as thought the crown will go back up sometime Tuesday, however it will not be the social event that the removal was. Reinstallation of the crown will require fitting and positioning and may prove to be a somewhat lengthy process. To celebrate, plan on attending Texas Reds First Friday on October 7th. Friday there is no admission fee to the festival and we will turn the lights on at dusk! We hope to see you there to celebrate with us!

Scaffolding has been removed and fresh plaster and paint have been applied to the face of the Queen. Marquee installation will begin shortly, as well as new glass for the doors and ticket booth. If you haven’t taken a look at the new Queen, head to Downtown and see for yourself!


The Queen’s Coronation

After three days of fitting, situating and finally, hoisting, the crown is again atop the Queen Theatre in Downtown Bryan! A modest crowd gathered at around 8:30 Wednesday morning to watch as the preparations were made. Now, with neon in place and the crown back up, work will continue on the marquee. The DBA plans to celebrate the restoration of the Queen’s facade – a huge milestone in the restoration project – with a lighting ceremony at First Friday, October 7th during the Texas Reds festival. The public is invited to come and watch as – for at least the second time in the theatre’s history – the exterior lights are turned on. Remember – Texas Reds is FREE on FRIDAY. Shuttles will run from Blinn for your convenience. We hope to see you there!

The historic Queen Theatre in Downtown Bryan has her crown back on Wednesday night, as crews hoisted a refurbished crown to the top of the theatre during the day. The "Crown Jewel" in the historic downtown area is getting restored to its stately status. Things are now looking very royal.

The Queen Theatre had her crown put back on Wednesday as part of a $160,000 renovation that includes the repainted crown, new lights, a new roof and asbestos abatement. The rivitalization comes just in time for the Texas Reds Steak and Grape Festival about a week away. It's a new chapter in the ongoing rebirth of a Bryan landmark and Debbie Bonds has a front row seat to the Queen Theatre's new look.  She owns the Aggieland Awards Store next door. "It's really gonna benefit all segments of the population. A lot of people have stories about the Queen and brings back a lot of memories," said Bonds.

The City of Bryan has spent $80,000 so far in matching grant money to spruce up the exterior. Bryan City Council Member Art Hughes grew up here and remembers downton was always full of activity in the 50's. "If you wanted to go to the movie you had to come downtown," said Hughes. "It just makes the whole downtown area absolutely more beautiful to come out and see," said Barbara Salamone, an employee at Aggieland Awards.

The 200 pound crown dropped into place almost seamlessly, except they'll have to iron out a sheet metal issue.

Ben Hardeman is the Chairman of the Downtown Bryan Association and said the conspicuous crown is now bolted in place and will be lit and spinning soon. "We're a long way from being finished but this is a milestone for us we're glad to get the crown back on the Queen," he said. "it's gonna bring a lot of recognition, it shows the pride that we have in the heritage of Our Downtown Bryan," said Bonds.

A lighing ceremony is happening Friday, October 7 at 7:30 p.m to kick off Texas Reds. The rest of the renovations are expected to be completed by 2014 to coincide with the buildings 100th anniversary. While it won't be an outright movie theatre, it will be a multipurpose facility for the community complete with a theaternewvideoherexxxxxx