|Elevation||69 m (226 ft)|
|Time zone||UTC-6 (Central (CST))|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-5 (CDT)|
|GNIS feature ID||1349512|
Washington-on-the-Brazos is an unincorporated community along the Brazos River in Washington County, Texas, United States. The town is best known for being the site of the Convention of 1836 and the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence.
The town is named for Washington, Georgia, itself named for George Washington. It is officially known as just "Washington," but after the Civil War came to be known as "Washington-on-the-Brazos" to distinguish the settlement from "Washington-on-the-Potomac," Washington, DC.
In early Texas, Washington-on-the-Brazos was a significant political and economic hub. After the Civil War, the town's name was changed from Washington to Washington-on-the-Brazos or Old Washington. Washington was located 70 miles northwest of Houston and over 200 miles up the Brazos River from the coast, one mile southwest of the intersection of the Brazos and Navasota rivers where the La Bahia Road crossed the Brazos River. The Old Three Hundred settlers, including Andrew Robinson's family, moved close to the eventual townsite in 1821. In 1824, Robinson received a grant of a half league from the Mexican government. By 1822, Robinson was running a ferry at the La Bahia crossing. The heavily used ferry crossing saw the development of a town by the name of La Bahia.
Robinson granted his daughter Patsy and son-in-law John W. Hall a quarter league in 1831. Hall surveyed and planned out a town in December 1833 after seeing the location's commercial potential and Methodist leader John W. Kenney erected the town's first house. In 1835, Captain Hall founded the Washington Town Company with Dr. Asa Hoxey, Thomas Gay, and the Miller and Somervell Company to purchase the remaining portion of Robinson's grant. The new town was given that name by Hoxey, a former resident of Washington, Georgia.
Washington had developed into a supply hub by 1835. Merchants and tradespeople from nearby settlements settled in the new town, drawn by its location on the river and on or near key routes. The supply of emigrants to the interior and the surrounding area's expanding agricultural development and population both contributed to Washington's commercial expansion. The town's position was healthier and less vulnerable to flooding than that of villages at the river's edge since it was situated on cliffs above the river and had a plentiful water supply from adjacent springs.
Gen. Sam Houston moved his headquarters and the supply depot for the Texas army to Washington in December 1835. By 1836, about 100 people were living there. To encourage further development, Washington businessmen provided the Convention of 1836 with free use of an assembly hall. The only building big enough for discussions was hired by these town promoters from businessman Noah T. Byars. Although there was an inn in the town, most delegates had trouble finding housing. Delegates drafted the Republic of Texas Constitution, the Texas Declaration of Independence, and the ad interim government in Washington between March 1 and March 17, 1836. The residents of Washington and the Texas government fled the area to avoid Antonio López de Santa Anna's army.
Following Texas' triumph at San Jacinto, the town's importance as a supply and transit hub was increased by the quick rush of new settlers into the interior and the burgeoning agricultural development in Washington's hinterland. The town became a legal hub after Washington was chosen as the county seat. The nearby abundance of timber aided in the establishment of sawmills, which started running by 1837. The same year saw the start of a brickyard, which helped with town construction. In 1836, the Republic of Texas opened a post office in Washington. Texas residents from all regions gathered at a ball in Washington in 1837 to commemorate the state's first anniversary of independence. The Texas Congress officially formed the town on June 5, 1837, and on December 29, 1837, it was reincorporated under a mayor-alderman type of local government. The building of a racetrack by Hall, the expansion of bars and casinos, and the influx of Texas army veterans on furlough created a chaotic climate that was unfriendly to development.
In Washington, Texas, the Rev. Z. N. Morrell founded the state's first Missionary Baptist church in 1837. Clergies from the Baptist, Methodist, and Cumberland Presbyterian denominations worked together to combat growing lawlessness in 1838. An R. E. B. Baylor and Rev. William Tryon-led revival that started in 1840 put an end to widespread disorderly behavior and led to the founding of Washington's second Baptist church in 1841. By 1838, Washington had become a hub for religious activity because of the efforts of Methodist missionary Robert Alexander, who established a Methodist church there in 1837, and Martin Ruter, who organized the Washington Circuit to further the cause of Methodism.
Growth in the economy helped Washington become a major hub for media and education. The creation of Washington Masonic Academy in 1841 was funded by the Masonic Lodge, which was formed in 1838. The town population numbered 250 by 1839. The weekly Texas Emigrant, Washington's first newspaper, was published in 1839 and 1840. The Tarantula, another short-lived publication, was produced in 1841 and 1842. A slump in 1839 hurt trade and population and Mount Vernon was designated as the county seat in 1841. Washington, however, was chosen to serve as Texas's capital in 1842. The presence of the Texas Congress, high courts, and foreign embassies during Houston's second term and that of his successor, Anson Jones, enhanced the town's economic and social life.
The National Vindicator (1843–1844), the Texas National Register (1844–1855), and the Brazos Farmer (1843) were three publications that were published in quick succession. The former lodge, which had discontinued operations in 1842, was replaced by the Washington Masonic Lodge, which received a charter in 1844. In the summer of 1844, the town served as the location of negotiations for peace between President Houston and the Indians. Inauguration ceremonies for Jones and his inaugural ball, as well as the Texas Congress meeting when annexation to the United States was granted, all took place in Washington in 1845. The Texas National Register likewise moved to Austin when Austin once more assumed that role as the nation's capital in the late summer of 1845, and Washington lost its political importance.
Residents of Washington, which was situated close to the upper limit of Brazos River navigation, were encouraged to develop the town as a riverport after the arrival of the steamboat Mustang in 1842. Between the interior and the Gulf Coast, Washington served as a distribution hub for trade. The Brazos floods in 1843–1844 reduced cotton production, complicated navigation, and caused diseases in Washington in 1844–1845. To remove obstructions to navigation, town citizens formed the Brazos Steamship Association in April 1848. To start up regular service between Washington and Velasco, this corporation purchased the Washington and the Brazos, two steamboats. Washington's economy and population grew quickly between 1849 and 1858 as the town became a popular stop for steamboats and an important hub for the export of the region's lucrative cotton crop. Although locals had access to retailers in Houston and Galveston, this significant stagecoach stop and riverport saw a boom in service industries serving passengers, wholesale and retail commerce, leather, wood, and metal manufacturing, construction, and the professions.
The Texas Ranger and Brazos Guard started publishing in Washington in 1847. Religious diversity was brought about by the founding of a Presbyterian church (1847) and an Episcopalian mission (1848). The Brazos River Improvements Association was established by locals, and it held meetings in 1854 and 1856 to request government aid. The population grew to 750 in 1856. Washington had two newspapers, four churches, two hotels, a Masonic lodge, two Odd Fellows chapters, a market house, and a commercial district with brick buildings that were two and three stories tall at the height of its prosperity. Another hub of Know Nothing political activity was Washington. There were local gatherings and a state Know Nothing conference held in the town in 1855, and The Washington American, an organ of the American (Know Nothing) party, was published there in 1855 and 1856.
Washington turned down an $11,000 bonus the Houston and Texas Central Railroad offered in 1858 in exchange for connecting the town to the planned rail route. Hempstead's new road was constructed in 1858. Washington, which had relied on river transportation, began to fall as a result of the building of the Houston and Texas Central to Navasota in 1859 and the Washington County Railroad to Brenham in 1860. However, as train use increased, steamboat service on the Brazos was discontinued, and the once thriving riverport was doomed. In the 1860s, most inhabitants relocated to Brenham or Navasota. The Episcopal church edifice and numerous homes were relocated to Navasota. Washington developed into a modest supply hub for the surrounding area.
Residents numbered approximately 175 by 1884. The Presbyterian church was the only church structure from the time of the town's prosperity that was still standing in 1891; by 1889, the majority of the townsite had been converted to cultivated fields. A Masonic Hall was among the final historic buildings to burn in 1912. Washington was noted as having 100 residents in that year's Texas State Gazetteer and Business Directory, along with several grocery stores, two general stores, a blacksmith, a doctor, and a cotton gin. The stated population held steady at 300 from the 1940s through the 1960s. In the year 2000, 265 people were living in the dispersed rural village of Washington, which also included a post office, two local churches, country cemeteries, and a volunteer fire department. The Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site served as the hub of activity and trade.
In 1915, the state government set aside money for a park that would include a portion of the former town site. Every March 2, Washington-on-the-Brazos has hosted celebrations of Texas independence. The two most notable 20th-century events at Washington-on-the-Brazos were the celebrations of Texas' Centennial in 1936 and its Sesquicentennial in 1986. The 1970-built Star of the Republic Museum preserves numerous relics as well as comprehensive historical documents of the town from the nineteenth century, and the Anson Jones residence is preserved at the park's Barrington Living History Farm.
Between 1964 and 1969, the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory carried out excavations at Washington-on-the-Brazos in collaboration with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the University of Texas at Austin Texana Programs. Their discoveries allowed for more historically accurate furnishing of the renovated Republican-era buildings.
The town is home to the Washington-on-the-Brazos Historical Site, which has three main attractions: The Star of the Republic Museum (a museum about the Texas Republic), a replica of Independence Hall (where the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed), and Barrington Living History Farm (home of last Texas Republic President Anson Jones).
Washington-on-the-Brazos is located on Farm to Market Road 912 off Texas State Highway 105, 18 mi (29 km) east of Brenham and 10 mi (16 km) west of Navasota in the upper northeastern corner of Washington County. It is near the intersection of the Brazos and Navasota rivers.
The first school in the community may have been established by the wife of John Hall in 1837. The local Masonic Lodge helped sponsor the academy. Washington Female Academy educated the community's female youth in 1856 and 1857. In 1899, schoolchildren in Brenham honored Independence Hall with a marker after getting permission from the district superintendent, E.W. Tarrant. The community had two schools in the 1930s, one of which was for African Americans. Today, the community is served by the Brenham Independent School District.
Inside the replica of the building where Texan independence was declared on March 2, 1836
Visitor Center at Washington-on-the-Brazos
Star of the Republic Museum is located within the state historical park.
Frontier cabin replica at Star of the Republic Museum
Steamboat exhibit at Star of the Republic Museum
Entrance to Barrington Living History Museum
Barrington Farm, residence of Anson Jones
Corral at Washington-on-the-Brazos
Washington-on-the-Brazos historical marker
Texas Historical Marker for Andrew Robinson, Sr.
- "Washington, Texas". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey, United States Department of the Interior.
- "Washington ZIP Code". zipdatamaps.com. 2022. Retrieved November 11, 2022.
- Christian, Carole E. "Washington-on-the-Brazos, TX". Handbook of Texas Online. Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved June 7, 2022.
- "TSHA | Black Catholics". Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved February 23, 2023.
- "Washington-on-the-Brazos, Texas". Texas Escapes Online Magazine. Retrieved June 20, 2023.