to imagine today, but back in 1850 residents of New
Braunfels could brag that they lived in the fourth-largest city
That year, barely a half-decade after Texas
joined the union, U.S. Census enumerators found 212,592 people in
the state, including slaves. The census recorded the population of
only 23 cities and towns with all other head counts listed by county.
stood as Texasí largest city in 1850.
In fact, for the next four decades, the island city remained in the
top four. Only the catastrophic 1900 hurricane ended Galvestonís
reign in the biggest-city league. But New
Braunfels once having been Texasí fourth city seems stranger than
early-day rankings, considering its status as a major seaport.
With work already under way on the 2010 census, Austin
is currently Texasí fourth-largest city, behind Houston,
San Antonio and Dallas
in that order. For most of its history, however, the capital city
never even made the top five population-wise.
That said, twice census returns have shown Austin
as bigger than Dallas. Of
course, in various decades, Fredericksburg,
all were larger than the capital city.
Since 1850, only four Texas cities
have enjoyed the distinction of being the stateís largest. While Galveston
was Texas biggest city in three federal
head counts (1850, 1870 and 1880), San
Antonio held the top spot in 1860, 1900, 1910 and 1920. Dallas
has hit the top of the list only once, in 1890. Houston
became the biggest city in 1930 and has not relinquished the title
Finding decade-by-decade federal population numbers for Texas
cities and towns in not hard, but if anyone has ever put together
a population ranking of Texas largest
cities per decade, Iíve never seen it.
So, for historians, genealogists, and anyone interested in a little
Texas trivia, Iíve compiled the historic
urban population hierarchy and population figures dating back to 1850.
The 1850 and 1860 listings contain the top 10 cities, since there
are some surprises. From 1870 on, only the top 5 cities are listed:
2. San Antonio (3,488)
3. Houston (2,396)
5. Marshall (1,180)
6. Gonzales (1,072)
9. Austin (629)
Itís interesting to note that while 3,758 people lived in Nacogdoches
County in 1850, they were scattered. That kept the county seat of
one of the stateís oldest towns, off the top 10 list.
1. San Antonio (8,235)
3. Houston (4,845)
4. Marshall (4,000)
6. Austin (3,494)
9. Dallas (2,000)
2. San Antonio (12,256)
3. Houston (9,332)
5. Dallas (3,000)
By the 1870s, the cities that would be the stateís major metropolitan
areas had grown to a point where they remained in the top 5 list from
there on out, with the exception of Galveston
The seat of McLennan County dropped off in 1880 following one decade
as the fourth-largest city. Fort
Worth joined the municipal big boyís club in 1890 and El
Paso in 1910.
Census data held some surprises for long-time Texans, including
the ascendance of Arlington
into the top 10 list. But while thatís a notable change, itís hardly
© Mike Cox
"Texas Tales" November
19 , 2009 column