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"Pearl of the Prairies"

Wharton County, Texas Gulf Coast

29 11' 48" N, 96 16' 24" W (29.196667, -96.273333)

U.S.Hwy 59 and TX Hwy 71
13 Miles SW of Wharton the county seat
About 65 Miles SW of Houston
52 Miles NE of Victoria
ZIP code 77437
Area code 979
Population: 12,350 (2020)
11,602 (2010) 10, 945 (2000) 10,511 (1990)

Book El Campo Hotel Here › El Campo Hotels

El Campo Texas - Hay shipping
El Campo was once the second largest hay-shipping center in the US
Courtesy Fayette County Heritage Museum and Archives

History in a Pecan Shell

The town began life in the early 1880s as a switching point called Prairie Switch on the New York, Texas and Mexican Railroad. The lights of the tiny settlement could be seen for miles at night - giving it the nickname "Pearl of the Prairies."

Mexican cowboys started calling it El Campo and the name stuck in 1890. Thousands of head of cattle were shipped to markets in San Antonio from the four huge ranches that surrounded the town - including the Pierce Ranch.

The town was little more than a section house and a cattle-loading chute before a store was built in 1889. This was followed by a post office the following year but still the population was a mere 25 people by 1892.

The town once became the second largest hay-shipping center in the United States and made the most of newly introduced rice industry. In the 1890s El Campo organized Swedish Lutheran and Methodist churches, as well as Presbyterian and Baptist congregations. German Lutheran and Catholic churches completed the inventory.

A fire in 1896 destroyed the town's business section which rebuilt by 1900, only to be burned again a year later. The town got the message and the second rebuilding was done with brick. El Campo acquired a library in1901 - a year before they opened the first bank.

The town incorporated in 1905 and two years later the El Campo Ice and Water Company provided electricity and ice. The El Campo Rice Milling Company opened in 1903 and was used by seventy rice farms in 1904.

The 1910 population was 1,778, growing to 2.034 by 1930 and nearly 4,000 by 1941. Gas and oil were discovered in Wharton County in the mid-1930s which stabilized the economy. It reached just over 6,216 in the early 1950s and by 1970 it was five citizens short of 10,000.

El Campo Vintage Photos

Historical Marker: 315 E Jackson St., at El Campo City Hall

El Campo

Begun as a camp on the New York, Texas, and Mexican Railroad in 1882, El Campo initially was known as Prairie Switch and served as a supply and shipping center for area ranchers. By the 1890s the town had grown to include a post office, homes, businesses, schools, and churches. An influx of European immigrants produced a strong ethnic heritage. Fires in 1896 and 1901 destroyed much of the downtown area, but the city rebuilt. Oil and gas discoveries in the 1930s provided an economic boom, although agriculture remains the primary local business.

El Campo, Texas
Landmarks & Attractions

El Campo Texas town square
El Campo town square
Click on image to enlarge

Photo courtesy George Shaffer, 2007

El Campo TX Post Office Mural Rural Texas Gulf Coast 1939 Milford Zornes
"Rural Texas Gulf Coast" by Milford Zornes, 1939
Photo courtesy Gerald Massey, March 2009
El Campo, Texas Post Office Mural

El Campo Texas Prairie Switch
"Prairie Switch" of the original switching station, now on town square
Photo courtesy George Shaffer, 2007

El Campo Texas former bank building
Former bank building in El Campo
Photo courtesy George Shaffer, 2007
See Texas Banks

Historical Marker: 202 E. Jackson St., El Campo

First National Bank of El Campo

The First National Bank of El Campo traces its history to the Koch and Poole Mercantile Company. In 1890 El Campo was an exciting new railroad town. Customers left their money in the Koch and Poole safe for protection, and soon the store assumed the duties of a banking institution. A group of local businessmen purchased the company and applied for a national bank charter, which was granted in January 1902. A two-story bank building was erected on the corner of Monseratte and Post Office Street. The bank's founders were instrumental in the development of El Campo and led efforts to have the city incorporated in 1905. Providing investment capital for the rice and oil industries, which were the foundations of El Campo's economy, the bank grew with the city, survived the Great Depression, and emerged as a strong financial institution serving residents throughout Wharton County. After sixty-five years at the Monseratte St. location the bank moved to a larger facility at this site. It continues to support business, civic, and youth activities throughout the county.

El Campo Texas Rice Farms Coop grain elevators
Rice Farmers Coop
Photo courtesy George Shaffer, 2007

El Campo Texas rice mural
Rice murals
Click on image to enlarge

Photo courtesy George Shaffer, 2007

El Campo, Texas Vintage Photos

Isaacson Gin Co's. Plant at El Campo, TX
Isaacson Gin Co's. Plant at El Campo, Texas
Click on image to enlarge
Postcard courtesy Dan Whatley Collection

El Campo Texas cotton gin advertising postcard 1910
Cotton Gin. "King Cotton is picked in August. Yield 1/2 ti 3/4 bales per acre, makes $25 to $40 per acre. Nine thousand acres in the El Campo district. Rice harvesting begins also in August."
Advertising Postcard circa. 1910 courtesy William Beauchamp

El Campo Texas cotton scene
Cotton scene in El Campo. Sept. 23, 1916
Old photo courtesy William Beauchamp
More on Cotton & Cotton Gins

El Campo, TX -Baling Hay on the open prairie
Baling Hay on the open prairie near El Campo, Texas
Click on image to enlarge
Courtesy Dan Whatley Collection

El Campo TX - Hay shipping
Courtesy Fayette County Heritage Museum and Archives

El Campo TX - Hay shipping
Hay-shipping in El Campo
Courtesy Fayette County Heritage Museum and Archives

 El Campo TX South Side St 1905
South Side Street 1905
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/

El Campo TX School
Public School Building in El Campo
Postcard courtesy www.rootsweb.com/ %7Etxpstcrd/
More Texas Schoolhouses

 El Campo, TX - churches
Churches of El Campo, Texas
Click on image to enlarge
Postcard courtesy Dan Whatley Collection

Take a road trip
Texas Gulf Coast

El Campo, Texas Nearby Towns:
Wharton the county seat
See Wharton County

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