You might be wondering why we are doing this series on the Houston Wards. With the launch of our new site, we decided that we want one focus of Just Vibe Houston to encourage you to get out there and explore your city! The best way to do that is to learn the history and then travel to those real discoveries that will entice you to get out there and see all that Houston has to offer. We have moved through the history, discoveries, and must-try restaurants of Houston’s First Ward, and now we are working our way into the Second Ward. The history and culture of Houston’s Second Ward is an integral part of the fabric of our city and has helped define Houston for the city that it is today.
Houston’s Second Ward: History
Like the First Ward, Houston’s Second Ward is also a part of the original four-ward charter and was officially brought into existence in 1839 as a way to better govern the newly emerging city of Houston. At the time, this particular ward covered the northeast section of Houston and was bordered on the west by Main Street, to the south by Congress, and to the north by Buffalo Bayou. It held the city’s courthouse, which attracted many lawyers and other white collar professionals to the region.
This area eventually became home to many large warehouses making the area popular among merchants and other workers. Through the years, growing developments and industries meant that this part of town regularly provided an abundance of jobs. The widening of the ship channel in the early 1900s, expansion of railroad tracks, and the eventual development of the Warehouse District created a large demand for labor.
Houston’s Second Ward: Diversity
By 1860, over half the population of Houston’s Second Ward was immigrants born on foreign soil. German immigrants made up the most significant percentage of this demographic, but a total of eighteen countries were represented, including Ireland, France, Nassau, Mexico, Switzerland Italy, Cuba, and Algeria. While Germans settled over many areas of Houston—and Texas—the Second Ward became a center for German culture and community in the 1800s. This would leave a lasting impression on the area, which could not even be snuffed out by the Espionage Act of 1917 or the anti-German hysteria following the outbreak of World War I. However, this did result in the changing of German Street to the name we know it by today: Canal Street.
In the early 1900s, the old residential areas gave way to the industrial and the Warehouse District was born. The demographics of the area had shifted dramatically to include more natural-born citizens compared to the region’s earlier days. Though Germany remained the largest source of immigrants to the area, many Russians had begun moving in, a significant portion of which were Jewish. At this time the Hispanic population also grew, resulting in the formation of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church. At this time Houston’s Second Ward was relatively segregated, with the Hispanic population primarily residing in “El Alacran”. After World War II this division was largely forgotten and the populations finally intermixed.
Frost Town was one of the earliest neighborhoods and would become Houston’s first suburb. The town was named after the Frost family who first settled there on the land where modern day James Bute Park now sits. Samuel and Jonathan Frost were the first owners of the plot of land when it served as a homestead, but it was quickly broken down into pieces and sold to others moving into the area. Residents were predominately wealthy and included architects and investors. For most of the 19th-century the neighborhood was chiefly made up of German immigrants, but in the early 1900s, Frost Town would give way to El Barrio del Alacrán.
Magnolia Park was built in 1890, developed from a plot of land owned by Thomas M. Brady. It was aptly named, reflecting the nearly 4,000 magnolia trees that were planted there. In 1909 Magnolia Park officially became an independent municipality and would end up being a prime location near the Houston Ship Channel offering many jobs and drawing in a large inpouring of working-class people. It later became known as “Little Mexico” and would be the city’s largest Mexican-American community.
Segundo Barrio and El Barrio del Alacrán
Following the influx of Mexican immigrants in the early 1900s, the Second Ward would come to be referred to as Segundo Barrio. El Barrio del Alacrán, which grew out of old Frost Town, allegedly got its name due to the excessive amount of scorpions that plagued the outhouses in the area. The neighborhood provided affordable housing for industrial workers, including Mexican-American immigrants. Community and familial ties were strong among these working-class settlers. Unfortunately, by the mid-20th century, the area was completely erased by modern housing developments and the construction of Highway 59. Though the physical structures are gone, the Latin heritage is still a deeply ingrained part of the neighborhood’s identity today.
We hope you enjoyed our brief dive into the past of Houston’s Second Ward. Join us next time as we take you through some real discoveries of the area.