Since the beginning of the industry as a viable means of transportation, railroads have played a monumental part in the development of communities. Pearland is one of them – in fact, the town was born with the railroad. Much of the town’s vitality in the early years was centered on the Santa Fe Railroad Depot. As trains brought in people and supplies from distant towns, it quickly became the center of business and social activities – indeed it also brought in news from the rest of the world.
The Birth of a Town
It all began in 1861, when Pearland came into being with a grant of land applied for by the Brazoria Railroad Company. Already in operation when the Civil War took place, the railroad ran from Houston to Brazoria County. By the end of the war, the railroad’s condition deteriorated considerably. Eventually, in 1871, Masterson & Wagley bought the B.R.R. at a public sale. Later, a conglomerate of railroad companies, which included the Santa Fe Railroad set the ground for Pearland’s growth as a viable railroad community.
On May 28, 1973, the Gulf, Colorado, and Santa Fe companies were chartered when some dedicated Galveston merchants set out to build a railroad going into the interior of Texas without passing through Houston. But eventually, Houston became too big to ignore as a trading post, and the railroad did reach into the city, passing through Pearland.
But it wasn’t until a land boom that Pearland experienced its real growth period. In 1892, a businessman from Brazoria County, L.W Murdoch, conveyed a large swath of land in the Pearland area to a Polishman named Captain Witold von Zychlinski, who set aside 250 acres along both sides of the railroad as a town site. The land was then divided into lots to be sold to incoming settlers to colonize the land. To encourage settlers to come, many fruit trees were planted, and the name given to the town was “Pear-land.”
The plots were contracted to the Southern Homestead Company, which helped to develop the area and attract buyers from the colder Midwestern states to come to Texas and grow pears. Indeed, the railroad was a major factor in bringing in these new settlers, not only from the northern states, but across the country, and also for shipping the fruit harvest to the northern markets. It was the primary method of shipment at the time, as there were no good roads going into the Houston area.
For many years, the train depot was the main gathering point in Pearland, drawing small crowds of people every time a train rolled into town. It was a place where people gathered to share news and where shipments from the big city of Houston arrived.
Following a devastating storm in 1900, a second population boom happened around 1910 when land was promoted by the Allison-Richey Company as a garden area where orange groves and figs could be planted on a commercial scale. It used the convenience of the railroads as part of its advertising campaign, bringing in prospective land buyers from all over. Many residents living in Pearland today are direct descendants of this 2nd population boom.
As the 1900s wore on, better roads were built, quickly followed by cars, which contributed to the decline of the railroad as a more popular means of transportation. By 1972, no passenger trains stopped in Pearland, and the station was used primarily as a freight depot. The depot building has changed hands several times over the years, to be used for various community purposes.
In March of 1980, the city of Pearland sold the depot building property to the First Baptist Church, and plans were made to move it to its present location at 3501 Liberty Drive, where it became the Pearland Area Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau. Despite its many renovations over the years, great care has been taken to preserve its historical authenticity as a railroad depot, and there is an informational plaque in front of the building telling of its illustrious history.