Living in Bryan


Like many Texas communities in the mid- and late-19th century, Bryan began as a small-town stop along the state's expanding railway system. But almost from the beginning, Bryan was different: It quickly distinguished itself from the many other railway stops across the state by flourishing into a vibrant--and permanent--center of business and trade. In the nearly 140 years since Bryan's founding, many Texas railroad stops became nothing more than ghost towns. But the optimistic spirit and determination that built Bryan in its early years continues to define Bryan today. It is a community that successfully couples dynamic growth with historic importance.
Saint Andrews Epsicopal church

Early history

Before there was Bryan, there was Millican. The Houston and Texas Central (H&TC) Railroad Co. arrived in this community in 1860, making it the northernmost terminus. It soon became a vital distribution center for freight and Confederate troops throughout the Civil War. That same year, William Joel Bryan, nephew of Stephen F. Austin, sold a single square-mile tract in a townsite north of Millican to railroad directors Abram Groesbeck and W.R. Baker. The $3,200 purchase would soon become a full-fledged city serving the railway, its employees and its passengers. The townsite was named "Bryan" in William Joel Bryan's honor.

Old downtown Bryan

Houston and Texas Central railroad

Further expansion of the H&TC railroad was halted during the Civil War, but resumed afterward. Anticipating the arrival of the rail to Bryan in 1866, both the county seat and the post office moved from Boonville to Bryan, which had grown into a village of about 300 residents (at the time, only white residents were included in official records). On Aug. 19, 1867, the first train steamed into Bryan amidst a gala celebration. But as Bryan residents celebrated, Millican residents faced tremendous hardship. Yellow fever swept through their community only a few weeks after the railroad came to Bryan, and much of the town's population shifted to the new county seat.
In the early decades of the 20th century, small spur tracks ran to the Brazos River bottom, linking the rich cotton-producing lands with the city's five gins, two cotton yards, compresses, warehouses and rail lines to distant markets. In addition, its agricultural and mercantile businesses were linked by rail to major markets across the county. Downtown Bryan therefore grew to become the business hub for a large surrounding area.
Houston and Texas Central Railroad

City development
By 1870, Bryan had replaced Millican and Boonville as Brazos County's center of commerce.
In the late 1800s, a large number of German, Czech and Italian immigrants settled in the Brazos River Valley. Their children and grandchildren left area cotton farms and moved to Bryan, many entering the business world. Attracted by the community's prosperity, a merchant class developed. Many businessmen were involved in the export of cotton, grain, oil, livestock, wool and hides. Guy M. Bryan Jr. had established a money-lending office in 1875. By 1890, another major financial institution--the First National Bank of Bryan--had been established, as had utilities in the form of Bryan Compress Company and Bryan Water, Inc. and Electric Light Co., Inc. Bryan's first telephones were installed in 1918. Bryan also benefited from the Agriculture and Mechanical College (Texas A&M), which opened its doors in 1876. The college was located four miles outside of Bryan on land given to the state by Harvey Mitchell.

Throughout the early 1900s, Bryan continued to flourish, partly due to its rich agricultural farmlands, the railroad and the area's abundance of cotton, cattle and oil. Bryan survived the hard times of the Great Depression and continued to grow through the post-war years. In the late 1960s, local business interests established the Brazos County Industrial Park, creating an enhanced atmosphere for industrial development. The Bryan Business Park followed, fueling the area's growth.