By Jody Fuchs
The town of Crosby is one of the oldest settlements in Texas. It’s probably the thirteenth oldest town in the State. It has a rich history that began in 1823, when Humphrey Jackson built a log cabin on Jackson Bayou near its confluence with the San Jacinto River. Humphrey was a lawyer readying for a position in the Irish Parliament. His family was part of the Irish aristocracy and they had supported a bloody rebellion that lost to Great Britain. Like Humphrey, many of his family members fled to America. His close cousins included US President Andrew Jackson, and Alabama State Senator James Jackson, the wealthiest man in that state.
Humphrey was one of the original “Old 300” settlers of Stephen F. Austin’s first Anglo colony in Texas. However, Humphrey faced tremendous challenges in his dream to build a new settlement in what would be East Harris County. The area was occupied by the Akokisa and Karankawa Indians, who often cannibalized their enemies. The natives had frequented the free-flowing springs near Crosby’s original downtown area for thousands of years.
Unfortunately, the early death of Humphrey’s wife in 1824, and the eventual premature death of Humphrey himself, ended his dream. He was killed by a falling tree in 1833. He and his wife’s large zinc gravestone in downtown Crosby marks what is considered to be the oldest grave marker in Harris County, and also one of the oldest marked Anglo graves in the entire state.
Originally, the area may have gone by some earlier names such as Jackson’s Settlement or Jones’ Crossing. In fact, different parts of Crosby probably carried different names simultaneously. Two areas of today’s Crosby were originally called Dunman’s Settlement and Baker’s Mill. Dunman’s Settlement was located along Gulf Pump Road between FM 2100 and the San Jacinto River. In 1848, Sarah and David Penn built a multi-use structure that was a school, church and town meeting hall that was located behind present day Barrett Station. Baker’s Mill was located behind Newport, near present-day Baker’s Lake. It was a sawmill company town.
Today Crosby includes all of those early areas, but it didn’t get its first post office until 1863, when the town was called Gentry. It received that name in 1860, when the Texas & New Orleans Railway built one of the first train tracks in Texas that passed right through present day Crosby. Gentry was named after the T&NO Railroad president, Abraham Gentry. The railway was completed just three months before the Civil War and was used to transport Confederate soldiers and materials all throughout the war. The Simms Home Guard was based in Crosby and maintained a couple of cannons to defend the San Jacinto railroad bridge. In early January 1863, several Union POW soldiers were sent to Crosby to fortify the railroad bridge. A brutal winter storm killed them on January twelfth along with Mercer McKinney, and another guard named George. George was most likely Mercer’s longtime family slave, righthand man, and friend based on the events. The Union soldiers are suspected to be buried in a mass grave in the Crosby area. Making Crosby one of the few places in Texas to have both Union and Confederate soldiers killed in action.
By the war’s end, the railroad was in terrible shape and was closed for the most part until 1876. In early 1877, the town’s name was changed to Crosby after the post-Civil War head of the T&NO Railroad, Josiah Frazer Crosby. In 1895, the construction of a railroad depot helped establish the towns original downtown area. The town quickly became the regional shipping hub and agriculture powerhouse of east Harris County. Soon Swedish and Czech immigrants among others swelled the population of the town. By 1915, Crosby had four cotton gins, and it even had its own courthouse and jail from 1913 to 1919. Over the years it has had a train station, a bus station, and a public airfield. It boasted one of the first concrete bridges and roads in Harris County. This is probably attributed to the fact that from 1881 until 1920, virtually every Harris County Commissioner was from Crosby. Even one of the earliest County Health Officer’s was from Crosby. During the Texas Oil Boom of the 1920s, it was located centrally between three of the earliest oil fields.
In 1953, the town briefly changed its name to Hope, Texas in a publicity stunt aimed at Hollywood star Bing Crosby by his friend and sparring partner, comedian Bob Hope. It wasn’t the first or last time that the town would receive national attention. Numerous times since then, it has been the subject of news events, movies, books and songs. Its residents have won two Grammy’s, two Tony Awards and eight Emmys. The town has also produced a handful of professional athletes and cheerleaders, rodeo stars, inventors, dancers, musicians, authors, poets, and both Broadway and TV stars. It also holds a national meteorological record from 2017, when Hurricane Harvey dumped well over 60 plus inches of rain on the town during a single rain event, breaking the US record of 52” previously held by Hawaii. Through the years the town has been visited by Princes, Kings and Presidents.
The population of Crosby consisted of only 50 people in 1884, but had swollen to 600 by 1929. By the early 1940s, it had reached 900 people. Today the population is over 60,000 and it is in the middle of a residential construction boom. Once all of those new homes are occupied, it is expected to have a population of over 80,000.