Dickinson and the Bayou, which shares the same name, were named for John Dickinson. In 1824, he received a land grant from the Mexican government for the area just north of the present day location of Dickinson.
Around 1850, a settlement was established along the shores of Dickinson Bayou. By 1860, Dickinson became a stop on the Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad. The town had a post office in 1890 registered under its current name.
Italian immigrants began to arrive in the United States in appreciable numbers after 1870. Railroad companies actively encouraged passenger and commercial traffic toward Texas. As early as the 1870s, the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railway issued a monthly periodical advertising Texas land and offering low rates for immigrants.
The United States Secretary of Agriculture toured Galveston County in 1899. In Galveston he stated, “Within an hour’s ride you have thousands of acres of the finest land in the world – land that will raise anything – unsettled, unused and for sale at $15 an acre.”
Italian farmers were soon attracted to the mainland of Galveston County and groups of Italians settled at League City, La Marque, and along Dickinson Bayou. Dickinson became the largest Italian community in the county. Good fortune followed the Italians to Dickinson, where once again affordable land could be found.
Early Economic Development
In the 1890s, Fred M. Nichols, the son of E. B. Nichols, and 8 other businessmen organized the Dickinson Land and Improvement Association to market unoccupied land in the Dickinson area. The primary attraction was the local soil's proven suitability for growing fruit, cane, berries, and potatoes. Nichols converted 40 acres of his estate into a public park, known as the Dickinson Picnic Grounds. For the next 3 decades, large groups came from Galveston to Dickinson to picnic and holiday on the grounds.
A Texas Coast Fair was organized at the Dickinson Picnic Grounds in 1896, and a harness racetrack was built to attract more people to Dickinson. Those grounds is supposedly where the great harness champion Dan Patch once ran. By 1911, the Galveston and Houston Electric Railway Company had 3 stops in Dickinson and prominent Galvestonians had established the Oleander Country Club and built homes there.
Prohibition & Gambling
Dickinson was considered a wide-open town during prohibition from 1917 - 1933. Rum-running and bootlegging flourished, providing vices to thousands of people in its heyday.
Gambling became prominent in Dickinson and stayed active until 1957 with the popular gambling clubs including the Dickinson Social Club, the Little Club, and the Rose Garden. In 1957, Attorney General Will Wilson and the Texas Rangers effectively shut down open gambling throughout Galveston County.
Growth After World War II
Industrialization and the growth of the oil industry in the Houston and Galveston areas after both World Wars contributed to Dickinson's growth. Additional growth resulted from the establishment of NASA and the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center just north of Dickinson in Clear Lake City in 1962. The fluctuating population figures of the town reflect these influences. Dickinson had a population of 149 in 1904. In 1914, the town had a population of 250, 12 businesses, and a bank. After World War I, the population had risen to 1,000, however, it dropped to 760 in 1931 and then rose again to 1,000 in 1933.The population remained stable through the rest of the Great Depression years. During World War II, the population rose to 1,500. By 1952, the population grew to 3,500 and, by 1961, it was 4,715.
By the 1970s, the cities of Texas City and League City, through aggressive annexation, began to encroach on Dickinson. Consequently, residents of the central area worked to incorporate the city in 1977. In the 1990s, the additional areas of town were annexed into the incorporated city and form the Dickinson city limits as they exist today. Today, the population within the city limits is approximately 20,000 with a population in the retail trade area of an estimated 89,709.
For More Information
For more information on the vibrant history of Dickinson, visit the Dickinson Railroad Museum located at 218 FM 517 West. Call 281-534-4367 for hours of operation and admission information.