History of Sugar Land

Prisoner on mule pulling carts of sugar cane, Convict Leasing Photograph 11

Prisoner on a mule pulling carts of sugar cane.

Prisoners in the field loading sugar cane into carts, Convict Leasing Photograph 10

Prisoners in the field loading sugar cane into carts.

Prisoners operating a crane to move loads of sugar cane, Convict Leasing Photograph 9

Prisoners operating a crane to move loads of sugar cane.

Samuel M. Williams, the first settler on the plot that is now called Sugar Land, dubbed his newly inherited land “Oakland Plantations”, for the variety of oaks that grew in the area. Granted the land by Stephen F. Austin (who received it from the Mexican government) in 1828, the Williams family ran their corn, cotton, and sugarcane-growing plantation until 1853, when they sold it to Benjamin F. Terry and William J. Kyle, a pair of gold prospectors who’d managed to scrape together a fortune in California. Terry and Kyle continued to oversee the plantation’s operations until their deaths. The land was then bought by E. H. Cunningham, who began the development of his sugar refinery.

In 1908, Isaac H. Kempner and William T. Eldridge bought Cunningham’s sugar plantation and created Imperial Sugar Company. A modest company town began to form around the sugar company, with Imperial itself providing housing (much of which remains standing today), hospitals, and businesses for its workers. Sugar Land remained largely a company town until 1959, when voters officially made it a city. The population grew steadily, from 3,100 in 1964 to 14,898 in 1988, to an estimated 83,860 in 2013, helped in large part by the development in its neighboring city of Houston.

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History of Sugar Land