Killeen is a city in Bell County, Texas. Its population was 153,035 based on the 2020 census, making it currently the 21st-most populous city in Texas. It’s also the largest of the three main cities in Bell County.
Killeen lies in western Bell County. It is located 55 miles (89 kilometers) north of Austin, 125 miles (201 kilometers) southwest of Dallas, and 125 miles (201 kilometers) northeast of San Antonio. Learn more about the central Texas region.
The first thing you should know about Killeen is that it’s a military “boom town” due to the high influx of soldiers and its predominantly military-based economy. But Killeen is so much more than that.
A brief history about Killeen – from a farming town to a “military boom town”
Killeen’s origins began in 1882 as a railroad junction between Temple and Lampasas. The small community was named after Frank Patrick Killeen, the assistant manager of the railroad. The funny thing about this naming is that not only was Mr. Killeen not from that area, but he also never stepped foot in the town that bore his name. At the time, Killeen had a population of 350.
The small town had a railroad depot, a saloon, some stores, and a school. Killeen had the characteristics of a Wild West town, with several shoot-outs that seemed to be pretty much a regular thing there. In 1893 Killeen was incorporated to bring law and order to the community.
Killeen grew as it became an important shipping point for cotton, grain, and wool in western Bell and Coryell Counties. The town was still sparsely populated, with about 780 residents.
Like most former farming towns in the United States, Killeen experienced dramatic changes during and after World War II. But Killeen had an otherwise different “transformation” story.
When the USA entered the war, the US Army needed to train its troops to meet war demands. And so Camp Hood, which has since been renamed Fort Hood, was established as a military training post. As a result, hundreds and thousands of people – soldiers, workers, and their families – moved into Killeen, rapidly turning the farming city into a military boom town.
Camp Hood covered nearly half of the city’s farming trade area. The opening of a new and sprawling military training facility radically altered Killeen’s economic path. The bad side of this radical change, though, was the loss of over 300 farms and ranches that led to the closure of cotton gin businesses and other farm-related industries. New businesses sprang up in place of the farm businesses to provide service to the military camp. Camp Hood had become a permanent fixture in Killeen when it was recommissioned as Fort Hood.
By the mid-1950s, Killeen’s population was 21,076. Despite a couple of recessions that hit the city, Killeen’s development and population continued to grow. By 1970, the city’s population was 35,507; at the time, a municipal airport also opened. By 1980, the city’s population was 49,307. Ten years later, it was 63,535.
By 2000, the population even grew with 86,111 residents; by 2010, it was more than 127,000.
Some interesting facts about Killeen
One interesting aspect of Killeen’s population is the large minority of Koreans. Due to the routine unit deployments and stationing in South Korea, a significant number of American soldiers marry Korean women. So, it’s not surprising to spot Korean businesses in Killeen, mostly groceries, restaurants, and cafés.
Killeen’s economy heavily depends on the military. Fort Hood is the top employer in Killeen, with more than 58,000 workers. But since the latter half of the 20th century, Killeen’s economy has diversified.
The late rock n’ roll legend Elvis Presley was stationed at Fort Hood and lived in Killeen for a time.
Osan in South Korea and San Juan in Puerto Rico are Killeen’s sister cities.
If you think that Killeen is a sober and dull military city, you’ll be surprised to find a lot of fun of things to do there. There are parks and nature trails, sports and recreation centers, arts and culture venues, museums, some fitness and wellness centers, restaurants, bars, cafés, and at least one golf course.
Central Texas Theater, formerly Vive Les Arts Theater, is a full-time arts organization that produces main stage and children’s theater productions each year.
One of the essential things to do when you’re in Killeen is to learn about the city’s connection with the military. The 1st Cavalry Division Museum and the 3rd Armored Cavalry Division are good places to do so.
Looking for something a bit more different? See Killeen from a bird’s eye view by enjoying a scenic flight from the helicopter. The company, Freedom Helicopters, makes that tour possible. In addition to offering the one-of-a-kind sightseeing experience, Freedom Helicopters provides flight training and aerial photography lessons.
If you’re visiting big cities like Dallas or Austin, don’t overlook smaller cities like Killeen. They offer a unique and larger-than-life history that may surprise you. Their wide range of tourist attractions are almost on par with those of the megacities in Texas, sans the crowds and the traffic.