Learn about Waco, Texas

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A glimpse of Waco’s history can make anyone understand and appreciate the dynamism of this north-central Texas city. 

Waco is a city and seat of McLennan County. It lies on the I-35 corridor between Dallas and Austin and along the Brazos River. According to a 2020 census, the city’s population was 138,486. A resident of Waco is called a “Wacoan.” Due to its location, Waco is dubbed the “Heart of Texas” and the “Buckle of the Bible Belt.” It is also home to one of the biggest parks that also houses one of the must-visit zoos in Texas.

A short history of Waco

Waco was named after a Wichita Indian tribe, Waco (Huaco or Hueco in Spanish), who first occupied the area. 

Many historical entries online claim that the indigenous tribe founded the present-day Waco in 1849. However, others point to Shapley Prince Ross, a ranger and Indian agent from Kentucky, who founded Waco. In 1849, Ross moved to Waco and settled there permanently; he also built a hotel that same year (it burned in 1871). His daughter Kate was later born there, thus becoming the first settler child born in Waco.

Waco was incorporated as a city on August 29, 1856.

Suspension bridge, Waco, Texas, 1911

After the Civil War, Waco’s leading residents started an ambitious project to build the first bridge spanning the Brazos River. The resulting bridge, the Waco Suspension Bridge, opened in late 1869. It served as a river-bridge crossing on cattle trails.

Like most communities at the time, Waco was primarily an agricultural city. Later, its industries focused almost exclusively on cotton – and since then, cotton reigned Waco’s economy for nearly half a century. In 1894, the city hosted the first Cotton Palace fair and exhibition center to emphasize the dominant contribution of the cotton industry to the region’s economy. Over the next 23 years, the fair attracted over eight million attendees.

Going fast-forward to the 20th century, Waco’s economic and industrial makeup began to change. World War II brought the Waco Army Air Field as a pilot training school. After the war, it was later renamed Connally Air Base and then the James Connally Air Force Base. The base was closed in 1966, and the Texas State Technical College now stands in its place.

Nevertheless, the opening of the air base signaled the start of industrialization in Waco.  While the city still depends on crops and livestock, other industries like manufacturing and service have expanded the city’s economic foundation. 

 

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Local tourism was also given a big boost, thanks to the hit home renovation TV series Fixer Upper. The series’ hosts (and real-life married couple) Chip and Joanna Gaines took over the operations of the Magnolia Market, a decades-old shopping complex on Webster Avenue in downtown Waco. In 2016, Magnolia Market attracted 1.2 million visitors. The Gaines have launched several other businesses, including a restaurant and a home improvement and furnishings store.

Magnolia Market Waco

Interesting facts about Waco

Waco is the birthplace of Dr. Pepper, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, and the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame.

If you’re into archaeology and paleontology, you should not miss visiting the Waco Mammoth National Monument, a 100-plus-acre stretch of wooded parkland along the Bosque River. It provides visitors a glimpse of the lives of the Columbian mammoth and other mammals during the Pleistocene Epoch. Of course, you can see the preserved bones of these prehistoric animals on the site.

Waco is the seat of three major colleges: Baylor University (1845), McLennan Community College (1965), and Texas State Technical College (1965).

You might call Waco the home of the Snickers bar. Since 1976, the Mars Wrigley Confectionery plant in Waco has been producing these famous chocolate nut bars, as well as other candies Skittles, and Starburst. This plant produces more Snickers than any other Mars Wrigley plant in the country. In 2020, the plant, in partnership with the Guinness Book of World Records, unveiled the biggest Snickers ever. It measured 12 feet long, 24 inches high, 26 inches wide, and weighed over two tons!

a person walking a longline in Cameron park

Waco is home to one of the biggest and best municipal parks in Texas, Cameron Park. Opened in 1910, it consists of a 416-acre (168-hectare) property situated on the Brazos and Bosque Rivers. It has 20 miles (32 kilometers) of trails, a disc golf course, playgrounds, picnic areas, and recreational areas. The sprawling park is reputed to have some of the most technical and challenging mountain bike trails in Texas. And not least of all, it contains the 52-acre (21-hectare) Cameron Park Zoo, rated one of the best and must-visit zoos in Texas.

For more information about Waco, visit its official site: https://www.waco-texas.com/

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