Learn More about First Ward, Houston

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If you’ve ever wandered through Houston and stumbled upon the First Ward, you know it’s a place with a story to tell. This neighborhood, one of the oldest in the city, is a fascinating blend of history, art, and community vibes. Picture charming historic homes, vibrant street art, and a community that’s both rich in tradition and buzzing with new developments.

History of First Ward

Early Beginnings in the 1800s

First Ward has been around since the 1800s, initially as a working-class neighborhood. Back then, it was mostly farms, many run by German immigrants. The area was also famous for its springs, which offered cleaner water than the Buffalo Bayou, the main water source for most of Houston.

Growth and Development in the Early 1900s

Because the neighborhood was located near Houston’s main docks, a warehouse district was established, making Commerce Street known as “Produce Row.” This district was key to the growth and development of First Ward.

In the 1900s, many European immigrants, predominantly Italians, set up grocery shops here. The area was a true working man’s community, home to laborers, grocers, and service workers. Because it was close to Houston and Texas Central railroad lines, it also meant that many railroad employees lived in First Ward.

The Role of the Railroad and Streetcars

In the early 20th century, the railroad provided many jobs for First Ward residents. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, both mule-drawn and electric streetcars served as the main public transportation. In 1903, Highland Park, a popular recreational area, was established.

Architectural Heritage

Between 1890 and 1930, the neighborhood was filled with Craftsman bungalows and Queen Anne cottages. Over the years, many of the original homes were replaced by new townhouses, but many historic buildings still stand, showcasing late 19th and early 20th-century Texas folk architecture.

By the early 21st century, First Ward was split into Low First Ward (east of Houston Avenue) and High First Ward (west of Houston Avenue). Its informal boundaries are IH 10 to the north, Washington Avenue to the south, IH 45 to the west, and Sawyer Street to the west.

Modern Developments

First Ward has continued to grow both economically and as a community. By the 2010s, residents focused on restoring several historic structures, and the neighborhood became known for its thriving art scene. On May 28, 2014, First Ward was designated a City of Houston Historic District.

Geography of First Ward

Allen's Landing park at Buffalo Bayou and White Oak in the First Ward

The First Ward of Houston is situated inside the 610 Loop, making it one of the city’s historic wards. It was originally the heart of Houston’s business district, strategically located where Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou intersect, near the area now known as Allen’s Landing.

First Ward was one of Houston’s original four wards, established back in 1840. Its central location made it a bustling hub for commerce and trade, contributing significantly to the city’s growth in its early years. Today, while the business center has expanded beyond this area, the historical significance of First Ward remains a key part of its identity.

These are the informal boundaries of First Ward:

  • IH 10 to the north
  • Washington Avenue to the south
  • IH 45 to the west
  • Sawyer Street to the east

Economic Development

First Ward has seen significant economic shifts over the years. Originally, the ward’s economic base was heavily industrial. Companies like Matheson and Tejas Materials, which provide industrial services, still employ hundreds of people in the area.

In recent years, First Ward has transformed into a vibrant arts district. The Sawyer Yards is at the heart of the arts scene. Converted from a Mahatma Rice facility in 2015, Sawyer Yards, along with Spring Street Studios and Winter Street Studios, hosts a diverse array of artists.

Sawyer Heights Village serves as First Ward’s commercial anchor. This shopping center provides a mix of retail options for both residents and visitors.

Education

University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) in Houston, Texas

First Ward offers a diverse range of educational opportunities:

Public Schools

The First Ward falls within the Houston Independent School District (HISD). For families living in this neighborhood, the zoned public schools include:

  • Crockett Elementary School
  • Hogg Middle School
  • Reagan High School

Historically, the area was served by Hawthorne Elementary School, which opened in 1893, replacing the original Houston Avenue School (later known as the First Ward School). This school closed in 1959, and Richard Brock Elementary School opened on the former site in 1967. In 2006, this building was converted to the Crockett Early Childhood Center, taking over Brock’s attendance zone.

Higher Education

The University of Houston–Downtown (UHD) is located within the First Ward for those seeking higher education. Founded in 1974, UHD is a four-year state university and part of the University of Houston System. With an enrollment of approximately 12,900 students, it is the 13th-largest public university in Texas and the second-largest in Houston. This institution provides a range of undergraduate and graduate programs.

Fun Facts About First Ward

  • First Ward was established in 1840 as one of Houston’s original four wards. It was the center of the city’s business district in the early days, strategically located at the intersection of Buffalo Bayou and White Oak Bayou.
  • The area was initially populated by German immigrants who established farms and used natural springs for clean water, which was a safer option than Buffalo Bayou at the time.
  • Historically, First Ward was an industrial hub with many warehouses and factories. Companies like Matheson and Tejas Materials still operate here, employing hundreds of people.
  • Today, First Ward is primarily known as an arts district. The transformation began with the development of Sawyer Yards, which converted a former Mahatma Rice facility into a vibrant, creative campus in 2015.
  • The Sawyer Yards includes Winter Street Studios, Spring Street Studios, and The Silos. These spaces host numerous artists and feature monthly events like the Second Saturday Open Studios.
  • The University of Houston–Downtown, located within First Ward, is the second-largest university in the Houston area. With around 12,900 students, it offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs.
  • The neighborhood has many historic buildings, including Craftsman bungalows and Queen Anne cottages from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite modern development, many historic structures have been preserved.
  • First Ward hosts various cultural events and festivals. One of the most popular is the Market at Sawyer Yards, which takes place alongside the Second Saturday Open Studios, featuring local art, crafts, and food.
  • On May 28, 2014, First Ward was designated a City of Houston Historic District.
  • Despite its industrial roots, First Ward features green spaces and recreational areas, such as the First Ward Community Garden and trails along Buffalo Bayou, which connect residents to nature and outdoor activities.

Conclusion

First Ward uniquely blends history, art, and community spirit. It’s a neighborhood that proudly honors its past while embracing the future, making it a must-visit spot in Houston. So, next time you’re in the area, be sure to check out all that First Ward has to offer!

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