Happy Birthday, Bellaire!

Texas has a varied and intricate history of the state itself and of all the people that witnessed it.  Our southeastern coast has stories of pirates and shipwrecks. A little further inland, we have the wild west and huge cattle ranches. We have stories of battles for independence. One of those amazing stories is the history of our neighbors in Bellaire. As reported by the Houston Chronicle, our Bellaire neighborhood is celebrating it’s 100th birthday.

Bellaire celebrating 100-year milestones

Bellaire was incorporated on June 24, 1918, and the city’s first town marshal was appointed just weeks later.

The community is commemorating the 100th anniversary of the city and its police department in multiple ways, including free bus tours to teach residents about its history.

R.W. McKinney, Houston historian and Mister McKinney of Mister McKinney’s Historic Houston, said railroad executive William Wright Baldwin founded Bellaire in 1908, and as the town grew, its residents decided to incorporate 10 years later.

McKinney, who is also president of the Bellaire Historical Society, said the city included the areas from Palmetto to Jessamine, and Sixth (now Ferris) to Fourth (now South Rice). According to an advertisement from 1911, a 50- by 135-foot lot could be purchased for $250, and farming land went for $150 an acre.

The name Bellaire, McKinney said, came from a community along one of Baldwin’s rail lines called Bellaire, Ohio, but later marketing would emphasize the translation “good air.”

Back then, Bellaire was a rural area, and McKinney said most people made their living from agriculture like citrus, apples or pecan groves. He said Baldwin’s rail line into downtown Houston helped Bellaire prosper.

“What made this area successful really was William Wright Baldwin’s purchase of a rail line that would go east to west, which connects the city of Houston to the city of Bellaire,” McKinney said.

“A trolley from downtown Houston would go all the way down Bellaire Boulevard, which is now called Holcombe, to the west of Buffalo Speedway.”

McKinney said Bellaire owes a lot to the endurance and grit of its roughly 200 original settlers. He said in 1915, residents came together to rebuild after two-thirds of their homes were demolished by a hurricane. In 1917, a big freeze destroyed crops, and in 1919, a massive flood caused more damage.

“These milestones really challenged the early pioneers, and if they weren’t that strong, we wouldn’t have a Bellaire today,” McKinney said.

Chief of Police Byron Holloway said on July 8, 1918, Bellaire’s three town council members appointed J.B. Huddleston as the first town marshal, and since then, the department has grown to 58 employees.

Holloway said the Bellaire Police Department continues to change, but its focus on the services it provides has remained constant. He said good parks, schools, libraries and roadways all make Bellaire a great place to call home and that “the police department is just a part of creating an environment that allows all good things to flourish.”

The department is a place of stability for the community it serves, Holloway said.

“The Bellaire Police Department has been the one constant in Bellaire: when people don’t know who else to call, they will call us,” he said.

City Council is scheduled to recognize the 100th anniversary of the department at its meeting July 2.

McKinney has been educating Houston-area children since 2002. Today, his Houston History Bus offers free tours in neighborhoods around the greater Houston area.

On June 22, city officials held a 100th anniversary commemoration as well as a ribbon-cutting for the launch of Mister McKinney’s Historic Houston’s bus tours of Bellaire. The event also celebrated the coming of the new H-E-B Bellaire Market, which opened June 27.

The first Bellaire bus tours started June 24 and McKinney said they will help residents understand their city’s past.

“They offer a glimpse of the past. They offer an opportunity to learn what used to be there because Bellaire and Houston are so forward-thinking that they’re always kind of growing and evolving, and we’re not saving things that matter [from] the past,” McKinney said.

The tours are funded through the donations of individuals and organizations. Stone Acorn Builders funded the first Bellaire tours. To learn more about the tours, visit www.mistermckinney.com. For information about donating, visit www.houstonhistorybus.org. Private tours are also available.

City Manager Paul Hofmann said 100 years later, Bellaire does a lot of things well and that it residents appreciate the quality of services and responsiveness that the city and its staff provide.

“The city of Bellaire does a good job of managing the community’s resources. The city council is engaged and informed and effectively balances the community’s expectations of service with reasonable affordability concerns,” Hofmann said.

He said residents’ involvement and their “volunteer spirit” are part of what has made Bellaire a thriving city throughout the years.

“They made a decision to live here because it’s a great place to live and raise a family, and they want to keep it that way,” Hofmann said.

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