In 1836, John Kirby Allen and Augustus Chapman Allen founded the city of Houston. Three years later in 1839, they divided their new city into wards, giving the first names to the city’s many neighborhoods.
The four original wards, which spread like spokes from their central meeting point at the corner of Congress and Main Street, were created using geographic boundaries, like streets and Buffalo Bayou, rather than population or demographics.
Houston’s wards were used as part of the city’s electoral system, with each ward receiving two elected aldermen to serve alongside the mayor, who was elected by a citywide vote of all eligible individuals.
At first, the wards largely centered around the type of business performed in the respective area.
The first ward served as the city’s business district, while the second ward was home to the courthouse and large warehouses.
The second ward also established itself as a diverse area early in the city’s founding, with populations of Jewish Americans, African Americans and Mexican Americans commonly settling there.
The third ward was initially the home of white-collared Houstonians before becoming central to the city’s struggle for racial equality.
The fourth ward became a settling place for the city’s African American population, who lived in the ward’s Freedman’s Town, a community of freed slaves who moved into the area after the Civil War.
Unfortunately, the fourth ward has been one of the least-preserved areas in the city because of constant development as the population rose and shifted in demographics.
The wards eventually became lop-sided, with more people living in the first and second wards than others, and to allow for better representation in these booming areas, the city created a fifth ward from parts of the first two in 1866.
Finally, the sixth ward split off from part of the fourth ward in 1876.
While the ward system of electing council members ended in 1915, many Houston residents still hold onto their ward names as a source of cultural pride.
As local historian Ann Wilson told the Houston Chronicle in 2004, “Everybody likes to feel they have a past.”