Dickinson is a city in northwestern Galveston County within the Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land metropolitan area and located on State Highway 3. It was named for John Dickinson, who in 1824 received a Mexican grant for land north of the community's present site. A settlement called Dickinson existed on Dickinson's Bayou shortly before 1850. The Galveston, Houston and Henderson Railroad, one of the earliest chartered in Texas, was built straight through Dickinson in 1857. That same year, one of the railroad's directors, Ebenezer B. Nichols, built a summer estate on Dickinson Bayou. He brought the first slaves to Dickinson. During the Civil War , Dickinson was a Confederate town. In January 1862 a hospital for Confederate soldiers was established at Camp Kirby and located in the Nolan home next to the railroad on the south side of Dickinson Bayou. Gen. John B. Magruder used the GH&H railroad for his successful retaking of Galveston in 1863. Dickinson had a post office in 1890 registered under its current name.
In 1890 Fred M. Nichols, the son of E. B., and eight other businessmen organized the Dickinson Land and Improvement Association to market unoccupied land in the Dickinson area. The primary attraction was the local soil's proven suitability for growing fruit, cane, berries, figs and potatoes. Nichols converted forty acres of his estate into a public park, the Dickinson Picnic Grounds. For the next three decades, people came from Galveston to picnic and holiday on the grounds. A Texas Coast Fair was organized there by 1896, and a harness racetrack was built to attract more people to Dickinson. By 1911 the Galveston and Houston Electric Railway Company had three stops in Dickinson. For recreation, a group of wealthy Galvestonians established the Oleander Country Club on the south end of the bayou in 1912. The club increased property values and became a tourist attraction.
In the late 1800s African Americans bought property which became known as Moore’s Addition and settled there. In 1889 Warren Chapel, named after preacher Richard H. Warren, was founded in Dickinson and, decades later, eventually became Faith United Methodist Church. From the same era, dating back to the 1800s, is the Magnolia Cemetery, originally called Dickinson Colored Cemetery. Blacks also worked in the gambling clubs during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. Dickinson was a “wide-open” town during prohibition from 1920 to 1933 and was known for illicit sale of alcohol.
Another impetus for Dickinson's development came from Italian immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century. A large group from Sicily who had settled in the Bryan area in 1894, were forced out by a series of floods. The Sicilians came to Dickinson from Highbank, two miles east of the Brazos River, in June 1899, when Highbank flooded. Clemente Nicolini, owner of an import-export business in Galveston, was also the Italian Consul and helped the Sicilian Italians resettle in the Galveston area, including Dickinson, where he was a property owner. In 1905 the U. S. Italian ambassador, Baron Mayor des Planches, who found suitable places of settlement for the large number of newly-arrived Italians living in overcrowded tenements in Eastern cities, visited Dickinson. His welcome by an estimated 150 Italians at the train station convinced him that Dickinson would be an excellent place for Italian settlement.
In the early twentieth century Dickinson was called the “garden of Galveston County” and became known as the Strawberry Capital of the World. John Falco was the first president of the Dickinson’s Growers’ Association. In 1917 Frank Emmite and John Falco started the Dickinson Ice and Fuel Company and developed a refrigeration system and a way to make ice from artesian wells and springs.
Italian immigrant Joseph Peter Giacchino built a home in Dickinson’s Nicholstone subdivision in 1929 and soon constructed a small seed store on his property. Next to his home was an old gas station which became his blacksmith shop. Giacchino was the county’s sole blacksmith for thirty-two years, from 1930 to his death in 1962. His seed store was continued by his daughter, Caroline Mallory for another thirty-five years.
Industrialization and the expansion of the oil industry in the Houston and Galveston area after both world wars contributed further to Dickinson's growth. In 1934 an oilfield was developed near Dickinson. More growth came with NASA's 1962 establishment of the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Webster just north of Dickinson. The fluctuating population figures of the town reflect these influences. Dickinson had a population of 149 in 1904. In 1914 the town had a population of 250, twelve businesses, and a bank. After World War I the population rose to 1,000, dropped to 760 in 1931, but increased again to 1,000 in 1933 and remained stable through the rest of the Great Depression years. During World War II it rose to 1,500. By 1952 it was 3,500 and by 1961, 4,715. In 1970 the town's population peaked at 12,161. In 1977 Dickinson was incorporated with a population of about 11,000. In 1990 it had an estimated population of 9,497 and more than 150 businesses. In 2000 the population increased to 17,093 with 671 businesses. Eighty percent of the city’s homes were damaged when Hurricane Harvey dumped fifty-one inches of rain on the community in 2017, but the number of residents continued to increase, and the 2020 census recorded a population of 21, 573.
Dickinson has been an agricultural service center, a residential community, and is currently the site of a mineral-oil processor, Calumet Penreco, since 1942, operating in the original fig factory. The Dickinson Railroad Museum testifies to the town's past as a commercial hub. In 2019 the Dickinson Seed Store, originally opened by Joseph Giacchino, was moved to the railroad museum grounds for preservation by the Dickinson Historical Society. In 2020 the Sicilian Italian community held its first annual Dickinson Little Italy Festival of Galveston County.
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Pat Daniels, Citizen First, Banker Second (Houston: Peninsula Press of Texas, 1995; D. Armstrong Co. Inc. 2007). Ernie Deats, Dickinson: 1860–1960, History Hard Work and Honor(Marceline, Missouri: D-Books Publishing, Inc., 2007). Dickinson Historical Society (http://www.dickinsonhistoricalsociety.org/), accessed March 3, 2022. Matthew Falco Jr., The Dickinson That Was: Facts, Tales and a Bit of History (Dickinson, Texas: Matthew Falco, 2014). Dixie Salvato Flint, Interview by Joyce J. Zongrone, February 4, 2022. Jim Hudson, Dickinson: Taller Than the Pines (Burnet, Texas: Nortex, 1979). Joan Malmrose, Director of Dickinson Historical Scoiety, Interview by Joyce J. Zongrone, March 1, 2022.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Pember W. Rocap
Joyce J. Zongrone,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed July 01, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
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