East Columbia, on the Brazos River nine miles west of Angleton in west central Brazoria County, was founded by Josiah Hughes Bell in 1823. Bell's plantation landing on the Brazos, which served as a supply depot for settlements on the river above, was first known as Bell's Landing, but in 1824 Bell laid out the new town and named it Marion. He advertised the sale of lots in 1829, but the promotion did not succeed. By 1831 the community had only two or three cabins, a country store, and the frame house of Bell's plantation. As large sugar and cotton plantations were established in the area, however, mercantile establishments, saloons, wharves, warehouses, and large homes grew up around the Bell home, and trading schooners carried goods from the riverport to New Orleans. Bell sold the townsite of what was to become East Columbia to Walter C. White on October 1, 1827, but the name "Bell's Landing" remained in use until at least 1840. By 1842, when Bell's settlement on the prairie was known as West Columbia, the community had been renamed East Columbia.
The town, situated near the head of navigation on the Brazos River, grew rapidly for a time after the capital of Texas was moved to Houston. The Houston Tap and Brazoria Railroad was built to East Columbia from Houston in 1859, but the Civil War caused the town to decline. In 1884 the community was on a division of the Missouri Pacific Railroad and had two hotels, steam-driven corn and saw mills, a cotton gin, and a population of 800. By 1890 the population had more than doubled to 1,500, and a weekly newspaper, the Old Capitol, was in publication. Planing and grist mills, special and general stores, a sugar mill, and several churches and schools were built between 1894 and 1914, though the population dwindled from 1,200 to 150. A post office, established in 1846 as Columbia, was renamed East Columbia in 1927. The population grew from 200 in 1929 to 400 in 1933, but declined after World War II to a low of eighty-nine in 1972 and remained at ninety-five from 1974 through 2000.