Grimes County

By: Charles Christopher Jackson

Type: General Entry

Published: 1952

Updated: October 27, 2020

Grimes County, in southeastern Texas, lies forty miles northwest of Houston and is bordered on the north by Madison County, on the east by Walker and Montgomery counties, on the south by Waller County, and on the west by Washington and Brazos counties. Anderson, the county seat, is the third-largest town in Grimes County. The county's geographical center lies at about 30°34' north latitude and 95°59' west longitude. State Highway 90 is the major north-south thoroughfare, while State highways 30 and 105 run east and west. The county is also served by two major railways: the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the Union Pacific. Grimes County covers 799 square miles at the boundary between the Post Oak Belt and the Coastal Plain. Most of the area, especially the eastern sections, consists of gently rolling to sloping terrain, while the bottomland along the rivers and streams is nearly level to gently sloping. The elevation ranges from 193 feet above sea level in the southeast to 415 feet in the northwest. The western part of the county is drained by the Navasota and Brazos rivers, which form its western boundary; much of the eastern portion of the county drains into the West Fork of the San Jacinto River, while the Trinity River drains the northernmost areas of the county. Upland soils, which cover much of the area, are gray sandy loams overlying clayey subsoils. Bottomland soils, found in the floodplains of the rivers and principal creeks, are dark, loamy to clayey alluvial soils. A series of prairies featuring Wilson clay blackland soils runs through the southern part of the county. Grimes County lies in a transitional vegetation zone between the post oak savannah, which covers the northern and western sections of the county, and, to the south and east, a region of intermixed forest and prairie, which supports dense stands of oak, elm, pecan, and mesquite, as well as several species of grass. Hardwoods, found in stream valleys and lowlands throughout the county, include post oak, blackjack oak, white oak, hickory, and maple. Fingers of the East Texas Piney Woods extend into the southeastern corner of the county, and upland areas everywhere are mantled by forests of loblolly, shortleaf, and longleaf pine. Between 1 and 10 percent of the land in the county is classified as prime farmland. Modest reserves of petroleum, natural gas, and lignite coal are the most significant of the limited mineral resources in Grimes County. The first tektites found in North America were discovered in Grimes County in 1936. Though the buffalo, bear, and wild hogs which once roamed the area disappeared in the 1800s, in the 1990s the county still included many wild animal species, including white-tailed deer, rabbit, raccoon, and opossum, and wild birds such as the mourning dove and bobwhite quail. Temperatures in the county range from an average high of 96° F in July to an average low of 40° in January. Rainfall averages 40.5 inches a year, and the growing season averages 278 days a year.

The scanty archeological evidence recovered to date suggests that human habitation in the territory constituting modern Grimes County began no later than 5000 B.C., during the early phases of the Archaic period (circa 7000 B.C.-A.D. 500). Excavations along watercourses on the western margins of the county have even yielded a handful of artifacts dating to the late Paleo-Indian period (circa 6500 B.C.). The earliest historical inhabitants of the area were the Bidai Indians. For most of the century after 1691, when they first appeared in the records of the Spanish, the Bidais experienced little contact with Europeans. Though a generally peaceable people, the Bidais incurred Spanish suspicions in the late 1700s by trading with the French and their allies the Lipan Apaches, whom the Bidais supplied with firearms smuggled in from Louisiana. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the Bidais suffered a disastrous population decline, primarily as a result of disease. By the early 1800s perhaps only 100 warriors remained, dwelling in a handful of widely scattered villages along the principal local streams, notably Bedias Creek in what is now northern Grimes and southern Madison counties. As Anglo settlement began in the early 1820s, these villages were enlarged by refugees from neighboring tribes such as the Kickapoos and Coushattas. These tribes established homes along the Trinity River on the eastern edge of the Bidai territory; from there they made hunting forays into what is now Grimes County. Their route to the Brazos River in southern Grimes County was known as the Coushatta Trace. The Tonkawa Indians were also known to conduct raids in the area in search of game or plunder, and a group of them may have lived briefly in the bottoms of the lower Navasota River. By and large the Indian residents of what would become Grimes County lived amicably with the Whites who settled among them in the early 1800s. Their presence, in fact, seems to have afforded the Anglo settlers a measure of protection against raids by hostile tribes such as the Comanches and Apaches. The last fatal Indian raid in what would become Grimes County occurred in 1841. Few Bidais remained in the area by that date. Some were assimilated into nearby tribes such as the Orcoquizas, the Coushattas, and the Caddos. Most of the surviving Bidais were finally expelled to reservations, first on the upper Brazos River, and later in the Oklahoma Territory, by the United States government's general removal program in 1854. The 1860 census found only six Indians still in residence in the county.

During the 1600s and 1700s the territory which is now Grimes County was part of a vast arena of competition between the Spanish and the French. It is likely that the first European to set foot within what is now Grimes County was the ill-fated French explorer René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, who may have crossed the area early in 1687, traveling from Matagorda Bay in a final attempt to reach the Mississippi River. On March 20, 1687, La Salle was murdered by members of his own party at a site some believe to have been a few miles above the confluence of the Brazos and Navasota rivers near what is now the town of Navasota. The first Spaniard to reach the area was probably Alonso De León, the governor of Coahuila, who, exploring eastern Texas in 1690 in the company of Father Damián Massanet, traveled northeast from Goliad to the vicinity of Navasota and continued past the future sites of Anderson and Prairie Plains toward the Neches River. His route, originally a crude Indian trace through southern Texas, soon became known as La Bahía road or trail and served as an important Spanish thoroughfare between the presidio at Goliad and that of San Francisco de los Tejas on the Old San Antonio Road near what is now Crockett. In 1767 the Marqués de Rubí traversed what is now Grimes County en route from San Antonio to the Sabine River on his noted inspection tour of the Spanish frontier. In 1788 Pedro Vial, searching for the most direct route from Natchitoches to San Antonio, crossed the future county from northeast to southwest, generally following La Bahía trail.

Anglo settlement began with the founding of Stephen F. Austin's colony between the lower Brazos and Colorado rivers. In 1821 Andrew Millican took up residence along Holland Creek west of what is now Anderson. By the end of 1824 seven of Austin's original colonists (the so-called Old Three Hundred) had claimed land within what is now Grimes County. Early residents included the families of Francis Holland, Isaac Jackson, James Whiteside, Jesse Grimes, Caleb Wallace, Jared E. Groce, and Anthony Kennard. Before the outbreak of the Texas Revolution in 1836, a total of sixty-four heads of household obtained land grants within the future county from the Mexican government. As elsewhere within the Austin colony, these first settlers were attracted to the rich bottomlands along the rivers and major creeks and also preferred prairie acreage over timberland. In 1822 Jared E. Groce moved from Alabama with some ninety slaves and settled on the Brazos River near what is now Hempstead. There he planted what may have been one of the first cotton crops in the Austin colony (see COTTON CULTURE). Soon he began cultivating the staple on a three-league tract in what is now southwestern Grimes County, where perhaps as early as 1825 he constructed what may have been the first cotton gin in Texas. His example was soon imitated by settlers taking up land nearby. Most immigrants at this time were from the slaveholding southern United States-with Alabamians perhaps preponderant among them-and brought with them slaves and a culture shaped by the "peculiar institution" of slavery. The phenomenon of chain migration was conspicuous in this phase of the area's history. At least one settler, Tandy Walker, who arrived in the area about 1830, acted as a kind of land agent and collected fees for facilitating the immigration of perhaps a dozen or more families from his former home in Alabama to his new neighborhood in what is now southern Grimes County.

In 1830 the territory of what would become the county was incorporated into the new Viesca District, and in 1835 it became part of the newly organized Washington Municipality. The first post office in the area was established in December 1835 at the Fanthorp Inn, founded two years before by Englishman Henry Fanthorp. Settlers in this vicinity abandoned their homes in March and April of 1836 and to escape from the advancing Mexican army joined the mass eastward flight known as the Runaway Scrape. The area was quickly reoccupied after the battle of San Jacinto, and its development accelerated. It became part of Montgomery County, which was organized by the Congress of the Republic of Texas in 1837. On April 6, 1846, the first state legislature accepted the petition of local residents and established Grimes County, named in honor of Jesse Grimes, a signer of the Texas Declaration of Independence who was then representing the area in the state Senate. A vigorously contested election later in the year resulted in the designation of Anderson-recently platted in the center of the county-as the seat of government. In 1853 Madison County was carved out of northern Grimes County, which assumed its present boundaries in 1873, when Waller County was formed from territory in its southern extremity.

The county's adoption of the Old South pattern of plantation agriculture was evident in the census of 1850, which found 1,680 slaves and two free Blacks residing amidst a White population of 2,326. As they had been from the beginning, cotton and corn remained the only significant cultivated crops; 2,282 bales of cotton and 138,405 bushels of corn were produced in 1850. Stock raising was also important, as demonstrated by large and growing herds of cattle, hogs, and sheep. But the persistence of frontier conditions was indicated by the fact that farmland comprised less than 20 percent of the county's total area and by the high ratio of oxen (1,193) to mules (231), which suggests that farmers were still struggling with the task of breaking the land to the plow. The county's slave population continued to increase at an astonishing rate during the last decade of antebellum Texas, as a result not only of purchases by current residents but also of continuing heavy migration of slaveholders from the lower South. In 1855 the county tax rolls enumerated 3,124 slaves, representing an almost 86 percent increase over the 1850 level. The 1858 county tax roll listed forty-two residents as holders of twenty or more slaves, the index of wealth often used to define a "planter," while the 1860 census listed seventy-seven individuals owning twenty or more slaves. By 1860 there were 4,852 Whites in the county and 5,468 slaves, constituting 53 percent of the population. Thus, though the White population had doubled in the preceding decade, the slave population had tripled. With 505 slaveholders, Grimes was one of only seventeen counties in the state in which the average number of slaves per slaveholder was greater than ten. On the eve of the Civil War the county's agriculture had begun to show signs that it had advanced beyond frontier conditions. By 1860 more than half of the county's total area had been incorporated into farms, and the ratio of oxen to all other draft animals had fallen below 40 percent. Corn and cotton remained by far the most significant crops, with cotton production increasing more than eightfold over its 1850 level, to 18,303 bales. The value of livestock increased more than 275 percent over the 1850 figure, to $766,739; the total of almost 39,000 head of cattle would not be reached again until the late 1940s, while the 1860 figure of 18,000 sheep would never be seen again.

The population surge also hastened the development of towns. By 1856 six communities had acquired post offices: Anderson, Bedias, Grimesville, Retreat, Prairie Plains, and Navasota. Two spas were established in the county around 1850: Kellum Springs, ten miles north of Anderson, and Piedmont Springs, seven miles west of Anderson. Piedmont Springs, in particular, attracted guests from great distances, and in 1860 a four-story, 100-room hotel was constructed there. The railroad first reached Grimes County in 1859, when the Houston and Texas Central extended its line to Navasota, thus bypassing Anderson, whose residents had rejected the railroad, supposedly remarking that such an innovation "would scare our mules and our Negroes." Though founded only in the early 1850s, Navasota, with the aid of the railroad, rapidly grew into an important commercial center.

There was virtually no voice in Grimes County raised in opposition to the secessionist movement during the crisis of 1860 and 1861. The referendum of February 1861 returned a majority of 907 to 9 in favor of secession. Hundreds of county residents volunteered for service in Confederate and state military units. State formations to which local companies were attached included the Second, Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Texas Infantry and the Twenty-first Texas Cavalry. In 1861 a munitions factory specializing in small armaments was constructed two miles west of Anderson, employing dozens of adults and a number of children. The first telegraph lines in the county were strung through Navasota in 1862 for the benefit of the railroad and the Confederate government. In the summer of 1863 Gen. John B. Magruder, commander of the Department of Texas, established his headquarters at Piedmont Springs and stationed a division of Confederate soldiers there; by 1865 the once-opulent ballroom of the Piedmont Hotel had been converted into a military hospital. To circumvent the Union blockade of the Texas coast, planters transported cotton to Mexico in trains of ox wagons. The staple was exchanged for food and clothing, which helped to mitigate the wartime privation suffered by Grimes County residents. Far from halting immigration, the war in fact generated an influx of planter refugees from the lower South, seeking protection for their slave property. Some purchased bottomland on which to raise their own cotton, while others rented their slaves to local landowners. By 1864, according to county tax rolls, war refugees had swollen the local slave population to 7,005. While some Blacks entering the county under these circumstances would after the war return to the communities from which they had been recently uprooted, many more would stay to build a new life in Grimes County.

The formal cessation of hostilities brought Grimes County residents new tribulations. Recovery from the disastrous defeat was hampered by epidemics of cholera and yellow fever that killed hundreds in 1866 and 1867. Furthermore, the war had scarcely ended before a violent incident set the tone for much of the postwar history of the county. In May 1865, as Confederate veterans straggling home congregated in Navasota, a number of soldiers, disgruntled by defeat and the withholding of their pay, looted a warehouse filled with cotton and munitions. In the process the structure was set on fire, producing a tremendous explosion that demolished several nearby edifices and set others ablaze. Before the fire had died, much of the town's commercial district had been damaged or destroyed. From 1865 to 1870, to help quell the spirit of lawlessness beginning to manifest itself, federal troops were garrisoned at Millican in Brazos County, a few miles northwest of Navasota, with jurisdiction over Brazos, Grimes, and other neighboring counties. For at least part of this period a company of soldiers was stationed at Anderson as well. To assist the county's large population of freedmen in their transition to citizenship, an office of the Freedmen's Bureau was established in June 1866. Most of Grimes County was placed within the Bureau's Twentieth Subdistrict, which was variously headquartered in Courtney, Navasota, Millican, Anderson, and, finally, in Bryan in Brazos County. The Freedmen's Bureau established a court system to dispense justice to the former slaves, protected the freedmen in their exercise of the franchise, and supervised the signing of labor contracts. Many of the first educational institutions for African Americans established in the county were created during these years by the Freedmen's Bureau, which founded schools in Courtney, Anderson, and Navasota. Reports filed by the subassistant commissioner describe a general breakdown of law and order in Grimes and surrounding counties and make clear that though considerable violence was perpetrated by Whites against Whites, Blacks against Blacks, and Blacks against Whites, most of the violent crime in this period was committed by Whites against Blacks. Twenty-nine such incidents, including twelve homicides, were reported in the county in 1867 alone. The authorities seemed helpless to administer the laws, and few offenders were ever prosecuted. As the anarchy deepened, armed bands of Whites meted out vigilante justice; the Ku Klux Klan emerged in the county at Navasota in April 1868. In self-defense, local Blacks formed their own "militias." The secret activities of the county's Loyal Leagues (see UNION LEAGUE), organized among the freedmen by Republicans as an agency of political indoctrination, inflamed White fears of Black conspiracies against White lives and property.

Despite the violence, the sheer size of the Black population ensured that Grimes County would become a stronghold of the Texas Republican party. The demographic impact of the war refugees was conspicuous in the 1870 census, which revealed that although the county's population had grown by 22 percent to 13,218, most of the increase had occurred among Blacks, who now constituted virtually 60 percent of the county's population. Though secessionists and former Confederate officials won most of the offices of county government in the elections of 1866, the military Reconstruction inaugurated in 1867 enabled local Republicans to quickly build their strength. Edmund J. Davis, the Republican candidate for governor in 1869, carried the county overwhelmingly. Even in 1873, when Richard Coke and the Democratic party defeated Davis and "redeemed" the state from Republican rule, Grimes County remained solidly in the Republican column. The loyalty of Black voters would enable the local Republican party to retain considerable influence for many years after the end of Reconstruction. Though Democrats reoccupied many official positions after 1873, Republican candidates would continue to capture county offices, and, under the party's auspices, Blacks from Grimes County would occupy eight seats in the state legislature between 1871 and 1883. In only one presidential election from 1872 to 1900-that of 1892-did the county fail to return a Republican majority.

The postwar struggle of Grimes County Blacks to establish vital social, economic, and political institutions mirrored the efforts of the county's White community to rebuild its own life in the aftermath of a shattering defeat. In 1870 the county's farms retained less than a third of their 1860 value. Though in 1860 eight county residents had held property worth $100,000, not a single resident was that wealthy in 1870. Recovery would be slow. Not until 1910 would Grimes County farms again be as valuable as they had been in 1860. Livestock production had suffered a grave setback; there were only about half as many cattle in the county in 1870 and 1880 as there had been before the war. As in the antebellum period, corn and cotton were again the county's most important crops. By 1890 both had exceeded their 1860 production levels, and almost two thirds of all cropland was planted in cotton. With farm ownership spread more widely than before the war and with the number of farms continuing to increase by an average of 20 percent each decade from 1870 to 1900, cotton cultivation expanded as well; the number of bales produced rose steadily from 10,025 in 1870 to 11,761 in 1880 to 20,659 in 1890, before reaching an all-time high in 1900 of 30,809. Cotton acreage expanded at a similar pace and would crest only in 1930, when 81,937 acres were devoted to the staple. Farm tenancy and the crop-lien system spread rapidly in postwar Grimes County. By 1880, tenants operated 64 percent of the farms in the county, a figure that would remain constant until 1930, when it peaked at almost 69 percent. With the Great Depression and ensuing shift away from staple crop production, tenantry began a precipitous decline; in 1950, 44 percent of the county's farmers were tenants; in 1969, only 10 percent.

Transportation improvements were crucial in the development of the county's postwar economy. Grimes County acquired its second major railroad in 1883, when the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe constructed a line from Somerville to Navasota. By 1896 the eastern end of this line had been extended through Conroe into the East Texas Piney Woods, facilitating the shipment of lumber and other forest products through Navasota, which easily retained its position as the county's largest town, with a population of 3,857 in 1900. In that year the International and Great Northern Railroad completed the town's third major railway, a branch line from Spring to Fort Worth. In 1903 Anderson, with a population of less than 600 the county's second-largest town, finally acquired its first railroad, when the International and Great Northern extended its Navasota-Madisonville branch through the community. In 1907 the Trinity and Brazos Valley Railway constructed a section of its Houston-to-Dallas line through the northern and eastern portions of the county. The Grimes County road network remained in a primitive condition until 1930. That year the blacktopping of major thoroughfares began, with the construction of State Highway 90 from Navasota to Madisonville.

Agricultural revival and transportation improvements helped attract a modest level of migration to the county in the late 1800s. The Grimes County population stood at 18,603 in 1880, after registering a 29 percent increase in the previous decade. Thereafter, the county population would rise by 13 percent in the 1880s and by 18 percent in the 1890s, to crest at 26,106 in 1900, the highest figure ever recorded there. As in the antebellum period, American-born settlers continued to arrive, primarily from the states of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Mississippi. At this time, however, foreign-born immigrants became significant as well, enhancing the county's ethnic and cultural diversity-though the foreign-born would never constitute so much as 4 percent of the population. Germans had been settling in Grimes County since at least 1851, when a number of families established the community of Rodolph near Anderson. From the end of the Civil War right up until World War I, fully half of the county's foreign-born immigrants were born in Germany. They tended to settle among the native inhabitants in all parts of the county, though a sizable German enclave was established in and near Anderson. From the mid-1870s to the mid-1900s hundreds of Poles took up residence in the county, most of them settling in the vicinity either of Anderson or of Plantersville and Stoneham in the southern portion of the county. By 1890 the newcomers had constructed the county's first Catholic and Lutheran churches and its first synagogue. With out-migration of Blacks in the early 1900s greatly reducing the local labor force, large numbers of Mexican migrant workers found employment in the county during and after World War I. Many stayed, so that until 1940 Mexicans became the most numerous of the foreign-born groups settling in the county. These several hundred Mexican-born residents did not constitute a large segment of the county population during the mid-1900s, but as the county's population continued to decline after World War II, the Mexican-American population became more prominent. By 1990 an estimated 1,767 residents, just over 10 percent of the county population, were of Hispanic origin.

During the 1870s the persistent credit and marketing difficulties afflicting Southern agriculture began to spawn agrarian radicalism in Grimes County. In the late 1870s Grange organizations were formed at Courtney and Anderson, and the Greenback party became a force in local politics. In the early 1880s an interracial Republican-Greenback coalition succeeded in electing candidates to a number of county offices. The insurgency died in the mid-1880s with the demise of the Greenback party, but was revived in 1892, when the increasingly radical Southern Farmers Alliance (see FARMERS' ALLIANCE), which had organized several Grimes County local alliances in the late 1880s, transformed itself into the People's party. The Populists courted Black voters by raising the inadequate salaries of Black schoolteachers and by hiring Black deputies in the sheriff's department. Many of the county's Black Republicans promptly joined the new insurgent movement, which was assailed by the local Democratic press as a species of "radical Negroism." After smashing victories by the People's party in the county elections of 1896 and 1898, Grimes County Democrats retaliated by forming the White Man's Union (see WHITE MAN'S UNION ASSOCIATIONS), an initially secret, oath-bound society designed to end electoral "corruption" by excluding Blacks from participation in county politics. The White Man's Union launched a campaign of night-riding and intimidation of Populist voters and orchestrated the murder of several Black Populist leaders. The local White Populist sheriff, wounded by an armed mob on the streets of Anderson, was evacuated to Houston by an escort of state militia. With terrorized Populists avoiding the polls, the White Man's Union swept the elections of 1900, and Blacks began a mass migration from the county. The White Man's Union proceeded to select every officer of the county government until 1958. By 1910 the Black exodus had reduced the Grimes County Black population by more than 30 percent, to 9,858. Though that figure remained roughly constant until 1930, Black migration resumed during the Great Depression, impelled by the decline of agricultural tenantry. It then accelerated during the 1940s, when the lure of new defense-related employment in urban areas of Texas, the North, and West generated another 30 percent decrease in the Black population. Blacks continued to leave Grimes County throughout the post-World War II period, until by 1990 only 3,988 remained-23 percent of the total population. The violence unleashed against Populists during the election of 1900 proved difficult to contain. Years of prolonged vigilantism and lawlessness in the early 1900s earned Grimes County a "rough" reputation, which was only enhanced by the local reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. In 1908 Navasota hired noted Texas Ranger Frank Hamer as its sheriff in an effort to "clean up" the town. Another-largely ineffectual-attempt to curb the violence was made in November 1905, when the county voted itself dry in a local-option election.

As the Grimes County Black population declined in the twentieth century, so did the overall population. A 19 percent decrease in county population between 1900 and 1910 was almost entirely attributable to the Black exodus. Though the county registered an 8 percent increase in population between 1910 and 1920 (a decade of agricultural prosperity), with the return of harder economic conditions in the 1920s and 1930s, the Grimes County population declined again, by an average of almost 3 percent a decade. The few available unemployment statistics from the 1930s suggest the magnitude of the loss of agricultural employment in this period; 1,422 county residents were either unemployed or on relief work in 1937, indicating an unemployment rate of perhaps 16 percent or more. The out-migration of county residents accelerated during the 1940s; during the decade population fell by more than 31 percent, to 15,135, as residents found desperately needed employment in defense industries in urban areas, especially nearby Houston. Though the population decrease slowed during the 1950s and 1960s, it was not reversed until 1970, by which time the county's population had fallen to 11,855, only 45 percent of the 1900 figure. In a sense the decline was the price paid for the fact that the county remained overwhelmingly agricultural and rural in character until the late twentieth century. During the 1800s industry in the county was confined almost exclusively to cotton ginning and lumber processing. Until the twentieth century, manufacturing in a given year never employed more than 152 county residents, a pinnacle reached in 1890. By 1930 there were fifteen manufacturing establishments in the county, employing 158 persons, with a product valued at more than $1 million. During the Great Depression, however, cotton cultivation, the lifeblood of the county's nascent industrial sector, was drastically curtailed, and by 1940 only six manufacturing establishments remained.

Agriculture has continued to be the preeminent economic activity in Grimes County but has undergone several transformations in the twentieth century. The problems of overproduction and falling prices during the Great Depression reduced cotton acreage in the county by 53 percent between 1930 and 1940, to 38,726 acres; the 1940 yield of 16,031 bales was little more than half of that of 1900. Acreage planted in cotton continued to fall precipitously over the next three decades, so that although 13,520 bales were still being produced annually as late as 1959, by the 1970s cotton cultivation in the county had ceased entirely. As cotton growing declined, stock raising expanded in scope to become the most important agricultural activity in the county. The number of cattle raised annually reached a post-Civil War peak of 37,785 in 1890, then remained at about that level until 1940. Between 1940 and 1969, cattle production increased by an average of almost 25 percent a decade to stand at a historic pinnacle of 79,094 in 1969. Although production dropped slightly during the two succeeding decades, there were still 50,637 cattle raised in the county in 1987. Dairy farming has been an important agricultural specialty in Grimes County since the late 1800s. There were sixty-five dairy farms in the county in 1982, and milk and beef remain the most important livestock products in a county that derives 93 percent of its agricultural revenues from livestock. Like cattle raising, hog raising also has continued on a substantial scale since the 1800s, though the number of hogs produced in 1987, 1,507, represents an 88 percent decline in production since 1920. Sheep raising was significant in the county through most of its history but declined in the 1900s. During the twentieth century annual production has seldom approached 2,000 head; in 1987 the figure stood at 1,507. Poultry was raised extensively in the county from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, but annual production fell by 48 percent during the 1950s and then by 77 percent from 1960 to 1970, by which time its value was only $10,000.

Crop cultivation, though accounting for only a small proportion of the county's agricultural wealth, has become more diversified since the decline of cotton culture. Corn remained one of Grimes County's most important crops from the beginning of the county's history until 1982, when more than 150,000 bushels were harvested. Between 1982 and 1987, however, corn acreage dwindled from 3,100 acres to 166, and production plummeted to only 7,623 bushels. As stock raising has expanded since the Depression, so has the cultivation of hay, increasing from 1,812 acres and 2,364 tons in 1930 to 27,158 acres and 67,626 tons in 1987. Peanuts were grown on a modest scale from 1900 until 1930, with annual yields averaging only about 10,000 bushels. Over the two succeeding decades peanut cultivation expanded; 327,409 pounds were harvested in 1940 and 215,331 pounds in 1950. Thereafter, however, production declined sharply, and had disappeared entirely by the 1970s. In recent decades cane sorghum, various small grains, watermelons, pecans, Christmas trees, and vegetables such as the potato, sweet potato, and soybean have been cultivated in the county on a limited scale. Beekeeping has been of commercial significance in the county since the 1880s and a number of apiaries remained in production in the 1980s.

Since World War II a modest industrial sector has developed in Grimes County, led by extractive industries. With almost 40 percent of the county covered by forest, the processing of lumber has been an important economic activity throughout its history; sawmills stand second only to cotton gins in the story of the county's early industrial development. The value of annual timber production rose sharply during the 1980s, exceeding $10.5 million in 1987. Petroleum was discovered in Grimes County in 1952, but until the late 1970s only token quantities were recovered. In the early 1980s production of both crude oil and natural gas increased dramatically, and by the late 1980s almost a half million barrels of oil were being pumped annually. Almost 267,000 barrels of oil, and 21,337,795 cubic feet of gas- well gas, were produced in the county in 2004; by the end of that year 18,220,020 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since 1952. Lignite began to be mined in the county in the early 1980s, when the Texas Municipal Power Agency constructed its 400-megawatt, lignite-powered Gibbons Creek Steam Electric Station. The Texas Municipal Power Agency facilities near Carlos, which include a 2,500-acre cooling reservoir on Gibbons Creek, provided employment for 250 county residents.

Stimulated in large measure by the growth of extractive industries, a small manufacturing base developed in the county, with fabricated metal products and machinery leading the advance. Between 1967 and 1982 the number of manufacturing establishments increased from eighteen to twenty-seven, while the number of persons employed in manufacturing rose in the same period from 200 to 1,400. Most of this new industrial capacity developed within the town of Navasota, which continued to exercise a dominant influence on the economic, social, and political life of the county. Navasota, with an estimated population of 6,637 in 1990, had become an agribusiness center for portions of three counties. Anderson, long the second-largest town in the county, remained a local marketing center, but, with an estimated population in 1990 of 320, had slipped to third place in size behind Iola, which became a focus of oil-drilling activity in the 1970s and 1980s and by 1990 had an estimated population of 331. In the early 1980s a community of a different sort was created almost overnight when the Texas Department of Corrections (see PRISON SYSTEM) constructed two large prison farms, Pack Unit I and II, in the southern portion of the county east of Courtney. In addition to their agricultural activities, the facilities by 1983 operated a stainless-steel factory with their 1,500 inmates. The drive toward economic diversification that had begun after World War II finally enabled the county to reverse the long and virtually uninterrupted population decline it had suffered since 1900. During the 1970s the population of Grimes County grew by almost 13 percent, to 13,580, the first decennial increase since 1920. Growth accelerated in the next decade, which saw the population rise almost 28 percent, to 18,828 in 1990. Moreover, during the 1980s the county's Black population grew for the first time since the late nineteenth century, increasing by more than 5 percent.

Though the White Man's Union was dissolved in the 1950s, the citizens of Grimes County remained steadfast in their allegiance to the Democratic party; through the late 1980s the county had not voted to fill a state office with a Republican since the nineteenth century. As recently as 1982 fully 97 percent of the county voters participating in party primaries chose the Democratic primary. By the mid-1990s, however, Republican candidates were competitive in Grimes County races for state offices, and by 2000 the area’s voters overwhelmingly favored Republican candidates for those offices. This Republican ascendancy at the local level had been presaged by the county’s increasing willingness to vote for Republican presidential candidates. The county returned majorities for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952 and 1956, and favored the Republican presidential candidate again in 1972, 1984, and 1988. In 1992 and 1996 Democrat Bill Clinton won slim pluralities of the area’s voters, partly because Independent candidate Ross Perot ran well in the county in those elections. In 2000 and 2004, however, Republican George W. Bush took the county with comfortable majorities

In 2014 the census counted 27,172 people living in Grimes County. About 59.5 percent were Anglo, 22.6 percent were Hispanic, and 16.5 percent were African American. More than 67 percent of residents age twenty-five and older had four years of high school, and more than 10 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century agribusiness, tourism, and various manufacturing concerns were key elements of the area’s economy. In 2002 the county had 1,704 farms and ranches covering 414,887 acres, 55 percent of which were devoted to pasture, 32 percent to crops, and 12 percent to woodlands. In that year local farmers and ranchers earned $31,796,000, with crop sales accounting for $27,284,000 of that total. Cattle, forage, dairy, poultry, horses, peaches, pecans, berries, and honey were the chief agricultural products. Anderson (population, 232) is the county’s seat of government, and Navasota (7,586) is its largest town. Other communities include Bedias (468), Iola (430), Richards (300), Plantersville (260), Shiro (210), Todd Mission (114), and Roans Prairie (64). The county provides numerous opportunities for hunting and fishing. Visitors are attracted to the area by its numerous historic sites and homes, as well the annual Renaissance Festival held in October and the Nostalgic Days celebration held each May.

Irene Taylor Allen, Saga of Anderson-The Proud Story of a Historic Texas Community (New York: Greenwich, 1957). E. L. Blair, Early History of Grimes County (Austin, 1930). Grimes County Historical Commission, History of Grimes County, Land of Heritage and Progress (Dallas: Taylor, 1982).

  • Counties

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Charles Christopher Jackson, “Grimes County,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 12, 2022,

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October 27, 2020

Grimes County
Currently Exists
Place Type
Altitude Range
150 ft – 470 ft
Civilian Labor Counts
People Year
10,937 2019
Land Area
Area (mi2) Year
787.5 2019
Total Area Values
Area (mi2) Year
801.6 2019
Per Capita Income
USD ($) Year
35,450 2019
Property Values
USD ($) Year
5,594,111,565 2019
Rainfall (inches) Year
43.5 2019
Retail Sales
USD ($) Year
231,289,779 2019
Temperature Ranges
Min (°F) Max (°F) Year
40.0 96.0 2019
Unemployment Percentage Year
9.0 2019
USD ($) Year
97,551,139 2019
Population Counts
People Year
28,880 2019