Hempstead, the county seat of Waller County, is on U.S. Highway 290 at its junction with State highways 6 and 159, fifty miles northwest of Houston. Dr. Richard Rodgers Peebles and James W. McDade, founders of Hempstead, organized the Hempstead Town Company on December 29, 1856, to sell lots in the new town at the terminus of the projected Houston and Texas Central Railway. The doctor named the town for his brother-in-law, Dr. G. S. B. Hempstead of Portsmouth, Ohio. Peebles and his wife, Mary Ann Groce Peebles, contributed 2,000 acres from the Jared E. Groce, Jr., estate for the townsite, which Mary Ann Peebles helped lay out. The Houston and Texas Central was extended to Hempstead on June 29, 1858, and the town became a distribution center between the Texas interior and the Gulf Coast. Hempstead incorporated on November 10, 1858, and its importance as a transportation center increased with construction of the Washington County Railroad from Hempstead to Brenham. A post office was established in 1857. During the Civil War the town served as a Confederate supply and manufacturing center. Hempstead was the site of a Confederate military hospital; three Confederate camps were located in its vicinity. Despite occupation of the town by federal troops during Reconstruction and recurring yellow fever epidemics, Hempstead prospered after the Civil War. Availability of transportation facilities and the surrounding area's large cotton production facilitated growth of textile manufacturing and cotton processing industries. Merchandising and processing grew rapidly between 1867 and the 1880s. The town prospered as a transportation center and became Waller county seat in May 1873. Hempstead's commercial, manufacturing, and processing sectors suffered large financial losses from fires between 1872 and 1876. Production of the town's cottonseed oil mill rose to a $90,000 gross value, second highest in the state, by 1880. Lack of banking facilities slowed the retail sector in the 1890s. In 1904 the population was 1,849. In 1906 the Citizen's State Bank was chartered.
In the twentieth century, produce shipping and truck hauling gradually replaced cotton. The Raccoon Bend oilfield developed near the town. Hempstead's location on the Southern Pacific Railroad and the convergence of state and federal highways helped sustain the town's economy when its population decreased from 2,500 in 1914 to 1,395 in 1959. Hempstead was the largest shipper of watermelons in the United States until the 1940s. The town had a school by the 1850s; classes were held in various buildings including the old jail. A freedmen's school operated from 1866 until 1870. The first public school opened in 1881. Hempstead became headquarters by 1955 of a school district including most of Waller County. The Central Texas Teachers Association began summer normals at Hempstead in 1890.
Violent settlement of disputes, often fueled by political and social disagreements involving the Ku Klux Klan, Radical Republicans, Greenbackers, Populists, and prohibitionists (see GREENBACK PARTY, PEOPLE'S PARTY, and PROHIBITION), brought Hempstead the nickname "Six-Shooter Junction" through the early twentieth century. Radical Republicans held a state convention at Hempstead in May 1875 and a "black and tan" convention in June 1875. Hempstead Blacks were politically active before disenfranchisement. They established Methodist and Baptist churches by 1891 and a Lone Star Masonic lodge in 1893. The Grange established a store in the town in 1874. Hempstead's relatively large Jewish community provided a significant stimulus to the town's economy from its founding through the early twentieth century. One of the earliest synagogues in Texas outside of larger population centers was established at Hempstead in the 1870s. Presbyterian, Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, and Episcopalian churches were constructed there around the time of the Civil War. The first of many short-lived newspapers, the Hempstead Courier, began publication in June 1859. In 1991 Hempstead had a weekly newspaper, the Waller County News-Citizen, which was first published as the Hempstead Weekly News in October 1891.
The town was disincorporated on February 13, 1899, and reincorporated on June 10, 1935. The town elected its first Black mayor, LeRoy Singleton, in 1984. Blacks at the time made up approximately 50 percent of Hempstead's population. White residents have been predominantly Anglo throughout Hempstead's history, with significant minorities of German, Italian, and Polish descent. Hempstead resident Lillie E. Drennan was the first woman to obtain a truck driver's license in Texas. In 1966 Hempstead had 1,505 residents; the population reached 3,782 by 1988. Proximity to Houston accounts for much of the town's prosperity. The largest employers in 1990 were auto sales, government, and educational institutions. Hempstead has Texas historical markers for Capt. Alfred H. Wyly's grave in Hempstead Cemetery and the courthouse grounds. The Waller County Fair is held in Hempstead in September. In 1990 Hempstead had a population of 3,551. In 2000 the population was 4,691.