Indigenous peoples occupied areas along the river for thousands of years. In historic times, the area of present-day Waco was occupied by the WichitaIndian tribe known as the "Waco" (Spanish: Hueco or Huaco).
In 1824, Thomas M. Duke was sent to explore the area after violence erupted between the Waco people and the European settlers.
His report to Stephen F. Austin, described the Waco village:
This town is situated on the West Bank of the river. They have a spring almost as cold as ice itself. All we want is some Brandy and Sugar to have Ice Toddy. They have about 400 acres (1.6 km2) planted in corn, beans, pumpkins, and melons and that tended in good order. I think they cannot raise more than One Hundred Warriors.
-- Thomas M. Duke, Stephen F. Austin Papers
After further violence, Austin halted an attempt to destroy their village in retaliation. In 1825, he made a treaty with them.
The Waco were eventually pushed out of the region, settling north near present-day Fort Worth. In 1872, they were moved onto a reservation in Oklahoma with other Wichita tribes. In 1902, the Waco received allotments of land and became official US citizens.
Neil McLennan settled in an area near the South Bosque River in 1838.Jacob De Cordova bought McLennan's property and hired a former Texas Ranger and surveyor named George B. Erath to inspect the area. In 1849, Erath designed the first block of the city. Property owners wanted to name the city Lamartine, but Erath convinced them to name the area Waco Village, after the Indians who had lived there. In March 1849, Shapley Ross built the first house in Waco, a double-log cabin, on a bluff overlooking the springs. His daughter Kate was the first settler child born in Waco. Because of this, Ross is considered to have been the founder of Waco, Texas.
Waco in 1886
Suspension Bridge, Waco, Texas
In 1866, Waco's leading citizens embarked on an ambitious project to build the first bridge to span the wide Brazos River. They formed the Waco Bridge Company to build the 475-foot (145 m) brick Waco Suspension Bridge, which was completed in 1870. The company commissioned a firm owned by John Augustus Roebling in Trenton, New Jersey, to supply the bridge's cables and steelwork and contracted with Mr. Thomas M. Griffith, a civil engineer based in New York, for the supervisory engineering work. The economic effects of the Waco bridge were immediate and large. The cowboys and cattle-herds following the Chisholm Trail north, crossed the Brazos River at Waco. Some chose to pay the Suspension Bridge toll, while others floated their herds down the river. The population of Waco grew rapidly, as immigrants now had a safe crossing for their horse-drawn carriages and wagons. Since 1971, the bridge has been open only to pedestrian traffic and is in the National Register of Historic Places.
In the late 19th century, a red-light district called the "Reservation" grew up in Waco, and prostitution was regulated by the city. The Reservation was suppressed in the early 20th century. In 1885, the soft drinkDr Pepper was invented in Waco at Morrison's Old Corner Drug Store.
In 1845, Baylor University was founded in Independence, Texas. It moved to Waco in 1886 and merged with Waco University, becoming an integral part of the city. The university's Strecker Museum was also the oldest continuously operating museum in the state until it closed in 2003, and the collections moved to the new Mayborn Museum Complex. In 1873, AddRan College was founded by brothers Addison and Randolph Clark in Fort Worth. The school moved to Waco in 1895, changing its name to Add-Ran Christian University and taking up residence in the empty buildings of Waco Female College. Add-Ran changed its name to Texas Christian University in 1902 and left Waco after the school's main building burned down in 1910. TCU was offered a 50-acre (200,000 m2) campus and $200,000 by the city of Fort Worth to relocate there.
In the 1890s, William Cowper Brann published the highly successful Iconoclast newspaper in Waco. One of his targets was Baylor University. Brann revealed Baylor officials had been importing South American children recruited by missionaries and making house-servants out of them. Brann was shot in the back by Tom Davis, a Baylor supporter. Brann then wheeled, drew his pistol, and killed Davis. Brann was helped home by his friends, and died there of his wounds.
In 1894, the first Cotton Palace fair and exhibition center was built to reflect the dominant contribution of the agricultural cotton industry in the region. Since the end of the Civil War, cotton had been cultivated in the Brazos and Bosque valleys, and Waco had become known nationwide as a top producer. Over the next 23 years, the annual exposition would welcome over eight million attendees. The opulent building which housed the month-long exhibition was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1910. In 1931, the exposition fell prey to the Great Depression, and the building was torn down. However, the annual Cotton Palace Pageant continues, hosted in late April in conjunction with the Brazos River Festival.
On September 15, 1896, "The Crash" took place about 15 miles (24 km) north of Waco. "The Crash at Crush" was a publicity stunt done by the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad company (known as M-K-T or "Katy"), featuring two locomotives intentionally set to a head-on collision. Meant to be a family fun event with food, games, and entertainment, the Crash turned deadly when both boilers exploded simultaneously, sending metal flying in the air. Three people died and dozens were injured.
Washington Avenue Bridge (postcard, circa 1908), built in 1902, it was the longest single-span steel bridge in the world.
In 1916, an African American teenager named Jesse Washington was tortured, mutilated, and burned to death in the town square by a mob that seized him from the courthouse, where he had been convicted of murdering a white woman, to which he confessed. About 15,000 spectators, mostly citizens of Waco, were present. The commonly named Waco Horror drew international condemnation and became the cause célèbre of the nascent NAACP's anti-lynching campaign. In 2006, the Waco City Council officially condemned the lynching, which took place without opposition from local political or judicial leaders; the mayor and chief of police were spectators. On the centenary of the Lynching, May 15, 2016, the mayor apologized in a ceremony to some of Washington's descendants. A historical marker is being erected.
In the 1920s, despite the popularity of the Ku Klux Klan and high numbers of lynchings throughout Texas, Waco's authorities attempted to respond to the NAACP's campaign and institute more protections for African Americans or others threatened with mob violence and lynching. In 1923, Waco's Sheriff Leslie Stegall protected Roy Mitchell, an African American coerced into confessing to multiple murders, from mob lynching. Mitchell was the last Texan to be publicly executed in Texas, and also the last to be hanged before the introduction of the electric chair. In the same year, the Texas Legislature created the Tenth Civil Court of Appeals and placed it in Waco; it is now known as the 10th Court of Appeals.
In 1937, Grover C. Thomsen and R.H. Roark created a soft-drink called "Sun Tang Red Cream Soda". This would become known as the soft drink Big Red.
On May 11, 1953, a tornado hit downtown Waco, killing 114. As of 2011, it remains the 11th-deadliest tornado in U.S. history and tied for the deadliest in Texas state history. It was the first tornado tracked by radar and helped spur the creation of a nationwide storm surveillance system. A granite monument featuring the names of those killed was placed downtown in 2004.
In 1964, the Texas Department of Public Safety designated Waco as the site for the state-designated official museum of the legendary Texas Rangers law enforcement agency founded in 1823. In 1976, it was further designated the official Hall of Fame for the Rangers and renamed the Texas Ranger Hall of Fame and Museum. Renovations by the Waco government earned this building green status, the first Waco government-led project of its nature. The construction project has fallen under scrutiny for expanding the building over unmarked human graves.
In 1978, bones were discovered emerging from the mud at the confluence of the Brazos and Bosque Rivers. Excavations revealed the bones were 68,000 years old and belonged to a species of mammoth. Eventually, the remains of at least 24 mammoths, one camel, and one large cat were found at the site, making it one of the largest findings of its kind. Scholars have puzzled over why such a large herd had been killed at once. The National Park Service is considering the site for possible inclusion into the National Park system and conducting a special resource study to be presented to Congress. The bones are on display at the Waco Mammoth National Monument, part of the National Park Service.
On May 17, 2015, a violent dispute among rival biker gangs broke out at Twin Peaks restaurant. The Waco police intervened, with nine dead and 18 injured in the incident. More than 170 were arrested. No bystanders, Twin Peak employees, or officers were killed. This was the most high-profile criminal incident since the Waco siege, and the deadliest shootout in the city's history.
Waco is located at 31°33'5" North, 97°9'21" West (31.551516, -97.155930).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has an area of 95.5 square miles (247 km2). 84.2 square miles (218 km2) of it is land and 11.3 square miles (29 km2) of it is covered by water. The total area is 11.85% water.
Waco experiences a humid subtropical climate (Köppen climate classificationCfa), characterized by hot summers and generally mild winters. Some 90 °F (32 °C) temperatures have been observed in every month of the year. The record low temperature is -5 °F (-21 °C), set on January 31, 1949; the record high temperature is 114 °F (46 °C), set on July 23, 2018.
Lake Waco - southern half of the lake with State Highway 6 Twin Bridges in view
At the census of 2010, 124,805 people resided in the city, organized into 51,452 households and 27,115 families. The population density was recorded as 1,350.6 people per square mile (521.5/km2), with 45,819 housing units at an average density of 544.2 per square mile (210.1/km2). The 2000 racial makeup of the city was 60.8% White, 22.7% African American, 1.4% Asian, 0.5% Native American, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 12.4% from other races, and 2.3% from two or more races. About 23.6% of the population was Hispanic or Latino of any race. Non-Hispanic Whites were 45.8% of the population in 2010, down from 66.6% in 1980.
In 2000, the census recorded 42,279 households, of which 29.5% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 38.4% were married couples living together, 16.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 41.4% were not families. Around 31.1% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.9% had someone living alone at 65 years of age or older. The average household size was calculated as 2.49 and the average family size 3.19.
In 2000, 25.4% of the population was under the age of 18, 20.3% from 18 to 24, 25.0% from 25 to 44, 16.0% from 45 to 64, and 13.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 28 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 87.3 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $26,264, and for a family was $33,919. Males had a median income of $26,902 versus $21,159 for females. The per capita income for the city was $14,584. About 26.3% of the population and 19.3% of families lived below the poverty line. Of the total population, 30.9% of those under the age of 18 and 13.0% of those 65 and older lived below the poverty line.
McLennan County Courthouse
Waco has a council-manager form of government. Citizens are represented on the City Council by six elected members; five from single-member districts and a mayor who is elected at-large. The city offers a full line of city services typical of an American city this size, including: police, fire, Waco Transit buses, electric utilities, water and wastewater, solid waste, and the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The Heart of Texas Council of Governments is headquartered in Waco on South New Road. This regional agency is a voluntary association of cities, counties, and special districts in the Central Texas area.
A 7-mile scenic riverwalk along the east and west banks of the Brazos River stretches from the Baylor campus to Cameron Park Zoo. This multiuse walking and jogging trail passes underneath the Waco Suspension Bridge and captures the peaceful charm of the river.Lake Waco is a reservoir along the western border of the city. Cameron Park is a 416-acre (168 ha) urban park featuring playgrounds, picnic areas, a cross-country running track, and a disc golf course. The park also contains Waco's 52-acre (21 ha) zoo, the Cameron Park Zoo.
The Magnolia Market in Waco
Notable attractions in Waco include the Hawaiian Falls water park and the Grand Lodge of Texas, one of the largest Grand Lodges in the world. The Waco Suspension Bridge is a single-span suspension bridge built in 1870, crossing the Brazos River. Indian Spring Park marks the location of the origin of the town of Waco, where the Huaco Indians had settled on the bank of the river, at the location of an icy cold spring. The Doris Miller Memorial is a public art installation along the banks of the Brazos River. A nine-foot bronze statue of Miller was unveiled on December 7, 2017, temporarily located at nearby Bledsoe-Miller Park.
Downtown Waco is home to Magnolia Market, a shopping complex containing specialty stores, food trucks, and event space, set in repurposed grain silos originally built in 1950 for the Brazos Valley Cotton Oil Company. The Magnolia Market, operated by Chip and Joanna Gaines of the HGTV TV series Fixer Upper, saw 1.2 million visitors in 2016.
Pat Neff Hall Administration Building, Baylor University
The Waco BlueCats, an independent minor league baseball team, plans to play in the inaugural season of the Southwest League of Professional Baseball in 2019. A new ballpark is planned for the suburb of Bellmead.
The Southern Indoor Football League announced that Waco was an expansion market for the 2010 season. It was rumored they would play in the Heart O' Texas Coliseum. However, the league broke up into three separate leagues, and subsequently, a team did not come to Waco in any of the new leagues.
Professional baseball first came to Waco in 1889 with the formation of the Waco Tigers, a member of the Texas League. The Tigers were renamed the Navigators in 1905, and later the Steers. In 1920, the team was sold to Wichita Falls. In 1923, a new franchise called the Indians was formed and became a member of the Class D Texas Association. In 1925, Waco rejoined the Texas League with the formation of the Waco Cubs.
On June 20, 1930, the first night game in Texas League history was played at Katy Park in Waco. The lights were donated by Waco resident Charles Redding Turner, who owned a local farm team for recruits to the Chicago Cubs.
On the night of August 6, 1930, baseball history was made at Katy Park: in the eighth inning of a night game against Beaumont, Waco left fielder Gene Rye became the only player in the history of professional baseball to hit three home runs in one inning.
The last year Waco had a team in the Texas League was 1930, but fielded some strong semipro teams in the 1930s and early 1940s. During the World War II years of 1943-45, the powerful Waco Army Air Field team was probably the best in the state; many major leaguers played for the team, and it was managed by big-league catcher Birdie Tebbetts.
In 1947, the Class B Big State League was organized with Waco as a member called the Waco Dons.
In 1948, A.H. Kirksey, owner of Katy Park, persuaded the Pittsburgh Pirates club to take over the Waco operation, and the nickname was changed to Pirates. The Pirates vaulted into third place in 1948. They dropped a notch to fourth in 1949, but prevailed in the playoffs to win the league championship. The Pirates then tumbled into the second division, bottoming out with a dreadful 29-118, 0.197 club in 1952. This mark ranks as one of the 10 worst marks of any 20th-century full-season team. When the tornado struck in 1953, it destroyed the park. The team relocated to Longview to finish the season and finished a respectable third with a 77-68 record.
Waco has many golf clubs and courses, including Cottonwood Creek Golf Course.
In 2018, Bicycle World Texas IRONMAN 70.3 Waco held its inaugural event in the city on October 26.
Interstate 35 is the major north-south highway for Waco. It directly connects the city with Dallas (I-35E), Fort Worth (I-35W), Austin, and San Antonio. Texas State Highway 6 runs northwest-southeast and connects Waco to Bryan/College Station and Houston. US Highway 84 is the major east-west thoroughfare in the area. It is also known as Waco Drive, Bellmead Drive (as it passes through the city of Bellmead), Woodway Drive or the George W. Bush Parkway. Loop 340 bypasses the city to the east and south. State Highway 31 splits off of US 84 just east of Waco and connects the city to Tyler, Longview, and Shreveport, Louisiana.
The Waco area is home to three airports. Waco Regional Airport (ACT) serves the city with daily flights to Dallas/Fort Worth International via American Eagle. TSTC Waco Airport (CNW) is the site of the former James Connally AFB and was the primary fly-in point for former President George W. Bush when he was visiting his ranch in Crawford. It is also a hub airport for L3 and several other aviation companies. McGregor Executive Airport (PWG) is a general-aviation facility west of Waco.
Local transportation is provided by the Waco Transit System, which offers bus service Monday-Saturday to most of the city. Nearby passenger train service is offered via Amtrak. The Texas Eagle route includes daily stops in McGregor, 20 miles west of the city.
Texas Guinan, Hollywood actress from 1917 to 1933. She was active in vaudeville and theater, and was in many movies (often as the gun-toting hero in silent westerns, more than a match for any man). She also had a successful career as a hostess in nightclubs and speakeasies in New York City.
Anne Gwynne, Hollywood actress who starred in a number of films of the 1940s; she was born in Waco.
Chip and Joanna Gaines, Waco area home renovators and remodelers came to national attention with their TV show Fixer Upper. They have since expanded into a variety of local developments and are a major tourism draw for the Waco area.
Wade Bowen, Texas country artist and former lead singer of Wade Bowen and West 84, was born and raised in Waco.
Johnny Gimble, two time Grammy Award winning pioneer in Texas Swing and country music had the first locally made television variety show KWTX-TV. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1968 to become a top rated session musician with Chet Atkins and others. Johnny's son Dick Gimble carries on the family tradition of music as a tenured professor at McLennan Community College for nearly four decades, and his granddaughter Emily Gimble carries on the tradition as an Austin, Texas musician.
C. Wright Mills, born in Waco, was a sociologist. Among other topics, he was concerned with the responsibilities of intellectuals in post-World War II society, and advocated relevance and engagement over disinterested academic observation.
^Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places of 50,000 or More, Ranked by July 1, 2018 Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2018 Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division
Release Date: May 2019
^Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the United States and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019 (CBSA-MET-EST2019-ANNRES)
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division
Release Date: March 2020