City History

The land in and about the City of Sugar Land was originally owned by the Mexican government and was granted to Samuel M. Williams through Stephen F. Austin. There were several factors which governed Williams receiving this grant, among them was the fact that he spoke Spanish, was well educated, and wrote a fine Spencerian hand. Williams called this land “Oakland Plantation” because there were many different varieties of oaks on the land - Pin Oak, Post Oak, Water Oak, Red Oak, and Live Oak. During this period of time, land grants were measured from one oak to another.

Sugar Industry

Sugar became a part of life in the area when S. M. Swinson, captain of a small freight boat, made a meandering journey along the United States coast from New York to Velasco. Along the journey, commodities were picked up at various points and dispensed of as the journey proceeded. One of the stops was Cuba, and as it happened, it was during the height of sugar cane season. A small load of sugar cane stalks was taken on board and later delivered to Samuel M. Williams. The next time Swinson came to the area, he saw sugar cane growing “as high as a man on a horse” and immediately returned to Cuba to purchase more stalks. Soon after, a mill was built to squeeze the juice from the stalks.

Today, the present refinery is located approximately on the spot where the first mill was built. After the death of Samuel Williams, the family attempted to keep the mill alive; however, this was not possible, and the mill was sold to Benjamin Franklin Terry and William Jefferson Kyle. Kyle was born in Hawkins County, Tennessee, in 1803, and Terry was born in Kentucky in 1821. In 1849, both Kyle and Terry, who were living at the time in Brazoria, left Texas along with 20 or 30 others to go to the gold fields of California. By the time they reached California, they had increased in number and had approximately 60 wagons, two companies of pack mules and two sets of engineers. Terry and Kyle prospected gold in California, making quite a fortune.

Sugar Land

In 1853, they returned to Texas and with a portion of the fortune purchased the “Oakland Plantation” from the S. M. Williams family. The land, rich in sugar cane, was appropriately renamed “Sugar Land.” The mill was operated using rollers and mule power and the open-kettle process. Molasses was drained off in troughs to 1,000 pound hogsheads for shipment. The railroad from Stafford to Richmond was built by Kyle and Terry. Plans were to run the railroad from Stafford, where the timber met the prairie, direct to Richmond and would have missed Sugar Land; however, Kyle and Terry paid $25 per acre for 2,500 acres of land, paying $7,000 in cash, with the remaining balance due in a series of notes up to year 1858 at which time the notes were fully paid. The big bend, which is currently in the railroad between Stafford and Sugar Land, is a result of this land purchase and Kyle and Terry's desire to have the railroad run through Sugar Land.

In 1860, the Kyle and Terry properties were valued at $250,000. The Sugar Land plantation passed through other hands in years to follow and was finally purchased from the bankrupt Colonel E. H. Cunningham interests by I. H. Kempner and W. T. Eldridge in 1907, at which time the sugar refining process was expanded to what is now known as Imperial Holly Corp. In 1907, the town of Sugar Land began growing at a rapid rate, with operating expenses amounting to around $50,000 per year.

In the fall of 1959, the heretofore company-owned town began the process of incorporation and on Dec. 15, 1959, T. E. Harman was elected the first Mayor of Sugar Land to serve with five Aldermen. The first City Council meeting was held on Jan. 19, 1960.

Home Rule

The City of Sugar Land was incorporated in 1959 as a “General Law” city and remained such from 1959 until Jan. 17, 1981, at which time a special city election was held for the purpose of establishing a home rule municipal government. Voters approved the adoption of a home rule charter in accordance with the constitution and statutes of the state of Texas. The type of municipal government provided by this charter was known as “mayor-council government,” and all powers of the city were invested in a Council composed of a mayor and five councilmen.

In January 1985 pursuant to charter requirements, a five-member charter review commission was appointed and charged with the responsibility of reviewing the operation of the city government and determining whether such Charter provisions required revision and, if deemed advisable, to make recommendations to City Council for amendments to the Charter. As a result of this review, the commission recommended that several areas of the Charter be amended.

A special city election was held Aug. 9, 1986, to submit the proposed changes to the electorate for consideration. By a majority of the voters, amendments to the Charter were approved which provided for a change in the city's form of government from that of “mayor-council” (strong mayor) to that of a “council-manager” form of government which provides that the city manager be the chief administrative officer of the city.

Approval of this amendment provided for the mayor to become a voting member of Council, in addition to performing duties as presiding officer of the Council. An amendment on May 5, 1990, changed the composition of the City Council to a Mayor, four council members to be elected by single-member districts and two council members by at-large position. This composition remains in effect today with term limits of eight consecutive years.

Sugar Land Mayors

There have been ten mayors in Sugar Land's history:
  • T.E. Harman (1959-1961 and 1964-1968)
  • Bill Little (1961-1964)
  • C.E. McFadden (1968-1972)
  • Roy Cordes, Sr. (1972-1981)
  • Walter McMeans (1981-1986)
  • Lee Duggan (1986-1996)
  • Dean A. Hrbacek (1996-2002)
  • David G. Wallace (2002-2008)
  • James A. Thompson (2008-2016)
  • Joe. R. Zimmerman (2016-present)