Chambers County
February, 2004

Dave Leas, Greg Berkert

CHAMBERS COUNTY. Chambers County, named for Thomas Jefferson Chambersqv, is a rural county less than twenty miles east of Houston in the Coastal Prairie region of Southeast Texas. The county is divided by the Trinity River.

Archeological excavations in the county have produced artifacts dating to A.D. 1000. Karankawa, Coapite, and Copane Indians lived in the area when the first expeditions traveled the lower Trinity River. The land that became Chambers County formed part of the Atascosito (or lower Trinity River) District, a subdivision of Nacogdoches in Spanish Texas.

By the early 1800s, Alabama and Coushatta Indians had arrived in the area from Alabama, assimilated the local Bidais and Orcoquizas, taken over their livestock trade with settlers along the Atascosito Road, and planted crops. A colony of French exiles from Napoleon's Grand Army under Charles François Antoine Lallemand, planning to free Napoleon and put his brother Joseph on the Mexican throne, attempted to establish themselves near the site of present Anahuac in 1818, but were driven out by the Spanish. Jean Laffite left the area permanently around 1820.

Mexican influence in the area increased after the Mexican war of independence from Spain in 1821, and Mexican place names replaced many earlier designations. In 1825 Perry's Point, the principal port of entry for the colonial grant, was renamed Anahuac, after the ancient capital of the Aztecs. American settlement began in 1821 at the invitation of the Mexican government. Some of Laffite's men stayed, and empresarios Haden Edwards, Joseph Vehlein, David G. Burnet, and Lorenzo de Zavalaqqv received grants in the area. The major part of what is now Chambers County became Vehlein's grant. T. J. Chambers received land for serving as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Coahuila and Texas and, in 1829, as surveyor general. Chambers's home, built in 1835, today houses the county library. Other early settlers, largely from southern and western Louisiana, included Peter Ellis Bean, James Morgan, James Taylor White,qqv and the Wallis family, which settled at the future site of Wallisville. White is believed to have introduced a herd of longhorn cattle at Turtle Bayou in 1827; other farmers raised rice and cotton, and the lumber industry became important by the 1850s. Antebellum education in Chambers County was private.

In the 1840s, the western edge of the future county was developed. Among those who acquired land was Sam Houston, who established a home at Cedar Point around 1837. The first post office was established at Anahuac, then known as Chambersea, in 1844. When the area became part of Liberty County after independence, land quarrels broke out, among them the notorious conflict between Charles Willcox and Chambers, who, with property valued at more than half a million dollars by 1860, was the county's wealthiest resident.

Chambers County was formed in 1858 from Liberty and Jefferson counties, and organized the same year with Wallisville as its county seat.

During World War II many Chambers County residents found employment in refineries and shipyards at Baytown, Houston, Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Orange. After September 1943 rice farmers employed German prisoners of war from camps in Liberty and Chambers counties. The establishment of the Fraternity of the White Heron, the Forward Trinity Valley Association, the Texas Water Conservation Association, and the Chambers-Liberty County Navigation District advanced area water interests, including the dredging of a channel from the Houston Ship Channel to Smith Point, Anahuac, and Liberty. The Trinity Bay Conservation District was started in 1949. Major highway improvements were made to Farm roads 563 and 565 and State Highway 73, later Interstate 10.

In 2014 the census counted 38,145 people living in Chambers County. About 69 percent were Anglo, 8.3 percent were African American, and 20.6 percent were Hispanic; other ethnic groups comprised about 1 percent of the population. Almost 77 percent of residents age twenty-five and older had four years of high school, and more than 12 percent had college degrees. In the early twenty-first century petroleum and chemical production, agribusiness, fish and oyster processing, and tourism were key elements of the area's economy. In 2002 the county had 610 farms and ranches covering 274,853 acres, 49 percent of which were devoted to crops and 44 percent to pasture. In that year local farmers and ranchers earned $13,374,000, with livestock sales accounting for $7,899,000 of that total. Rice, cattle, soybeans, corn, grain sorghum, and sugar cane were the chief agricultural products. More than 1,732,000 barrels of oil and 23,892,480 cubic feet of gas-well gas were produced in the county in 2004; by the end of that year 907,859,827 barrels of oil had been taken from county lands since 1916.
Incorporated communities in Chambers County include Anahuac (population, 2.288), the seat of government; Beach City (2,365); Cove (505); Mont Belvieu (4,418); Stowell (1,839); Old River-Winfree (1,248); and Wallisville (300). Several important wildlife areas are located in Chambers County, including Moody National Wildlife Refuge and Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, at the juncture of Oyster Bay and East Bay. Lake Anahuac and Fort Anahuac Park were built in the 1940s, H. H. (Hub) McCollum Park in 1959, and Whites Park in 1965. The Texas Rice Festival, which began in 1969, is celebrated annually at Winnie-Stowell in September.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:
Anahuac Progress, June 25, 1937. Jewel Horace Harry, A History of Chambers County (M.A. thesis, University of Texas, 1940; rpt., Dallas: Taylor, 1981). Margaret S. Henson and Kevin Ladd, Chambers County: A Pictorial History (Norfolk, Virginia: Donning, 1988). Ralph Semmes Jackson, Home on the Double Bayou: Memories of an East Texas Ranch (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1961).