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Inhabited by the Comanches of the Penateka band in the 19th century, Brown County has experienced some amazing growth since those early days. The county is named for Capt. Henry Stevenson Brown, a company commander in the battle of Velasco, a delegate to the Convention of 1832, and one of the first Anglo-Americans in the area.

The county was formed on the western frontier in 1856 from Comanche and Travis counties and organized in 1858, with Brownwood designated as the county seat; the town was also awarded the county’s first post office that year. The county developed slowly between its founding and the 1870s, primarily because conditions were not secure for settlement until the late 1870s or early 1880s, as settlers were harassed by Indians and white predators for 20 years after the county was formed.

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Though increasing numbers of farmers moved into the area in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, the county’s economy was dominated by cattle ranching throughout most of the 19th century. Development of the county was accelerated in the 1890s and early 1900s when two railroads built tracks into the area, providing a stimulus to area farmers and helping maintain an atmosphere favorable to experiments in crop diversification. The new railroad connections helped the area to prosper, since the absence of railroad facilities in southern Eastland and Callahan counties led farmers from those areas to Brown County to do their marketing.

The county’s agricultural economy boomed during the first 10 years of the 20th century, primarily because of a rapid expansion of cotton culture. In 1908, the peak year for cotton in the county, 43,574 bales were ginned, and in 1910, county farmers planted almost 83,000 acres in to cotton. By this time, fruits and pecans had also become an important part of the local agricultural economy. The boll weevil appeared in the county about this time, however, and production of cotton quickly declined.

Oil was first discovered in Brown County in 1879 prompting the drilling of oil in the area, but the first commercial production came in 1917. Hundreds of oil wells were in production over the next several years.

In 1928, a new school district, named for Walter U. Early, an attorney who donated land for several school buildings was formed on the site, and the Anderson, Ricker, Delaware and Jenkin Spring schools consolidated marking the beginning of the city of Early.

Historic Photo

The Great Depression of the 1930s ended the oil boom, as prices dropped and production fell off. The agricultural sector was also hammered, dwindling the number of farms. State and federal programs improved conditions somewhat during this time as well as the construction of a dam during the early 1930s. The dam, which was completed in 1932, created Lake Brownwood, the water source and recreational asset to most of the county. It was predicted that several years of normal rainfall would be required to fill the lake behind the dam, but an almost unprecedented storm in July 1932 filled it in six hours.

The beginning of America’s involvement in World War II helped to resurrect the local economy. Between 1941 and 1943, military needs led to the construction of Camp Bowie, an infantry and cavalry training center that covered 122,000 acres south of Brownwood and cost $35 million to build. The facility affected the county both socially and economically; over 10,000 construction workers were hired to build the camp, and eventually 30,000 troops were assigned there; German prisoners of war were also confined there. The influx of people into the county caused a housing shortage in greater Brownwood and around the camp that lasted through the war despite the army’s construction of a 200-unit housing project.

The war also helped to revive the local oil industry; in 1944 Brown County lands produced more than 400,000 barrels of crude. The industry fully revived after the end of World War II, when large fields were discovered at greater depths, and water flooding of old fields was begun.

After the war, Camp Bowie closed, but business and civic leaders saw this as an opportunity for growth and purchased hundreds of acres of the abandoned military camp to use for industrial development. Through the efforts of the Brownwood Industrial Foundation, businesses such as the 3M Company, Superior Essex, Kohler and other manufacturing industries are now located in the Camp Bowie industrial area and maintain a strong economic base for the community.

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