At one time, many people may have thought of the trains that go through Pearland as little more than a nuisance. But there was a time when the railroad was an essential part of the community, and people anxiously looked forward to the arrival of the train. Since their introduction, railroads have always played a significant role in the development of communities located by their routes. Pearland is no exception. Born with the railroad, much of the town's life in the early years centered on the Santa Fe Railroad Depot. The Depot was the center of business and social activities as trains brought in new people, necessary supplies, and news from the rest of the world
The history of Pearland began in 1861, with a grant of land applied for by the Houston, Tap and Brazoria Railroad Company (H.T. & B.R.R.) The Houston, Tap and Brazoria Railroad Company, already in operation when the Civil War began, was chartered in September, 1856, to run from Houston to Columbia in Brazoria County. Its physical condition at the end of the war was such that its owners abandoned it, and on February 3, 1869, it was sold under judgments in Harris and Galveston counties to W.J. Hutchins of Houston. By then, the H.T. & B.R.R. had become unsafe to operate, and the only service available was a light car drawn by a mule, the driver of which kept the small fare collected for his services and the mule's feed. On July 21, 1871, Masterson & Wagley, acting for the owners of the International-Great Northern Railroad Company (I. & G.N.) bought the H.T. & B.R.R. at a public sale. Later, an arrangement between the International-Great Northern and the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad companies set the ground for Pearland's growth.
The Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad Company was chartered on May 28, 1873, as a result of the determination of Galveston merchants to build a railroad reaching to the interior of Texas without passing through Houston. But by 1880, Houston had assumed such importance that the Santa Fe arranged access to the city by securing trackage rights over the International-Great Northern between Arcola and Houston. In 1882, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe decided to build a railroad from Houston to Galveston, through the present site of Pearland. It was then that Pearland became a siding switch on the railroad and it was named "Mark Belt" for a local landowner whose house was used to receive and sort the mail heading to Galveston.
The first real growth of Pearland was caused by a land boom. On August 1, 1892, L.W. Murdoch, a businessman from Brazoria County, conveyed 520 acres of land to Captain Witold Zychlinski, a Polish nobleman residing in Harris County. Captain Zychlinski then appointed J.R. Jeter the agent in charge of selling the lots and colonizing the surrounding lands. To promote the town to prospective settlers, many fruit trees, in particular pear trees, were planted. On May 17, 1894. Zychlinksi filed a plat of the townsite at the county seat in Angleton. However, for unknown reasons, the plat was not recorded until September 26, 1894. The name given to the townsite was "Pear-land." The plat contained forty blocks with the usual dedication of streets and alleys, and acknowledged the land belonging to the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railroad that ran through the townsite.
Jeter was to have five years from September 1, 1892, to sell and colonize the land. Also, he was to collect one-half of everything over twenty dollars per acre he received for the land. When the purchase money notes were not met, the tract figured in various assignments and judgments, and it was finally contracted to the Southern Homestead Company, with S.M. Christensen, president. The company held develop the area by directing a large advertising campaign to attract buyers from the snowbound Midwestern states to come to Texas and grow pears. The railroad was very important in bringing in new settlers and in 1894, the Southern Homestead Company built the town's first building, a railroad station, with most of the labor donated by early settlers. Later, the Santa Fe Railroad Company took over the building and moved it east of the railroad tracks. That is when Pearland entered the embryonic stage to pass through many experiences and emerge from a small village to a growing city.
Pearland's depot is of frame construction in the style of Frame Depot No. 4 of the Santa Fe Railroad System. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe describe the building as "depot building D-2 (19' x 98')." Floor plans show the depot had two waiting rooms, a women's and a men's, each with a fire place. The ticket agent's office was between these two rooms, with a ticket window overlooking the tracks.
By 1972, there were no passenger trains stopping in Pearland, and the station was primarily a freight depot. The railroad company decided to close the depot and in March, 1972, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe offered to give the depot building to the City of Pearland, with the stipulation the the City move it off of the Railroad's property. In October of 1972, the agreement transferring the building to the City was signed. Members of the Pearland Garden Club leased the building from the City for $1 and raised enough money through community-wide donations to have it moved to the west side of the tracks onto city-owned property. Plans were to renovate the building and use it as a Community Center. But in August, 1974, the Garden Club relinquished their lease for the depot, and the Pearland Improvement and Beautification Board took charge of the building. Several plans for the building's use were suggested, but none were carried out. In March of 1980, the City sold the property where the depot was located to the First Baptist Church, and made plans to move the depot to its present location on 3501 Liberty Drive, next to Pearland City Hall, where it became the home of the Pearland/Hobby Area Chamber of Commerce until 2008.
All information excerpted from "The Birth of a New Town - Pearland and the Pearland Station Depot," a narrative history prepared by the Pearland Historical Society, July 30, 1993.