Chappell Hill, Texas — founded in 1847 on 100 acres owned by a woman — is located roughly halfway between Austin and Houston on part of the land Mexico granted to Stephen F. Austin in 1821. Mary Haller, the landowner, and her husband Jacob built a stagecoach inn on the site, at the junction of two major stagecoach lines. Soon, other folks from the Deep South migrated to the area and planted cotton, for which the climate and soil were perfectly suited.
By 1856, the population had risen to 3,000 people, eclipsed only by Galveston and San Antonio. The town included a sawmill, five churches, and a Masonic Lodge, in addition to two of the first colleges in the state — one for men and another for women. A railroad line followed soon after.
During the War of Northern Aggression (otherwise known as the American Civil War), the men of Chappell Hill served in both Hood’s Texas Brigade (infantry) and Terry’s Texas Rangers (cavalry), participating in most of the major battles of the conflict. Two years after the war ended, in 1867, many of the Chappell Hill men who survived the fighting perished in a yellow fever epidemic that decimated the town and the rest of the area around the Brazos River.
Chappell Hill never recovered, plunging from one of the largest, most vibrant communities in the state to little more than a memory.
Today, with a population of 300 in town and approximately 1,300 in the zip code, Chappell Hill is an unincorporated community that retains its fighting spirit and independent nature. A May 2008 special election to determine whether the community would incorporate drew two-thirds of eligible voters to the polls. Incorporation was defeated by a vote of three to one.
Widely regarded as one of the best historically preserved towns in Texas, Chappell Hill maintains its landmarks with admirable zeal. The Stagecoach Inn has been in continuous operation since the doors first opened. Main Street is listed as a National Historic District by the National Register of Historic Places. Restored homes, churches, and businesses offer tours to visitors, and the annual Bluebonnet Festival and Scarecrow Festival attract tourists from all over the state.
If you’re ever in the area, it’s worth a visit.