Waco, like many other cities in the United States, was originally inhabited by indigenous tribes, primarily the Wichita tribe, also known as the Waco. Thomas Duke explored the area during the 1820s after the tribes fought off European settlers. A treaty was signed with the people in 1825, but the tribe was eventually forced off of the land and settled near what is now Fort Worth. The first settler in the area is noted as Neil McLennan in 1838. The first city block was designed in 1849, and later that year, the first home was constructed. Though the name Lamartine was proposed, the area was instead called Waco Village after the tribe that had lived there before.
During the next decade, the citizens of Waco aimed to build a bridge over the Brazos River. To take on the project, the Waco Bridge Company was formed. The company created the brick Waco Suspension Bridge, a 475-foot bridge that was finished in 1870. The construction of the bridge led to a boost in the economy, as a toll was required to pass. The population then began to grow as more immigrants made their way over. The bridge still stands today and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The city was thriving, and the population was growing through the 19th century. Other notable things that occurred during this period were the invention of Dr. Pepper in 1885 and the relocation of Baylor University from Independence to Waco. Toward the end of the 1800s, Waco published the Iconoclast newspaper, which was very successful. The city, which had an economy centered on agriculture, built a fair and exhibition center, which drew in more than eight million attendees. Unfortunately, the original building burned in a fire in the early 1900s, and the rebuilt structure was torn down following the Great Depression.
An odd event in Waco was the “Crash” of 1896. This was meant to be entertaining for citizens and featured two trains that were going to crash head-on. Unfortunately, this stunt resulted in the deaths and injuries of multiple people when the boilers exploded.
This wasn’t the only bad thing to happen in Waco. The Waco Horror became national news after a young teenager was tortured and burned in the town square after citizens took matters into their own hands following the conviction of the teenager, who had been accused of killing a white woman. After this incident, the city worked to improve protections for African Americans.
Waco Army Air Field was opened in 1942, later becoming Connally Air Force Base, then James Connally Air Force Base. Though it closed in the 1960s, it is now the site of the Texas State Technical College. Waco’s airfield, however, is still open today and is the TSTC Waco Airport.
The next few decades saw more highs and lows for the city. A tornado killed hundreds in the 1950s and remains one of the deadliest tornados in US and state history. In the 1970s, bones were found that were dated to be over 68,000 years old and are thought to have belonged to a mammoth. Other animal remains were also found at the site.
Waco was once the home of the White House Press Center. In recent years, the city has constructed a riverwalk, which is one of its many attractions. Other attractions include museums, the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, parks, and the Dr. Pepper Museum. The city is also home to many professional sports teams.