John Richard Harris pioneered his way from Missouri and founded the town of Harrisburg at the junction of Buffalo and Brays Bayou in 1826. The town thrived, and by 1829 Harris had established the first industry in what is today the Houston metropolitan area, a steam-operated saw mill. His brother David joined him in his prospering trading post, and together they purchased schooners, one of which carried the first Texas cotton to market in New Orleans.

But disaster struck in August of that same year when John Harris was stricken by the deadly grip of yellow fever while sailing one of his vessels to New Orleans to purchase a belt for his sawmill. He died in 1829.

The town survived under David’s leadership until four years later, when Harris’ widow, Jane Birdsall Harris, and her eldest son, DeWitt Clinton Harris, were able to travel to Harrisburg. Sympathetic with her husband’s wishes, Mrs. Harris at once found the site he had selected for their future home and built a house using lumber from her husband’s sawmill. In 1836, seven years after the death of her husband, Jane welcomed the Provisional Government of Texas into her home, and the Harris home became the capitol of the new Republic of Texas.

Harrisburg’s claim to fame as capitol of the Republic of Texas was of short duration. The Mexican army arrived the following month and burned the town, including the Harris home. But a week later on April 21, 1836, Santa Anna’s men were trapped by General Sam Houston on the plain of St. Hyacinth, and Mexico’s governance of Texas came to an end. Jane Harris and her son had fled to Galveston during the fire, and returned to rebuild their beloved home.

The town slowly rebuilt, and in 1847 General Sidney Sherman organized a railroad charter under the title Buffalo Bayou, Brazos and Colorado Railroad. By 1852, the road had been completed to the Brazos River, a distance of 32 miles. By 1853, Harrisburg had a steam saw and gristmill, several stores, three hotels (one of which was operated by Mrs. Harris in her converted home), and a railroad terminal with shops and yards. But the Civil War brought an end to that prosperity, and Harrisburg fell on grim times.

Harrisburg initially was sought by the Allen brothers for their settlement named Houston. Probate of John Harris’ estate prevented the sale of Harrisburg, and the Allens settled a few miles north, at what is now known as Allen’s Landing. The City of Houston annexed historic Harrisburg in 1926, but John Harris is honored forever as the namesake of Harris County.

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