In the early nineteenth century, America was possessed by what one observer called, "City-making Mania." This affliction caused promoters to paint visions of flourishing cities at the mouth of every stream and bayou.
Once Texas had won her independence, that same mania was drawn here by the vacuum of free or cheap land.
Once land was acquired, the "proprietors" would hire (or partner with if funds where low) a surveyor to plat the new town.
When this was done, ads were placed in Eastern newspapers advising would-be emigrants of the ground-floor opportunity to become one of the most prominent citizens of a town that was destined to rival New York in commerce and culture within a very few years.
One editor satirized these city promotions with his own ad for the "City of Skunksburgh."
The satirical town was located on a "noble stream which, by the use of proper and sufficient means may be made navigable to the sea. It abounds in delicate minnows, a variety of terrapins and frogs, which in size, voice and movement, are inferior to none."
Land in this city of destiny would be set aside for, "the Exchange and City Hall, a church, one gymnastic and one polytechnic foundation...an equestrian circus, an observatory...and seventeen banks, to each of which may be attached a lunatic hospital."
Maps of Texas where soon littered with towns that would never amount to much more than the dots that represented them.
There were exceptions, of course. Galveston, Houston, Indianola and Dallas to name a few. Political patronage helped. Being named a county seat assured an infantburg advantage over it's rivals.
The plats for most Texas cities can trace their genealogy to Philadelphia with it's perfect grid of streets.
That orderliness appealed not just to surveyors and promoters, but to the average citizen of the time. To the nineteenth century mind, curved lines represented the country and agricultural pursuits, while straight lines meant the progressive and scientific mindset of the city dweller.
Surveyors adhered to the grid, even when the terrain made it farcical. A great example was the plan for the City of Houston, as surveyed by Gail "The Milkman" Borden and his brother John.
What is now downtown Houston was traversed by several large gullies. Instead of letting topography inform the plan, the Bordens simply laid a grid over it.
The king of those gullies began at Walker where it crosses Smith. It was more than thirty feet deep in places, and nearly as wide as the street. By the time it met the bayou it was nearly two blocks wide.
Much of the space this gully occupied is now Tranquility Park.
The big gully in 1873