In 1881, the Gulf, Colorado and Santa Fe Railway extended its tracks through central Texas, buying 360 acres (1.5 km2) a few miles southwest of a small farming community known as Palo Alto, which had existed since about 1872. The railroad platted a 70-block town on its land and named it after Frank P. Killeen, the assistant general manager of the railroad. By the next year, the town included a railroad depot, a saloon, several stores, and a school. Many of the residents of the surrounding smaller communities in the area moved to Killeen. By 1884, the town had grown to include about 350 people, served by five general stores, two gristmills, two cotton gins, two saloons, a lumberyard, a blacksmith shop, and a hotel.
Killeen expanded as it became an important shipping point for cotton, wool, and grain in western Bell and eastern Coryell Counties. By 1900, its population was about 780. Around 1905, local politicians and businessmen convinced the Texas legislature to build bridges over Cowhouse Creek and other streams, doubling Killeen's trade area. A public water system began operation in 1914 and its population had increased to 1,300 residents.
Until the 1940s, Killeen remained a relatively small and isolated farm trade center. The buildup associated with World War II changed that dramatically. In 1942, Camp Hood (recommissioned as Fort Hood in 1950) was created as a military training post to meet war demands. Laborers, construction workers, contractors, soldiers, and their families moved into the area by the thousands, and Killeen became a military boomtown. The opening of Camp Hood radically altered the nature of the local economy, since the sprawling new military post covered almost half of Killeen's farming trade area.
The loss of more than 300 farms and ranches led to the demise of Killeen's cotton gins and other farm-related businesses. New businesses were started to provide services for the military camp. Killeen suffered a recession when Camp Hood was all but abandoned after the end of the Second World War, but when Southern congressmen got it established in 1950 as a permanent army post, the city boomed again. Its population increased from about 1,300 in 1949 to 7,045 in 1950, and between 1950 and 1951, about 100 new commercial buildings were constructed in Killeen.
By 1955, Killeen had an estimated 21,076 residents and 224 businesses. Troop cutbacks and transfers in the mid-1950s led to another recession in Killeen, which lasted until 1959, when various divisions were reassigned to Fort Hood. The town continued to grow through the 1960s, especially after US involvement deepened in the Vietnam War and demand for troops kept rising.
By 1970, Killeen had developed into a city of 35,507 inhabitants and had added a municipal airport, a new municipal library, and a junior college (Central Texas College). By 1980, when the census counted 49,307 people in Killeen, it was the largest city in Bell County. By 1990, its population had increased to 63,535, and 265,301 people lived in the Killeen/Temple metropolitan area. In addition to shaping local economic development after 1950, the military presence at Fort Hood also changed the city's racial, religious, and ethnic composition. No blacks lived in the city in 1950, for example.
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Updated May 19, 2019 6:42:pm. Information deemed reliable but not guaranteed.