Kingsville, an urban extension of the King Ranch lands ( KA12), owed its creation, design, and development to its astute benefactors, Henrietta M. King, historically named its “founding mother,” and her son-in-law, Robert J. Kleberg, its indefatigable promoter. Exercising full control over the urban project, the pair supported Kingsville as if the future of their beloved ranch depended on its success. After Henrietta King deeded 853 acres for the layout of the city, Kleberg ensured Kingsville's designation as the headquarters of the St. Louis, Brownsville and Mexico Railway, thus setting it on its course to become a regional trading center.
The Kleberg Town and Improvement Company, Kingsville's development entity, surveyed the town, sold its lots, built and financed houses and businesses, and promoted irrigated farm plots beyond the city limits. The King family, for its part, directly financed infrastructure needs. Promotion of the “Green City,” as Kingsville was called, was intense throughout the Midwest in an attempt to lure “an energetic class of people,” as described in the literature of the time.
Surveyed in 1903, the eighty-block townsite (bounded by Sta. Gertrudis and Huisache avenues and 1st and 10th streets) expanded quickly with new additions, eventually filling 226 blocks. Divided into quadrants, the orthogonal grid was separated from north to south by Kleberg Avenue, while the railroad (now U.S. Business 77) was the industrial and transportation spine dividing east and west.
The population increase from 400 residents in 1904 to 4,000 in 1912 necessitated the quick construction of schools, public buildings, houses, and churches. At the same time, the city's status was elevated when it became the seat of the new Kleberg County in 1913.
Kingsville grew steadily with Kleberg and his heirs luring new commerce and governmental and educational institutions to the city, as oil was discovered in the 1930s. The decline of the railroad in the 1950s, and that of the oil industry in the 1980s, led to a standstill in population and economic growth. The ensuing vacancy and deterioration of significant historic buildings instigated a major preservation effort in the 1980s and 1990s in the central business district that is championed, in no small part, by the King family.
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