Victoria, county seat of Victoria County, was established in 1824 on the east bank of the Guadalupe River as the political seat of empresarioMartín de León's colony, in which de León was authorized to settle one hundred families. De León named the town Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe de Jesús Victoria in honor of Don Guadalupe Victoria, the first president of Mexico.
The town plan is customarily attributed to José María de Jesús Carbajal, a San Antonio–born surveyor. It is also attributed—at the later date of 1839— to Ed Linn, an Irish-born surveyor who, with his brothers Juan J. Linn and Dr. Charles Linn, was among de León's original colonists. Like the town plan of Liberty (which Carbajal assisted José Francisco Madero in surveying in 1830), but unlike such other Mexican-era towns of the Gulf Coast as West Columbia and Matagorda, Victoria's town plan is centered on a pair of plazas two blocks apart: Constitution Square (now De León Plaza) and Market Square. Rejecting Mexican influence after Texas independence, these plazas resemble American public squares rather than Mexican civic spaces.
Victoria's nineteenth-century architecture also attests to the strong impact of Anglo-American building culture. After Galveston, Victoria possesses the largest expanse of intact nineteenth-century residential fabric of any city along the Texas Gulf Coast. Victoria's economic roles as a trade center at the intersection of the Bahía Road and the Chihuahua Trail, and as a center for coastal cattle ranchers, among whom the de Leóns are now recognized as pioneers, generated the wealth that produced this architectural legacy. Victoria's location as an early terminus of the San Antonio and Mexican Gulf Railroad in 1861 and of the New York, Texas and Mexican Railway in 1882 reinforced its economic function as an entrepôt. The railroad facilitated the regional practice of Danish-born and -trained architect Jules Leffland from 1886 through the 1910s. The discovery of major oil and natural gas reserves beginning in 1931 did not lead to the decline and destruction of Victoria's nineteenth-century neighborhoods but rather to their preservation and enhancement. Victoria is exceptional among Texan cities in that the local elite never abandoned the city's nineteenth-century neighborhoods.
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