The Woodlands used to be . . .
… a town of about 16,000 residences in 1986. Shortly thereafter, the wooden sign posted on Grogan’s Mill Road that reflected the population numbers had been changed to 18,000, and by 1988, those numbers had grown to 21,000.
It is interesting how the community’s center of activity has changed in the intervening years. In 1986, a drive down a dirt road was the only way to reach the homes in the newest subdivision—just on the other side of Gosling Road in Cochran’s Crossing. At that time, most people still drove to Houston to shop, attend church and go to the symphony or to museums.
The first homes were ready for purchase in 1974, and by 1980 the community had a population of 11,197, six schools, six parks, five churches and a public library. About 160 companies had opened offices in The Woodlands by 1981. The population reached 55,649 in 2000. As of 2009, the estimated population was approximately 90,000.
The Woodlands was home to the Houston Open for 28 years beginning in 1974. For a week each year, neighborhood streets were lined with cars as residents hosted the town’s major business activity. Woodlands residents came to accept the once-a-year interruption to their daily lives as normal.
In 1986, the hub of activity in The Woodlands was Grogan’s Mill. It was home to The Woodlands Conference Center, The Woodlands Activity Center (known as the WAC) and the majority of shopping opportunities. An ice skating rink was located inside the conference center and was popular for birthday parties. The elegant Glass Menagerie was a special place to dine with a view of the lake and fabulous food. Residents did their grocery shopping in Grogan’s Mill at Jamail’s, which later became Albertson’s, then Randall’s.
McCullough High School, named after educator “Mac” McCullough, was the first high school in the area while Lamar Elementary—opened in the 1970s—served the areas west of I-45 from Shenandoah south to the Harris County line. By 1986, the new Sally K. Ride elementary was open, and plans for a Woodlands High School were under way.
Also in 1986, there were no fast food places in The Woodlands, although there was a McDonalds across I-45 in Oakridge. It was located next to Hyden’s, one of the very few restaurants in the entire area. Dave’s Restaurant on Grogan’s Mill Drive was a Sunday-after-church regular stop. A new Fuddruckers opened in Grogan’s Mill, and those—along with the Glass Menagerie and the country club—comprised The Woodlands’ dining opportunities during those early years.
The original plan for the community did not include churches. Community centers where different denominations would share space were proposed, but local protest brought about a compromise, and by 1978, First Baptist Church of The Woodlands had opened its doors, followed quickly by Sts. Simon and Jude Catholic Parish, The Woodlands United Methodist Church, Trinity Episcopal Church and Lord of Life Lutheran Church.
Before 1985, the nearest emergency-hospital care for Woodlands’ residents was in Conroe. In January 1985, The Woodlands Community Hospital opened its doors with 100 beds and five staff physicians. In 1985, the hospital was small enough that most of the personnel were known to residents by name.
Although The WAC is no longer in existence, it was an integral part of local children’s lives. As home to The Woodlands Swim Team and international swimming competitions, it provided families with tennis, golf and swimming classes, competition opportunities and just good fun.
Among treasured early Woodlands memories are those of 4th of July holidays spent at the Conference Center around the lake—on quilts—sharing picnic dinners with friends and watching fireworks go off over the lake while the children played. Those were halcyon days.
As The Woodlands has continued to grow north and west, a major shift in the community’s center has taken place, facilitated by the opening of The Woodlands Mall in 1994. The community has gained tremendously from these changes. Long-time inhabitants do, however, value, and sometimes really miss, those early days in the little town of The Woodlands.
Thank you to our faithful readers in The Woodlands who did a better job of proofing this article than we did when it first appeared in the July 2010 issue. We have made corrections and are republishing the article for your convenience.
By Melinda Reeves Cagle