A Little Town Named Rice
by Christopher Dow
The next time you drive I-45 between Houston and Dallas, don’t let road weariness prevent you from seeing the Rice Stadium.
Yep, there it is, about ten miles north of Corsicana, just west of the highway. While not as imposing as the massive concrete edifice of the Rice Stadium, which dominates the west side of the Rice University campus in Houston, this smaller Rice Stadium is equally symbolic of the widespread influence of the great 19th-century entrepreneur William Marsh Rice. It is the stadium of the small town of Rice, Texas.
The area that is now Rice was originally settled in the 1860s, but at the time, it didn’t have a name and couldn’t properly be called a town—only about a dozen families lived in the general vicinity. In 1872, however, the Houston and Texas Central Railway, one of the railroads co-owned by William Marsh Rice, ran lines through the area, and Rice donated land for a station, a church, and a cemetery. Where there had been only a few scattered homes, there was suddenly a town, and the locals named it for their benefactor.
With the station in place, business quickly grew around it, beginning with a two-story wooden building that housed a general store on the lower floor and a hotel on the upper. A post office opened in the general store, and other businesses followed: grocery stores, a gristmill, a blacksmith, wheelwrights, a druggist, and of course, considering William Marsh Rice’s primary business interests, a cotton gin. A local newspaper, the Rice Enterprise, began publication in 1898. The town prospered, developing more than thirty businesses and a population high of about 900 by 1929.
But then came the Great Depression. As happened with many small towns, hard times drained Rice when residents fled to Dallas and other cities, looking for work. Only eight businesses survived by 1945, and the population dropped to 489. That set the pattern for the next two decades, and the population declined to 250 by the mid-1960s.
Since then, though, Rice, Texas, has been on the mend, and the population is now up to around 600, served by seven businesses. Although the little town has only about as many people as a graduating class at Rice University, its neat and proud little stadium shows that it, too, inherited a fair share of spunk and resilience from its founder. So, next time you’re driving I-45 between Houston and Dallas, take a moment to gaze at the other Rice Stadium besides the one at Rice University, and tip your hat to Rice, Texas.
This article originally appeared in Sallyport: The Magazine of Rice University (Summer 2001).