With its booming population, traffic problems and infrastructure needs, League City left behind its small-town days long ago.
But this city founded by ranchers and farmers hasn’t completely lost its small-town charm.
Along the narrow, oak-shaded lanes of the city’s historic district, visitors and locals alike can eat at local cafes, shop for arts and crafts at small, locally owned stores, visit museums and even get married in a historic building.
And while League City’s past hasn’t always been at the top of the agenda for some in the city, things are moving in the right direction, said Jay Ewend, owner of The Milk Pail, a tea room and restaurant at 1013 E. Main St.
His restaurant occupies a 110-year-old house, and he uses recipes from his mom, grandmother and mother-in-law. Places like his, and the other restaurants, shops, museums and the tree-lined lanes with historic homes are what people want to see, he said.
“What we are trying to do is to make it a reasonable experience; you are selling an experience,” Ewend said.
Ewend, who has years of experience with night clubs, hotels and entertainment and hospitality businesses, said the city’s historic district is a draw for tourists because some people are tired of amusement parks and strip malls.
And League City’s historic district — with places like the West Bay Common School Children’s Museum with its 115-year-old schoolhouse and the Butler Longhorn Museum — gives visitors a respite from the concrete jungle.
“People are trying to get back into the uniqueness of where they came from,” Ewend said.
Nancy Richards has been in love with a building in the old part of League City since she was 14. Richards, who owns Butler’s Courtyard, a wedding facility at 122 N. Michigan, remembers wondering why people in the city would just let the building where she now hosts weddings year-round fall into disrepair.
The space that Butler’s Courtyard occupies was commissioned by George Washington Butler, one of the city’s founders, and built in 1909.
It sat empty for about 40 years before Richards was able to turn the historic building into one of the top wedding venues in the area since she moved in 10 years ago.
The building has served numerous purposes. It once housed a bank, post office, pharmacy and hardware store and cafe on the first floor, and law, dentist and doctors’ offices on the second, Richards said.
“We say we have the first strip mall center in Texas,” she said. “Everything could happen right here.”
The feel, history and quaintness of the building are all great attractions when visitors come for a wedding or event, she said.
“When people walk in this room, they love to hear the history,” Richards said. “They all want to touch and see and walk inside the vault.”
And it’s a testament to the city’s historic district that her building, among others in the area, were spared and preserved, she said.
She can point to other growing suburban cities and how they have let their old homes and structures go. League City has protected and saved enough of its historic core that it can work as a draw. It is a place where people can go and look around, take a walk and learn something about the city.
“This is the marketing tool that the city has never used,” she said. “This is the heart of your city.”
City leaders and council members are taking note of Main Street and the city’s historic district. Work has begun on adding more sidewalks along Main Street from League Park to the Five Corners intersection of Main Street with FM 270 and FM 2094. Beautification and signage projects are council priorities.
League City’s Historic Society President Ronnie Richards, Nancy Richards’ husband, can remember a time when the city was more interested in tearing down old buildings than preserving them. That was the catalyst to create the historic district to preserve the city’s history, he said.
And now that those old buildings and streets are still around the past has an interesting way of connecting with the present. The way the area was designed in the 1890s is the way walkable neighborhoods are being designed today, Ronnie Richards said.
“It’s like the new urbanism but it is the old urbanism,” he said.
And while the district interests out-of-town visitors it also comes as a surprise to many League City residents, Ronnie Richards said.
He hears from people all the time who say they had no idea this was here, he said.
And Ronnie Richards, Ewend and others have said there is still more to come. They and others have talked about ideas for making the area more walkable and bike friendly, adding lighting and signs to let people know they are in a special part of the city.
“It’s the original heart of League City,” Ronnie Richards said. “It communicates our traditions and values as the city was founded. It’s not so sterile and vanilla as the big concrete, paved guttered streets.”