The Arkokisa Indians hunted, fished and gathered shell fish from the marshes and bays on the land that is now Baytown Nature Center.
The Indians lived in the area for hundreds of years sometimes making the area their summer homes. Many artifacts of their existence have been found along the shores of the bays.
Pottery, fish spears and other artifacts from their summer camps can be seen at Baytown Historical Museum on 220 W. Defee in Baytown. By the mid-1830s, these native Indians had all died out.
Cattle Ranching to Residential Homes
In 1910 Edwin Rice Brown Sr. of Mississippi bought 530 acres from the Wooster Estate for $15,000 on which to raise cattle.
After his death in 1927, his widow, Myra C. Brown, began to sell the land for development.
The Bird Sanctuary on the north side of the nature center is named for her.
In 1937, Edwin Rice Brown Jr. sold lots on Crystal Bay to Humble Oil executives for homes.
The exclusive residential area of Brownwood was annexed to the City of Baytown in 1962.
By the early 1970s, the Brownwood subdivision had over 360 homes. Brownwood residents enjoyed a beautiful setting and lifestyle of fishing and sailing in the surrounding bays.
Subsidence, Flooding & Hurricanes
The area began to flood during seasonal high tides or storm surges brought on by tropical storms and hurricanes.
Between 1967 and 1981 there were 26 entries in city records pertaining to flooding or evacuations.
Withdrawal of groundwater by neighborhoods and industry was causing the area to subside.
Eventually the area had sunk 10 to 15 feet causing some property to be submerged in the bay or subject to tidal flooding.
In August 1983, Hurricane Alicia devastated the Brownwood area.
Storm tides over 10 feet sweep over the peninsula, and the subdivision was virtually demolished.
Most of the area was declared uninhabitable.
The area lay in ruin for years as the political and legal processes took place. The city eventually bought most of the lots, and others were abandoned.
Over time the ruined homes were demolished, and the debris cleared away.
Return to Nature
A master plan was developed to turn the area into a nature center.
In 1995, 65 acres of the Brownwood site was returned to a mix of tidal wetlands, fresh and brackish water pools, and forested islands and Baytown Nature Center opened.
The initial nature center development was handled as a mitigation site for the French Limited Superfund clean-up project, a consortium of 200 companies.
Since then, additional habitat restoration projects have expanded the wetlands area and enhanced the upland areas.
The smaller peninsula was developed into a recreational area with fishing piers, picnic tables, walking trails and observation platforms and a Children’s Nature Discovery Area.
The larger peninsula, which includes the initial wetlands project, was maintained as a Natural Area.
An additional 15 acres of wetlands restoration was completed in 2004. In 2005, a new entrance was added on Bayway Drive.
In 2008, Baytown Nature Center was severely damaged by Hurricane Ike. Many of the structures were damaged or destroyed by the 13 feet of flood water that inundated much of the center.
Since then most structures have been rebuilt, restored or repaired. The Children’s Discovery Area, which was totally destroyed by the hurricane, underwent a complete redesign and was rebuilt as a natural playscape.