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Harris County
Harris County
Harris County 1910 Courthouse Restored Houston Texas.jpg
Downtown Houston, Harris County Courthouse
Official seal of Harris County
Map of Texas highlighting Harris County
Location within the U.S. state of Texas
Map of the United States highlighting Texas
Texas's location within the U.S.
Country  United States
State  Texas
Founded 1837
Named for John Richardson Harris
Seat Houston
Largest city Houston
 • Total 1,778 sq mi (4,600 km2)
 • Land 1,703 sq mi (4,410 km2)
 • Water 74 sq mi (190 km2)  4.2%
 • Total 4,731,145 Increase
Time zone UTC−6 (Central)
 • Summer (DST) UTC−5 (CDT)
Congressional districts 2nd, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 18th, 22nd, 29th, 36th
Map of Harris County - Northeast One-fourth
Map of Harris County – Northeast one-fourth (circa 1912)

Harris County is located in the U.S. state of Texas. As of the 2020 census, the population was 4,731,145, making it the most populous county in Texas and the third most populous county in the United States. Its county seat is Houston, the largest city in Texas and fourth largest city in the United States. The county was founded in 1836 and organized in 1837. It is named for John Richardson Harris, who founded the town of Harrisburg on Buffalo Bayou in 1826. According to a July 2018 census estimate, Harris County's population had grown to 4,698,619, comprising over 16% of Texas's population. Harris County is included in the nine-county Houston–The Woodlands–Sugar Land metropolitan statistical area, which is the fifth-most populous metropolitan area in the United States.


Firefighters and Carriages
Firefighters on San Jacinto Street, circa 1914
The Harris County Courthouse in Houston, in 1913.

John Richardson Harris, early Harris County settler and founder of Harrisburg, the son of John and Mary (Richardson) Harris, was born in Cayuga, New York, on October 22, 1790.

On May 7, 1813, he married Jane Birdsall. John and Jane Birdsall Harris settled near Waterloo, New York, where two sons, DeWitt Clinton and Lewis Birdsall Harris, were born. In 1819 they were living in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, where their daughter Mary Jane Harris Briscoe was born. A third son, John Birdsall Harris, was born in 1821.

At Ste. Genevieve Harris met Moses Austin and decided to move to Texas. He came to Texas in his own vessel in 1824 and received title to 4,428 acres of land at the junction of Bray's and Buffalo bayous in what is now Harris County. He boarded with William Scott while he built a house on the peninsula between the bayous and a store and warehouse on Buffalo Bayou.

In 1826 he employed Francis W. Johnson to lay out the town of Harrisburg. With his brother David Harris, John Harris established a second trading post at Bell's Landing on the Brazos River. Their sloops and schooners plied between Texas and New Orleans. One of these vessels, the Rights of Man, carried eighty-four bales of cotton to New Orleans in 1828.

Harris was building a steam sawmill-gristmill at Harrisburg in 1829, when he went to New Orleans to buy equipment and there contracted yellow fever. After his death on August 21, 1829, his sawmill and shipping enterprise were operated by his brothers David, Samuel, and William Plunkett Harris. His widow and son DeWitt moved to Texas in 1833; the other children came later.

Litigation over Harris's estate prevented Harrisburg from becoming the seat of the new Texas government in 1836, when Houston was named instead.


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,777 square miles (4,600 km2), of which 1,703 square miles (4,410 km2) is land and 74 square miles (190 km2) (4.2%) is water. Both its total area and land area are larger than the state of Rhode Island.

Adjacent counties


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 4,668
1860 9,070 94.3%
1870 17,375 91.6%
1880 27,985 61.1%
1890 37,249 33.1%
1900 63,786 71.2%
1910 115,693 81.4%
1920 186,667 61.3%
1930 359,328 92.5%
1940 528,961 47.2%
1950 806,701 52.5%
1960 1,243,158 54.1%
1970 1,741,912 40.1%
1980 2,409,547 38.3%
1990 2,818,199 17.0%
2000 3,400,578 20.7%
2010 4,092,459 20.3%
2020 4,731,145 15.6%
U.S. Decennial Census
1850–2010 2010–2020

2020 census

Harris County, Texas - Demographic Profile
(NH = Non-Hispanic)
Race / Ethnicity Pop 2010 Pop 2020 % 2010 % 2020
White alone (NH) 1,349,646 1,309,593 32.98% 27.68%
Black or African American alone (NH) 754,258 885,517 18.43% 18.72%
Native American or Alaska Native alone (NH) 8,150 8,432 0.20% 0.18%
Asian alone (NH) 249,853 344,762 6.11% 7.29%
Pacific Islander alone (NH) 2,260 3,199 0.06% 0.07%
Some Other Race alone (NH) 7,914 23,262 0.19% 0.49%
Mixed Race/Multi-Racial (NH) 48,838 121,671 1.19% 2.57%
Hispanic or Latino (any race) 1,671,540 2,034,709 40.84% 43.01%
Total 4,092,459 4,731,145 100.00% 100.00%

Note: the US Census treats Hispanic/Latino as an ethnic category. This table excludes Latinos from the racial categories and assigns them to a separate category. Hispanics/Latinos can be of any race.

2010 census

As of the 2010 census, the population of the county was 4,092,459, White Americans made up 56.6% of Harris County's population; non-Hispanic whites represented 33.0% of the population. Black Americans made up 25.9% of the population. Native Americans made up 0.7% of Harris County's population. Asian Americans made up 6.2% of the population (2.0% Vietnamese, 1.2% Indian, 1.1% Chinese, 0.6% Filipino, 0.3% Korean, 0.1% Japanese, 1.0% Other). Pacific Islander Americans made up just 0.1% of the population. Individuals from other races made up 14.3% of the population; people from two or more races made up 3.2% of the county's population. Hispanics and Latinos (of any race) made up 40.8% of Harris County's population. As of the 2010 census, there were about 6.2 same-sex couples per 1,000 households in the county.


According to Children At Risk, a local nonprofit research organization, 21% of the Harris County children live in poverty, 6.5 per 1,000 die before age one, and 38% drop out of high school.


Harris County along with other Texas counties has one of the nation's highest property tax rates. In 2007, the county was ranked in the top 25 at 22nd in the nation for property taxes as percentage of the homes value on owner-occupied housing. The list only includes counties with a population over 65,000 for comparability.

Racial and ethnic demographics

As of 2014 census estimates, Harris County had a population of 4,441,370 people.

The racial and ethnic makeup of the county was 40.8% Hispanic or Latino. The population was 31.4% non-Hispanic white, 19.5% non-Hispanic black, 1.1% Native American, 7.0% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander.

As of 2013, 37% of non-Hispanic Whites in Harris County had college or postgraduate degrees and 36% of them had annual incomes over $75,000. As of 2013, 19% of Blacks in Harris County had college or postgraduate degrees. as did 13% of U.S.-born Latinos and 7% of Latino immigrants.

Altogether, the non-Hispanic white population in Harris County is declining. Steve H. Murdock, a demographer with the Rice University Hobby Center for the Study of Texas and a former director of the U.S. Census Bureau, predicted that by 2040, Hispanic residents of the county will increase by 2.5 million, while the number of non-Hispanic Whites will decrease by 516,000. This assumes that the net migration rate is equal to one half of that of 1990–2000.

The Houston Area Asian Survey of the Kinder Institute of Urban Research Houston Area Survey stated that between 1990 and 2000, the Asian population in Harris County increased by 76%. Between 2000 and 2010, it increased by 45%. The Asian ethnic groups in Harris County have differing levels of educational attainment, religion, political views, and income. During that year, in Harris County, 50% of the county's Asian immigrants have postgraduate degrees. As of 2013 28% of Harris County Asians have household incomes of over $75,000. The report stated that many Asians were in earlier stages of careers and were younger, leading to lower incomes. Of Indian and Pakistani residents, the second most educated Asian group in the county, behind Taiwanese, 71% have university or post-graduate degrees and 2% did not finish high school. Of Vietnamese, the least educated Asian group in the county, 30% have university or post-graduate degrees and 20% did not finish high school.


In 2010 statistics, the largest religious group in Harris County was the Archdiocese of Galveston–Houston, with 1,947,223 Catholics worshiping at 109 parishes, followed by 579,759 SBC Baptists with 811 congregations, 348,461 non-denominational adherents with 577 congregations, 182,624 UMC Methodists with 124 congregations, an estimated 117,148 Muslims with 47 congregations, 44,472 LDS Mormons with 77 congregations, 39,041 TEC Episcopalians with 43 congregations, 34,957 PC-USA Presbyterians with 49 congregations, 33,525 Churches of Christ Christians with 124 congregations, and 30,521 LCMS Lutherans with 46 congregations. Altogether, 58.4% of the population was claimed as members by religious congregations, although members of historically African-American denominations were underrepresented due to incomplete information. In 2014, the county had 1,607 religious organizations, the third most out of all U.S. counties.


Harris County Criminal Courts Building
Harris County Criminal Courts Building

In 2000, 1,961,993 residents of Harris County spoke English only. The five largest foreign languages in the county were Spanish or Spanish Creole (1,106,883 speakers), Vietnamese (53,311 speakers), Chinese (33,003 speakers), French including Louisiana French and Patois (33,003 speakers), and Urdu (14,595 speakers). Among those who spoke other languages, 46% of Spanish speakers, 37% of Vietnamese speakers, 50% of Chinese speakers, 85% of French speakers, and 72% of Urdu speakers said that they spoke English at least "very well".

Automobile ownership

As of U.S. Census figures current as of 1997, 9% of residents in Harris County did not own automobiles. This figure does not include people who own cars, but do not have enough money to repair the automobiles. As of that year, while the average income of all residents of the county was $41,000 (equivalent to $74,700 in 2022), the average income of households without cars was $13,000 (equivalent to $23,700 in 2022).

Educational attainment

In 2011, according to the nonprofit Children at Risk, one-third of students at public high schools in Harris County do not graduate.

Diplomatic missions

The Consulate-General of Pakistan in Houston in an unincorporated area of Harris County

Various consulates are located in the county; one, the Consulate-General of Pakistan in Houston, which opened in June 2004, is at 11850 Jones Road in an unincorporated section of the county. The other consulates are in areas of Houston.


Harris County Annex M has the headquarters of the Harris County Transit agency.

Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO) serves several areas within Harris County. An agency of the Harris County government, Harris County Transit, serves communities in Harris County that are not served by METRO.

In Harris County, the average one way commute for a person using an automobile was 25 minutes, while the average commute for a person not using an automobile was 44 minutes, a 76% longer duration than the figure for commuters with cars.

Major highways

  • I-10 (TX).svg Interstate 10 a.k.a. - Katy Freeway going West or Baytown East Freeway going East
  • I-45 (TX).svg Interstate 45 a.k.a. - North Freeway going North or Gulf Freeway going South
  • Hardy Toll Road
  • Fort Bend Toll Road
  • Westpark Tollway
  • I-69 (TX).svg US 59.svg Interstate 69/U.S. Highway 59 a.k.a. - Eastex Freeway going NE or Southwest Freeway going SW
  • I-610 (TX).svg Interstate 610 a.k.a. - North Loop Freeway north of downtown Houston or West Loop Freeway west of downtown Houston or South Loop Freeway south of downtown Houston or East Loop Freeway east of downtown Houston
  • US 90.svg U.S. Highway 90 a.k.a. - Crosby Freeway
  • Alternate plate.svg
    US 90.svg U.S. Highway 90 Alternate
  • US 290.svg U.S. Highway 290 a.k.a. - Northwest Freeway
  • Texas 3.svg State Highway 3
  • Texas 6.svg State Highway 6
  • Toll Texas 99.svg State Highway 99 a.k.a. - Grand Parkway (Under Construction)
  • Texas 146.svg State Highway 146
  • Texas 225.svg State Highway 225 a.k.a. - La Porte Freeway
  • Texas 249.svg State Highway 249 a.k.a. - Tomball Parkway going from Tomball and SE or Tomball Tollway going from Tomball and NW
  • Texas 288.svg State Highway 288 a.k.a. - South Freeway
  • Texas Beltway 8.svg Beltway 8 a.k.a. - Sam Houston Parkway east of I-45 in north Houston and north of I-10 east of Houston or Sam Houston Tollway west of I-45 in north Houston and south of I-10 east of Houston

See List of Highways in Harris County for more roadways in Harris County.

Mass transit

Many areas in Harris County are served by Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas (METRO), a public transportation agency headquartered in Downtown Houston.

Some communities outside of METRO's service area, such as Baytown, Texas and Channelview, Texas, are served by Harris County Transit.

Intercity buses

Greyhound Bus Lines operates various stations throughout Harris County.


Two commercial airports, George Bush Intercontinental Airport and William P. Hobby Airport, are located in Houston and in Harris County. The Houston Airport System defines Harris County as a part of Bush Intercontinental's service region. The city of Houston operates Ellington Field, a general aviation and military airport in Harris County.

General aviation airports for fixed-wing aircraft outside of Houston include:

  • Publicly owned
    • La Porte Municipal Airport in La Porte
    • Baytown Airport in unincorporated east Harris County, north of Baytown
  • Privately owned, public use
    • West Houston Airport is a general aviation airport located in unincorporated western Harris County, west of the Houston city limits.
    • Dan Jones International Airport in unincorporated northwestern Harris County
    • Weiser Air Park in unincorporated northern Harris County
    • David Wayne Hooks Memorial Airport, a general aviation airport, is located outside of the Tomball city limits in unincorporated northwest Harris County.
    • Sack-O-Grande Acroport (also known as Harbican Airport) is located in western unincorporated Harris County.
  • Privately owned, private use
    • Hoffpauir Airport is located in western unincorporated Harris County.

Political organization

The chief administrative officer of a Texas County, as set up in the Texas Constitution, is the County Judge, who sits as the chair of the county's Commissioners' Court (the equivalent of a Board of Supervisors in some other states). Since 2007, this position in Harris County is held by Judge Ed Emmett. The county is split into 4 geographical divisions called Precincts. Each precinct elects a Commissioner to sit as a representative of their precinct on the commissioners court and also for the oversight of county functions in their area.

Other elected positions in Harris County include a County Attorney, a County Clerk, a District Attorney, a District Clerk, a Sheriff, 8 Constables, a Tax Assessor-Collector, a County Treasurer, and every judge in the county except municipal judges, who are appointed by the officials of their respective cities.

Many of the organs of the Harris County government reside in the Harris County Campus in Downtown Houston.


Cities (multiple counties)


Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities



Hewlett-Packard United States offices, formerly headquarters of Compaq

In 2000, the largest employers in Harris County were Administaff, Compaq, Continental Airlines, Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, and Southwestern Bell.

The University of Houston System's annual impact on the Houston-area's economy equates to that of a major corporation: $1.1 billion in new funds attracted annually to the Houston area, $3.13 billion in total economic benefit, and 24,000 local jobs generated. This is in addition to the 12,500 new graduates the UH System produces every year who enter the workforce in Houston and throughout Texas. These degree-holders tend to stay in Houston. After five years, 80.5% of graduates are still living and working in the region.

In 2009, 20% of the office space in northwest Harris County was vacant. As of that year, more office space is being built; in 2010, northwest Harris will have twice the amount of office space that it had in 2009. The vacancy rate in the area near Farm to Market Road 1960 and Texas State Highway 249 in north Harris County was 53% in 2009.

Various companies are headquartered in incorporated and unincorporated areas throughout Harris County.

Academy Sports and Outdoors, a sporting goods retailer, has its corporate offices and product distribution center in unincorporated western Harris County. Hewlett-Packard formerly operated its United States region office in a complex northwest unincorporated Harris County; the complex formerly belonged to Compaq prior to Compaq's merger with HP. The HP offices, which are now occupied by Hewlett Packard Enterprise, are now in a limited purpose annexation in Houston. Smith International has its headquarters in the Greenspoint district and in an unincorporated area in Harris County. BJ Services Company has its headquarters in the Spring Branch district and in unincorporated Harris County. Cybersoft Technologies has its headquarters in an unincorporated area. In 2012 Noble Energy announced that it was consolidating its headquarters and two other Greater Houston offices into a 10-story building on the former Compaq headquarters property in unincorporated Harris County. In 2022 ExxonMobil announced it was moving its headquarters to Harris County from Irving, Texas. Goya Foods previously had its Texas offices in an unincorporated area in the county.

General Electric operates an aeroderivative division facility on Jacintoport in unincorporated Harris County. Randall's Food Markets, a subsidiary of Safeway Inc., has its distribution center in unincorporated Harris County.

In 2008, KBR announced that it will open a new office facility in an unincorporated area in western Harris County. In December KBR said that it would not continue with the plans due to a weakened economy. In January 2009 KBR announced that it will not open the new office facility.


Primary and secondary schools

Harris County Department of Education – Ronald W. Reagan Building

The Harris County Department of Education, a county division overseeing education by local school districts, with a 2011 budget around $100 million, is headquartered in the Ronald W. Reagan Building in the Northside district in Houston. It has an Adult Education Center in the Northside and an office in the North Post Oak Building in Spring Branch.

Several school districts serve Harris County communities. Among the 26 districts are:

  • Aldine ISD
  • Alief ISD
  • Channelview ISD
  • Clear Creek ISD
  • Crosby ISD
  • Cypress-Fairbanks ISD
  • Dayton ISD
  • Deer Park ISD
  • Galena Park ISD
  • Goose Creek CISD
  • Houston ISD
  • Humble ISD
  • Katy ISD
  • Klein ISD
  • La Porte ISD
  • Pasadena ISD
  • Sheldon ISD
  • Spring ISD
  • Spring Branch ISD
  • Stafford MSD
  • Tomball ISD
  • Waller ISD

On July 1, 2013, the North Forest Independent School District closed and its territory became a part of Houston ISD.

In addition, state-operated charter schools are in the county. Charter schools in unincorporated areas include:

  • Jamie's House Charter School (6–12)
  • Richard Milburn Academy Houston (high school) – Of Milburn Schools
  • YES Prep North Central of YES Prep Public Schools

The department of education of the county operates the Highpoint Schools.

Colleges and universities

Ezekiel W. Cullen Building (Alternate)
Ezekiel W. Cullen Building at the University of Houston
Rice University - Sally Port
Rice University - Sally Port

Four separate and distinct state universities are located in Harris County. The University of Houston is a nationally recognized Tier One research university, and is the flagship institution of the University of Houston System. The third-largest university in Texas, the University of Houston counted 43,774 (fall 2016) students on its 667-acre campus in southeast Houston. The University of Houston–Clear Lake and the University of Houston–Downtown are stand-alone universities; they are not branch campuses of the University of Houston. Located in the historic community of Third Ward is Texas Southern University, one of the largest historically black colleges and universities in the United States.

Several private institutions of higher learning—ranging from liberal arts colleges to a nationally recognized research university—are located within Harris County. Rice University is one of the leading teaching and research universities of the United States and ranked the nation's 17th best overall university by U.S. News & World Report.

Four community college districts exist with campuses in and around Harris County:

  • The Houston Community College System serves Houston ISD (including the former North Forest ISD), Katy ISD, Spring Branch ISD, Alief ISD, and Stafford MSD. This includes most of the City of Houston.
  • The Lone Star College System (formerly North-Harris Montgomery Community College District) serves Aldine ISD, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Tomball ISD, Humble ISD, and Klein ISD. This constitutes the northwestern through northeastern parts of the county.
  • San Jacinto College serves Pasadena ISD, Galena Park ISD, Sheldon ISD, Channelview ISD, Deer Park ISD, La Porte ISD, and the Harris County part of Clear Creek ISD. This constitutes southeastern and eastern portions of the county
  • Lee College serves Goose Creek ISD, Crosby ISD, and Huffman ISD, far east to northeast sections

The legislation does not specify which community college is for the Harris County portion of Waller ISD.

The Houston Community College and Lone Star College systems are within the 10 largest institutions of higher learning in the United States.

Public libraries

Harris County operates its own public library system, the Harris County Public Library.

In addition, Houston has the Houston Public Library, a city-controlled public library system.

The cities of Baytown, Bellaire, Deer Park, and Pasadena have their own city-controlled libraries.

Images for kids

See also

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