by Mike Mira
Sienna Plantation is one of the premiere residential communities in the Greater Houston area and has been quickly expanding through major real estate and business developments. With such progress, Sienna Plantation (and Missouri City as a whole) is seeing a population boom which rivals that of the Woodlands during the 1980s.
The master-planned community already has an impressive portfolio of developments. In real estate, prime location is highly prized and Sienna Plantation offers convenience to major freeways connected to Houston, but has a relaxed suburban community atmosphere.
As Sienna Plantation reaches its 20th anniversary, the original cotton and sugar plantation that birthed this sprawling community lounges sleepily in the corner of Scanlan Road, eagerly looking towards the developments around it and back at its own colorful history.
The land that the subdivision now sits on was first purchased by David Fitzgerald, one of the Old Three Hundred setters of Stephen F. Austin’sd colony. Fitzgerald settled on the east bank of the Brazos River in 1822. Soon after, Austin found out that Fitzgerald was a fugitive in the United States and had to force him to leave the colony. However, Austin allowed Fitzgerald, his son, and slaves to stay in the colony and granted him the title to the land where Sienna Plantation now sits.
Jonathan D. Waters, a farmer from South Carolina, purchased David Fitzgerald’s league in 1840. Here, Waters cultivated a variety of crops and developed one of the largest plantations in Texas, which he named the Arcola Plantation. The estate was eventually sold to Thomas W. House in 1872, who was a successful businessman in nearby Houston. During this time, a man by the name of John Rutherford Fenn operated the plantation for Mr. House. J.R. Fenn was part of a family of early settlers along the Brazos River and had famously escaped captivity from the Mexican Army in 1836.
Mr. Fenn oversaw the labor on the plantation as part of the prisoner lease program. The T.W. House plantation, where Sienna Point is located today, saw many prisoners leave their footprints on its land from 1867 to 1913. For almost five decades, the Sugar Land Sugar Company sub-leased prisoners to plantations in the area, which the company itself leased from the Texas Prison System.
In 1913, Houston mayor Thomas H. Scanlan bought the estate and was endowed to the Scanlan Foundation, which sponsored the Houston Catholic Dioceses. The Cenacle Sisters operated a retreat on the property from the 1950s to 1972.
The Cenacle Sisters gave the land its current name, Sienna Plantation, after the Siena region of Italy. However, it was the Johnson Development Corporation, which owns the property today, that developed it into a master-planned community in 1978.
The project suffered from setbacks and stagnation during the economic crisis of the 1980s. In the early 1990s, a billionaire entrepreneur from the Philippines, Tan Yu, who had extensive experience with large-scale business projects in Asia, revitalized the real estate development of Sienna Plantation.
Today, Johnson Development Corporation is seeing the reward of their efforts, and is ready to set in motion even more ambitious plans for the community. The development company is also getting ready to create a street through Sienna Point, the site of the old slave quarters, that will provide residents direct access to FM 521. The street is projected to be completed by early 2018. Likewise, a $25 million elementary school will be opened in August 2017.
The old plantation of Jonathan D. Waters, which some locals claim is haunted by a woman in a red dress, had humble beginnings, but is seeing an array of new faces as 21st century settlers occupy that stretch of land along the Brazos. In this county, the past, present and future are all equally vibrant.
In 2017, the Johnson Development Corp. will create an emergency access road on Scanlan Road, and when Sienna Plantation’s residents drive by the old house, maybe they can reflect on how the momentum of history came to form this tight knit community today.