Trains have always been the sound of Sugar Land. These rails are on the route of the oldest railroad in Texas. It went right through the middle of town, by the sugar refinery, and west of town, through the heart of what used to be known as the Imperial State Prison Farm.
As a company town from the 1910s until 1959, Sugar Land was virtually self-contained. Imperial Sugar Company provided housing for the workers, encouraged construction of schools, built a hospital for the workers well-being, and provided businesses to meet the workers needs. Many of the original homes built by the Imperial Sugar Company remain today in The Hill area and Mayfield Park of Sugar Land and have been passed down through generations of family members.
During the 1950s, Imperial Sugar wanted to expand the town by building more houses. This led to the creation of a new subdivision of Venetian Estates. The subdivision featured water front homesites fronting Oyster Creek and other man-made lakes.
As the company town expanded, so did the interest of establishing a municipal government. It resulted in Sugar Land becoming a general law city in 1959 by voters. T. E. Harman became the first mayor of Sugar Land.
In the early 1960s, a new subdivision development introduced contemporary affordable housing in Sugar Land for the first time called Covington Woods.
The Imperial Cattle Ranch sold about 1,200 acres (4.9 km²) to a developer to create what became Sugar Creek in 1968. As a master-planned community, Sugar Creek introduced country club living with two golf courses and country clubs, swimming pools, and security.
Encouraged by the success of Sugar Creek, First Colony, a new master-planned community encompassing 10,000 acres (40 km²) set out to create a new standard in development in Sugar Land. Development began in 1977 by Sugarland Properties Inc. and would follow the next 30 years. The master-planned community offered homebuyers formal landscaping, neighborhoods segmented by price range, extensive greenbelts, a golf course and country club, lakes and boulevards, neighborhood amenities and shopping.
Around the same time of First Colony, another master-planned community development started in northern portion of Sugar Land called Sugar Mill. Sugar Mill offered traditional, lakefront, and estate lots.
Sugar Land began attracting the attention of major corporations throughout the 1980s, and many chose to make the city their home. Fluor, Schlumberger, Unocal and others offered their employees the opportunity to work within minutes of their home. This resulted in a 40/60 ratio of residential to commercial tax base within the city.
In 1981, a special city election was held for the purpose of establishing a home rule municipal government. Voters approved the adoption of a home rule charter. The type of municipal government provided by this Charter was known as "mayor-council government," and all powers of the City were invested in a Council composed of a mayor and five councilmen.
A special city election was held Aug. 9, 1986, to submit the proposed changes to the electorate for consideration. By a majority of the voters, amendments to the Charter were approved which provided for a change in the City's form of government from that of "mayor-council" (strong mayor) to that of a "council-manager" form of government which provides that the city manager be the chief administrative officer of the city. Approval of this amendment provided for the mayor to become a voting member of Council, in addition to performing duties as presiding officer of the Council.
Sugar Land annexed the master-planned Sugar Creek community in 1986 with the community being almost built-out. This was the first of several large annexations that will follow later on. Also, that same year, the city extended its extraterritorial jurisdiction across the Brazos River to what would later cover the 2,050 acre (8.3 km²) master-planned community of Greatwood.
In 1986, Sugar Land organized the largest celebration in its history— The Texas Sesquicentennial Celebration, celebrating 150 years of Texan independence from Mexican rule.
An Amendment on May 5, 1990, changed the composition of the City Council to a Mayor, four councilmembers to be elected by single-member districts and two councilmembers by at-large position. Throughout much of the 1990s, Sugar Land was considered one of the fastest-growing communities in the nation and the majority of Sugar Landers are white-collar, and college-educated working in Houston's renowned energy industry. An abundance of commercial growth, with numerous low-rise office buildings, banks and high-class restaurants popping up, can be seen along both U.S. Highway 59 and State Highway 6, two of the six main traffic arteries in the city.
Sugar Land tremendously increased its tax base with the opening of First Colony Mall in 1996. The over one million square foot (100,000 m²) mall was the first in Fort Bend County and located at the busiest intersection of the city: U.S. Highway 59 and State Highway 6. The mall was named after the 10,000 acre (40 km²) master-planned First Colony community and is located in the community as well.
On a late November night at 11:59 p.m. in 1997, Sugar Land annexed the remaining Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) of the 10,000 acre (40 km²) First Colony master-planned community, bringing the population to almost reaching 60,000. This was Sugar Land's largest annexation to date.
Later in 1998, a new 428 acre (1.7 km²) master-planned community of Avalon offered lake-side living with estate and lakefront home sites, similar to that of the built-out Sugar Lakes master-planned community, which was developed by the same developer.
The new millennium also saw the need of higher education facility expansion located within the city. In 2002, the University of Houston System at Fort Bend, a multi-institution teaching center for the four universities within the University of Houston System, moved to its new 250 acre (1 km²) campus located off of University Blvd and U.S. Highway 59 intersection. The city of Sugar Land helped fund the Albert and Mamie George Building and as a result, the multi-institution teaching center was renamed to the University of Houston System at Sugar Land.
Sugar Land approved a general land plan for a new master-planned community south of Commonwealth and First Colony and east of Avalon, named Riverstone (formerly referred to as Sugar Land Ranch) in 2002. Riverstone contains 2,800 acres (11 km²) with a wooded 2,300 acres (9 km²) located in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Sugar Land. The community will feature a golf course, country club, and a 500 acre (2 km²) park along the Brazos River. The major arterial through this community will be the unbuild portion of University Blvd and the Palm Royale Blvd extension out of First Colony.
In 2003, the Imperial Sugar Company refinery plant and distribution center was put out of operation, but its effect on the local economy was minimal, if at all, since Sugar Land today has much more of a reputation as an affluent Houston suburb than the blue-collar, agriculture-dependent town it once was a generation ago.
The Texas Department of Transportation sold 2,018 acres (8.2 km²) of prison land in the western portion Sugar Land to Newland Communities, a developer, by bid in 2003. Thereafter, the developer announced to build a new master-planned community in this prime location with homes to deliver in early 2006. In July 2004, Sugar Land annexed all 2,018 acres (8.2 km²) of this land into the city limits to control the quality of development, extending the city limits westward. This was unusual since Sugar Land only annexed built-out areas in the past, not prior to development.
On December 1, 2005 at 12:01 a.m., Sugar Land annexed the recently built-out master-planned community of Avalon and four sections of Brazos Landing subdivision into the city limits adding approximately 4,000 residents. Sugar Land is currently negotiating with the communities of Greatwood, New Territory, and River Park, along with the subdivisions of Tara Colony and Tara Plantation to annex in the near future. This annexation will be the largest, surpassing the annexation of First Colony back in 1992 and 1997, which will bring the city proper's population to approximately 120,000.