Sienna Plantation is well-known for its rich history. It began as a vast and prosperous sugar cane and cotton growing community, eventually becoming important as a religious retreat, and today serves as a comfortable and welcoming suburban oasis.
1820s - 1860s
Originally part of Stephen F. Austin's "Old Three Hundred" colony settlement, the land that has become Sienna Plantation was first settled by Captain William Hall and Captain David Fitzgerald, who died shortly after making his claim and sold his property to J. B. Capels.
After the Texas Revolution and the final battle at San Jacinto, the area now known as Fort Bend County continued to prosper. The efforts of the early settlers attracted the attention of a newcomer to the Republic of Texas, Jonathan D. Waters, a planter from South Carolina who set about acquiring the claims of Hall and Capels.
By 1860, this land was known as the Waters Plantation and included more than 6,500 acres dedicated to cultivating sugar cane, cotton and other crops. The plantation even had its own shipping wharf on the Brazos River, where paddlewheel ships docked to deliver supplies and pick up sugar, corn, and cotton produced on the plantation. A brick mill, sawmill, two sugar mills and some 80 houses were located on the property, along with the impressive Waters mansion, which overlooked a pecan orchard along the Brazos River.
1860s - 1920s
Waters was known throughout Texas for the empire he built on thousands of acres of productive land. President and major stockholder of a railroad that served 12 plantations, he produced millions of pounds of sugar, hundreds of bales of cotton and thousands of bricks each year, shipping them by rail to Houston and Galveston. With the beginning of the War Between the States, however, Southern fortunes declined. Sugar prices crashed just after the war. Waters, in failing health, witnessed the demise of his empire. Upon his death in 1872, his widow sold the plantation to Thomas A. Pierce for $50,000 to pay off debts.
One week later, Pierce sold the plantation to T. W. House, who was widely ridiculed for paying $100,000 in gold for the property during occupation by carpetbaggers.
Mayor of Houston during the War Between the States, House put the plantation back on the road to prosperity and was instrumental in establishing the Houston and Galveston Navigation Company to carry passengers, freight, and the U.S. mail via steamship between Houston and Galveston. This bold notion eventually became the Houston Ship Channel on Buffalo Bayou.
With the failure of the House Bank in 1908, T. H. Scanlan, Mayor of Houston during reconstruction, assumed ownership of the property. Upon Scanlan's death in 1906, his seven unmarried daughters inherited the substantial estate.
Lillian and Stella Scanlan dismantled the family mansion and rebuilt it on what they named Sienna Plantation, for Siena in the Tuscany region of Italy, possibly because St. Catherine of Siena is the patron saint of single women. The name also reflects the rich alluvial soil of the area, the color of sienna.
1930s to the Present
Lillian and Stella Scanlan ran Sienna as a working ranch and lived on the plantation until their deaths in 1948 and 1950. Much of the land cultivated for growing sugar cane and row crops was allowed to return to pasture and woodlands, but the plantation cannery, which stands today next to the sugar barn, remained in use until 1950. Having no direct heirs, the Scanlan sisters created the Scanlan Foundation, a charitable trust administered by Linnenberg and benefiting various Catholic charities. From 1955 to 1967, the Catholic Diocese of Houston-Galveston used the plantation as the Cenacle Retreat. The bell that once called plantation workers to dinner was used to call the Cenacle Sisters to prayer.
Massive live oaks, some more than two centuries old, still stand today, existing as a reminder of the epic time when Stephen F. Austin, the "Father of Texas," walked beneath their branches and early colonists explored the bends in the Brazos River and established the crossing at Oyster Creek.